Input Needed: What to do with our recycling?

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Consultation has concluded

Recycle Reduce Reuse

Input phase has concluded.

The City of Stillwater's recycling program is faced with a nation-wide issue. Your input and ideas are needed.

Cities across the United States, including Stillwater, are facing a lack of market for their recycling waste. Many recycling products are no longer profitable or feasible to process in a cost-efficient way. As a result, the City is looking into other options.

Stillwater needs your input. The City is exploring all options regarding this issue, though many options come with undesirable, yet unavoidable consequences. Have an idea? Share it below!


The National Issue

In the midst of starting Stillwater's recycling program and resolving contamination issues, the markets for recyclable waste crashed. This was mainly due to China stopping acceptance of recyclables from the United States. China determined they had a pollution problem and put measures in place to correct it.

Since then, China has begun to accept items again. However, they have strict guidelines that make shipment of recycling difficult. Currently, the United States does not have the facilities needed to create a product that meets the new guidelines set by China.

Consequently, Cities across the United States are facing the issue of having large amounts of recyclable waste with little place for it to be processed or shipped.

The Local Issue

The City of Stillwater's current recycling process is strained, due to a high contamination of residential recyclable waste and a lack of profitable outlets for the waste to go. As a result, the City is urging residents to focus on being more responsible with what products they place in their recycle carts, while advocating for public input on the future of Stillwater's residential recycling.

Moving forward, what should our City do? Many options exist, but they each come with their own undesirable consequences. Here are some options that have been discussed:

  • The City could ship its recycling to processors in other cities, but this comes with higher recycling rates and likely higher carbon emissions, regarding the many trips to cities over an hour away.
  • The City could reduce the amount of products it accepts to only the most profitable items, although many residents who advocate for recycling options have expressed concerns with this approach.
  • Building our own recycling facility is an option, although this is a long-term, multi-million dollar process that may not prove to be profitable, nor successful, due to the state of the recycling market.
  • Terminating all City recycling and advocating for the reduction of waste entirely is an unfortunate option, although it could be necessary.

History of Stillwater's Recycling Program

Recycling has been performed in some capacity in Stillwater for many years. It began with unmanned sites. The City had three locations: Babcock Park, Boomer Lake and Skyline Elementary. These locations served as an unmanned recycling stop for Stillwater residents to drop and sort their recyclable waste. The unmanned locations did not work as planned, and were often used as dump sites for non-recyclable material.

In 2008, Stillwater open a manned recycling site, known today as the Convenience Collection Center. The center offers an outlet for common recyclable items (cardboard, paper, plastic, tin, aluminum, glass) and other items like electronics, motor oil, antifreeze, cooking oil, fluorescent bulbs, and latex paint. The center has become very popular with Stillwater residents, averaging around 4,000 visitors to the center per month.

In 2011, there was a push for a curbside recycling program by a local citizens group, Sustainable Stillwater. The group wanted the City to provide a more convenient way for residents to recycle. Staff researched and gathered public input for a year in order to build the best curbside recycling program for Stillwater.

In 2012, the City began a four-month recycling pilot in order to test the program before implementing the whole City. Once the entire City was implemented into the recycling program, residents were given options to opt-in to the program and sign up to receive residential carts.

Approximately 40 percent of the City's waste collection customers opted in to the program. Today, City-wide participation is at 70 percent, with 55 to 60 percent of customers having their carts emptied each week.

In 2016, a problem with contamination became apparent. Contamination is any item not accepted in the City's program and affects recycling processes negatively. The city conducted an audit of the program and found that 41 percent of the City's material was contaminated. City staff then increased education efforts, added a recycling auditor to the program, and reduced the types of accepted plastics from 1 through 7 to 1, 2 and 5 only.

Since that initial audit, our community has made notable progress concerning contamination. A 2019 audit revealed only 22 percent contamination. The City is still working towards educating residents how to recycle responsibly in order to safeguard the future of the program.


About this Page

This page is meant to function as the hub of civic engagement for this project. Feedback is shared with City Council and city staff. Comments made on this page, as well as any comments made to city staff through email, are considered public documents. For questions about this, click on "Who's Listening."

Input phase has concluded.

The City of Stillwater's recycling program is faced with a nation-wide issue. Your input and ideas are needed.

Cities across the United States, including Stillwater, are facing a lack of market for their recycling waste. Many recycling products are no longer profitable or feasible to process in a cost-efficient way. As a result, the City is looking into other options.

Stillwater needs your input. The City is exploring all options regarding this issue, though many options come with undesirable, yet unavoidable consequences. Have an idea? Share it below!


The National Issue

In the midst of starting Stillwater's recycling program and resolving contamination issues, the markets for recyclable waste crashed. This was mainly due to China stopping acceptance of recyclables from the United States. China determined they had a pollution problem and put measures in place to correct it.

Since then, China has begun to accept items again. However, they have strict guidelines that make shipment of recycling difficult. Currently, the United States does not have the facilities needed to create a product that meets the new guidelines set by China.

Consequently, Cities across the United States are facing the issue of having large amounts of recyclable waste with little place for it to be processed or shipped.

The Local Issue

The City of Stillwater's current recycling process is strained, due to a high contamination of residential recyclable waste and a lack of profitable outlets for the waste to go. As a result, the City is urging residents to focus on being more responsible with what products they place in their recycle carts, while advocating for public input on the future of Stillwater's residential recycling.

Moving forward, what should our City do? Many options exist, but they each come with their own undesirable consequences. Here are some options that have been discussed:

  • The City could ship its recycling to processors in other cities, but this comes with higher recycling rates and likely higher carbon emissions, regarding the many trips to cities over an hour away.
  • The City could reduce the amount of products it accepts to only the most profitable items, although many residents who advocate for recycling options have expressed concerns with this approach.
  • Building our own recycling facility is an option, although this is a long-term, multi-million dollar process that may not prove to be profitable, nor successful, due to the state of the recycling market.
  • Terminating all City recycling and advocating for the reduction of waste entirely is an unfortunate option, although it could be necessary.

