Tulsa doubles revenue predictions in first year of single-stream

Tulsa doubles revenue predictions in first year of single-stream

By Dan Leif, Resource Recycling

Dec. 18, 2013

Officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma recently announced the city's single-stream recycling collection program brought in twice the revenue they expected it to generate in its first year, and they're attributing the success to area residents simply being "ready to recycle."

"There was not a huge monetary desire to make changes," Tulsa's operations manager for solid waste services, Maureen Turner, said in an interview with Resource Recycling. Turner explained that a Covanta waste-to-energy (WTE) facility operates in the area, which for years has kept tipping fees – and residents' trash bills – at a minimum. So when the City rolled out single-stream recycling collection to all single-family residences in October 2012, it was unclear whether residents would embrace the process.

Earlier this month, however, solid waste planners made a presentation to Tulsa's City Council, showing the recycling program is on pace to bring in $600,000 in revenue in its first year, a significant bump over initial projections that put annual revenue intake at $300,000. Turner, meanwhile, said Tulsa is now diverting 20 percent of its waste stream to recycling — still below the national average of roughly 35 percent but a significant improvement from the city's earlier recycling efforts, in which less than 4 percent of households even requested bins.

"We think the citizens of Tulsa were ready to start recycling in a visual way," Turner said, noting that in the past workers at the WTE facility would sort recyclables out of the trash stream before incineration. "But citizens never saw that. This was a new journey for us and we didn't know what to expect. We're very happy the numbers came in a lot better than we expected them to be."

Tulsa residents do have some financial incentive to separate recyclable materials. When the City instituted single-stream collection and distributed 96-gallon carts to residents, it also brought a pay-as-you-throw system to the trash side, offering three different size trash carts and charging more for each incremental step up. But because of the already-low trash rates, choosing a smaller trash cart only saves a resident a few dollars a month.

"The more you recycle the smaller your trash bill can be," Turner said. "But we're talking small amounts. The average trash bill per resident is just 15 dollars a month."

Solid waste officials have another reason to celebrate the recycling figures: The statistics help smooth over a yard-debris dust-up that brought negative attention to the city's composting efforts earlier this year. After solid waste planners discovered the plastic bags they required for yard waste collection could not actually be processed at the city's organics facility, much of the material was incinerated instead. That touched off a public outcry that even The Wall Street Journal covered.

Did that controversy cause Tulsa residents to wonder if their recyclables were being incinerated too? "Amazingly enough that really has not had a ripple effect on recycling participation," Turner said. "If anything we're getting more recyclables each month."

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