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."

CLOSED: This discussion has concluded.
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    are the non-refrigerator almond milk/milk substitute containers recyclable?

    jljennylamb asked 8 months ago

    I appreciate you taking the time to submit your question. It depends on the containers. If they have a waxed lining then they are not acceptable in our program. I have seen some that have the waxed lining and some that don't. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. Thanks

    Chris Knight

    405-533-8424

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    Hello, I'd like to see a more detailed list of what is and is not accepted in the program. Thus far I've taken the "When in doubt, throw it out." approach, but I do often wonder about these cases: 1. Are cardboard/paperboard/plastic-lined milk/juice cartons accepted? What about the lids? Should the plastic pour spout be removed first? 2. Are aluminum or steel aerosol cans with plastic actuator tops accepted? 3. Is (clean) aluminum foil accepted? What about foil lids from yogurt containers? 4. Are cardboard/paperboard coffee cans with metal bottoms accepted? What about the plastic lids? 5. Are greasy cardboard pizza boxes accepted? What about the top half (if clean)? 6. Are metal lids from glass bottles accepted? Not in the glass tote, but the single-stream bin? Thanks!

    sheltrk asked 9 months ago

    I appreciate you taking the time to submit your questions. Below are  the answers to your questions as far as the City of Stillwater recycling program. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks

    1) Plastic lined milk/juice cartons -No, Cardboard and paper board - Yes

    2) No

    3) If it is clean then yes

    4) No

    5) No , however if the pizza box is clean from grease and food then -Yes

    6) No 

    Chris Knight

    #405-533-8424

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    (Ideas more than questions, I know, but easier to submit!) I'd like to see a much broader city-wide commitment to sustainability, including and beyond recycling. The city could use public spaces, street art, local radio, nicely-designed public recycling bins, community events, the newspapers, collaborations with OSU and the public schools, and other forms of communication to announce our commitment to reducing consumption and waste. Create an ethos of sustainability. Use OSU students, interns, and willing community volunteers to help put these materials together (and raise funds, if needed). These efforts should include both much clearer directions on what is and isn't recyclable, and a broader campaign to help people think about the whole life cycle of consumer goods. Trash cans should be labeled "landfill," the city should offer tours of waste management sites, and recycling as a common practice should be a part of our whole education system. I want to see curbside recycling pickup continue, and would be willing to subsidize the cost by paying more. I also want to see incentives for those who produce less trash, and for those who recycle properly without contamination. Also, business incentives for food purveyors to use reusable dishware instead of disposable (as a first choice), or second best, for most local businesses to use a uniform set of recyclable dishes and forks/cups that people recognize and know what to do with. No more styrofoam!

    AEZ asked 9 months ago

    I appreciate you taking the time to submit your ideas regarding the future of our recycling program. I will make sure your ideas are given to the future citizen committee which will be assisting to determine the future of our recycling program. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me. Thanks

    Chris Knight

    #405-533-8424

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    I have input but not in the form of a question. I believe the single-stream curbside recycling program should be terminated because: 1) the problem of contamination will be difficult, probably impossible, to correct without heavy-handed actions by the city and 2) the financial liability of the program likely will increase. Conversely, the Convenience Collection Center has been a success. Please consider expanding the manned convenience collection center concept by adding additional sites (1 to 3) at strategic locations in the city. Such sites should be larger in size and designed to better accommodate traffic flow and disposal efficiency compared to the current one site. A method of identifying users as Stillwater residents should be developed to replace the current system of requiring a recent utility bill and a photo ID (maybe restricted to disposal of yard waste). Perhaps an annually renewable permit in the form of a wallet-size card and/or a vehicle window decal. Disposal of yard waste seems to be very popular at the current site but policy stipulates only one load/day and prohibits trailers. It doesn't take many fallen tree limbs or trimming of shrubs to produce more than one pickup load. Larger and better designed facilities would hopefully allow these policy restrictions to be revisited to better accommodate home owner users. If new additional facilities are developed costs of disposal should remain the same as current to the extent possible even if it means maintaining current monthly waste management charges after termination of the curbside recycling program. The popularity of the current manned recycling site demonstrates the effectiveness of the strategy in providing Stillwater residents a means of disposing of recyclable waste. Building on this success seems prudent.

    ctalia asked 9 months ago

    Thank you for your comments! You make some points that can be considered. If you have any additional comments or concerns, please feel free to contact me. 


    Chris Knight

    405-533-8424

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    If the recycling market crashed because China stopped accepting our recycling, why shouldn't we set up our own recycling plant? There is clearly a market for things made from recycled materials (plastic bottles shredded to make sleeping bag filling or clothing, paper waste recycled as cardboard boxes, insulation, paper towels or toilet paper, etc.), and this could be a source of income for the City if we were to build our own recycling processing plant. Such a plant would also provide jobs, both in building the plant and employing and training people to operate the machinery. A physical plant in the area would also give recyclers buy-in to the established recycling program and creates an opportunity for educating young people about recycling (field trips, etc.). A cost analysis including potential income from selling recycled materials to make products would be interesting. I'd also like more information publicized about the recycling market — if China was our main source of processing recyclable products, who else does it? Who do they sell the finished product to? Why can't we do that?

    SallyTurner9 asked 9 months ago

    I appreciate you taking the time to submit your question. The City of Stillwater has been working with a consultant group on a Solid Waste Study. We asked them to review potential options regarding recycling for the City of Stilllwater. The consultant presented there findings at a City Council meeting a couple of months ago. For the volume the City of Stillwater generates and with the current market pricing we have the potential to generate $23,000 a year in revenue. The cost of a facility you are referring to would cost $5 million dollars and up depending on the size. 

    You make a good point regarding publicizing additional information on the recycling markets. I will make sure that is done. 

    Other countries do accept recyclables, however they are not able to accept as much as China. China from my understanding was not solely in the market to sell the recyclables at least as recyclables, however used the material for manufacturing purposes.

    If you have any additional questions, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.


    Chris Knight

    405-533-8424