History of Stillwater's Recycling Program

Recycling has been performed in some capacity in Stillwater for many years. It began with unmanned sites. The City had three locations: Babcock Park, Boomer Lake and Skyline Elementary. These locations served as an unmanned recycling stop for Stillwater residents to drop and sort their recyclable waste. The unmanned locations did not work as planned, and were often used as dump sites for non-recyclable material.

In 2008, Stillwater open a manned recycling site, known today as the Convenience Collection Center. The center offers an outlet for common recyclable items (cardboard, paper, plastic, tin, aluminum, glass) and other items like electronics, motor oil, antifreeze, cooking oil, fluorescent bulbs, and latex paint. The center has become very popular with Stillwater residents, averaging around 4,000 visitors to the center per month.

In 2011, there was a push for a curbside recycling program by a local citizens group, Sustainable Stillwater. The group wanted the City to provide a more convenient way for residents to recycle. Staff researched and gathered public input for a year in order to build the best curbside recycling program for Stillwater.

In 2012, the City began a four-month recycling pilot in order to test the program before implementing the whole City. Once the entire City was implemented into the recycling program, residents were given options to opt-in to the program and sign up to receive residential carts.

Approximately 40 percent of the City's waste collection customers opted in to the program. Today, City-wide participation is at 70 percent, with 55 to 60 percent of customers having their carts emptied each week.

In 2016, a problem with contamination became apparent. Contamination is any item not accepted in the City's program and affects recycling processes negatively. The city conducted an audit of the program and found that 41 percent of the City's material was contaminated. City staff then increased education efforts, added a recycling auditor to the program, and reduced the types of accepted plastics from 1 through 7 to 1, 2 and 5 only.

Since that initial audit, our community has made notable progress concerning contamination. A 2019 audit revealed only 22 percent contamination. The City is still working towards educating residents how to recycle responsibly in order to safeguard the future of the program.


About this Page

This page is meant to function as the hub of civic engagement for this project. Feedback is shared with City Council and city staff. Comments made on this page, as well as any comments made to city staff through email, are considered public documents. For questions about this, click on "Who's Listening."

Consultation has concluded
  • Task Force Meeting Recaps

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    18 December, 2019
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    Recycling Task Force (RTF) is facilitated by Allison Turlock of NewGen Strategies and Solutions, LLC

    Meeting #7 / Jan. 21, 2020

    Presentation by Robert Taylor from OSU on the potential of partnering with the City of Stillwater on a downdraft gasifier project.

    Waste Management Director Chris Knight introduced the RTF to a new concept/option, Recyclops, for consideration. Recyclops is a company that brings recycling to communities that struggle to recycle. They have a presence in 44 cities in 5 states.

    Taskforce member Riley Flack presented his thoughts on subscription-based recycling.

    Members informally voted to further investigate the OSU gasifier, Recyclops, and costs associated with building a processing center and materials recovery facility (MRF).

    Meeting #6 / Jan. 14, 2020

    The RTF had small group discussions to rate the following options:

    • Generation/Education/Outreach
    • Trash and Single Stream Collection
    • Transfer and Processing Single Stream
    • Collection and Processing of Yard Waste and Other Organics
    • Commercial Recycling Options
    • Disposal Options
    • End Market Options

    Meeting #5 / Jan. 7, 2020

    Reviewed the results of Flash Vote survey.

    Reviewed the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) that was created to help solid waste planners and organizations estimate impacts from different waste management practices.

    Discussion centered on the financial, social, and environmental impacts of the following scenarios:

    • Landfill everything
    • Keep same services
    • Expand services

    The goal of the next meeting is to begin determining the short term, mid-term, and long term recommendations to the City Council.

    Meeting #4 / Dec. 3, 2019
    • Reviewed the “triple bottom line of sustainability” (environmental, financial, social).

    • Transfer discussion:
      > RTF would like to see ten-year costs of transfer option, not just capital cost; include operations/maintenance, and what impacts are over time.

    • Processing discussion:
      > Potential for regional cooperation to make it more economically viable?
      > Does having a recycling processing facility located in COS potentially attract business?

    • Decided to issue a citizen survey using FlashVote.com. See Documents for .pdf of results or to see results online follow this link: https://www.flashvote.com/stillwater-ok/surveys/recycling-service-12-19

    Meeting #3 / Nov. 19, 2019

    • RTF heard presentations from two recyclables processors and one landfill operator.
    Meeting #2 / Nov. 12, 2019
    Further discussion of potential options.
    • Education – adults and school-based education
    • Increase recycling options – place recycling containers in places like downtown
    • Focus on increasing commercial cardboard collection
    • Change to every other week collection
      > How much would it save?
      > What impacts would it have on habits (would people recycle more or less)

    • Consider the impact on low-income families? Is subsidizing low-income families possible?

    Meeting #1 / Nov. 5, 2019

    • Discussed the mission for the task force
    • Understand the issues and options to address recycling in Stillwater
    • Recommend next steps for the City’s recycling program. During this portion of the presentation, an initial list of potential options was described to the Recycling Task Force. Additional ideas and questions related to potential options shared by the TF included the following:

      > Staffed vs unstaffed drop-off site and impacts
      > Could City of Stillwater partner with OSU
      > Is rail-haul an option?
      > Consider building COS MRF. A materials recovery facility (MRF) is a plant that separates and prepares single-stream recycling materials to be sold to end buyers.
      > Reduce/ban plastic bags
      > Incentives to use something other than plastic