City to take over recycling program

Departure of current contractor prompts town to move quickly on new plan

By Sarah Pridgeon


When Northern Hills Recycling reaches the end of its contract with the city on April 4, the only change in service that the community is likely to notice is a different van arriving to pick up their bins. The City of Sundance has decided to take over the community’s recycling service itself.

“We’re not going to miss a beat – we will continue recycling,” says Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz.

“We don’t have all the answers yet but Mac [Erickson, Public Works Director] has all kinds of plans and ideas for how we’re going to do it. We don’t want to miss even a day.”

The city has made the decision and begun to implement it in record time, having only discovered that NHR would not be renewing its contract two weeks ago. After 13 years in the business, Joe Bunnell told the council that the “razor thin” profit margin has become too difficult to work with.

For the city, however, the profit margin is not a stumbling block. As long as the service can pay for itself, Sundance can continue to include recycling in its overall plan to deal with garbage.

“The more people recycle, the more comes out of our garbage stream and the less we have to haul,” says Erickson.

“It saves on freight going out of the transfer station.”

This, in turn, will make it less likely that the city will need to increase garbage fees once the landfill has closed because less will need to be hauled and any profit can be channeled back into the sanitation account. In the meantime, rates for recycling will not change.

“It’ll help everyone in the end and that’s our whole motivation for recycling,” nods Lenz.

“From what Tom [Davis] says at the landfill, 75 percent of our people recycle – that’s outrageous numbers. Ultimately, this is what will help people save on garbage.”

The community currently averages around 12-13 tons of recycling per month. With its own service in place, the city hopes to increase this further.

“The more recycling we pick up, the better the chance of making it pay for itself,” says Erickson.

“If there’s extra money in it, great, but we’re going to be saving a bunch of money by not having to pay for it to be done and there’s a chance to maybe create another part-time job for the city.”

Replacing NHR was never really an option, says Lenz, as there are few other alternatives for a curb-to-curb service. As part of the process of setting up the city’s own recycling service, Erickson and Lenz will be meeting with garbage experts from the Department of Environmental Quality and connecting with recycling companies for information and advice.

“We’ve been planning ideas for the city to take it over and I’ve been looking at methods to collect and contain it,” says Erickson.

The first and biggest issue, he says, is to work out how to pick the recycling up from people’s homes. Once the city knows whether it will be sorting the items itself, it can begin to design a trailer that may, for example, feature sorting bins so that materials can be separated during collection.

“I still need to figure out whether we’re going to sort it, whether it’s going to be single stream or multi stream. I’ve been talking with Pacific Steel & Recycling in Gillette and they’ve said they’d bring us some roll-off containers,” explains Erickson.

“We’d put the recycling in them and they’d take it on to Rapid City. As soon as I learn if they want it sorted here and whether it’s worth our while to sort it, we can design a trailer to go through the alleys.”

Sorting a batch of recycling can sometimes net greater profits, but can also mean a lot of effort “for an extra dime,” says Lenz. Once collected, the recycling will then be stored at the transfer station site.

“I think that’s our best option, we have a lot of room. It’s going to be a little hectic up there until we get the transfer station finished and all that final grading done,” says Erickson.

“Eventually, there’ll be bins along one wall of the transfer station. As people come out and dump their garbage, there will be options for them.”

In his letter to the council, Bunnell offered to sell some or all of his equipment. According to Lenz and Erickson, the city may take him up on part of his offer.

“I don’t know that we have it quite ironed out yet what we’re going to take,” says Erickson.

“I think we’re planning on keeping the green totes and the cardboard containers.”

The next step will be to improve the city’s composting program so that there is no yard waste in the garbage stream. Yard waste is heavy and would increase hauling fees considerably.

“We’re working on getting yard waste bins for grass, clippings and small stuff so people have a place to put them if they can’t get them to the transfer station,” says Lenz.

The new bins will be placed in public areas, such as alleys, and will begin to appear as the summer season approaches. With recycling and composting both in place, the city hopes to be well placed when the landfill closes to begin hauling garbage at a reasonable cost.