|© Mark Bialek|
Ann Arbor's decision to cancel its Christmas tree collection two years ago left a lot of folks unhappy. But as disappointments go, it's nothing compared to the switch to single-stream recycling.
The city rolled out the new all-in-one-cart system in mid-2010, and the next year, collections of paper, glass, and plastic jumped 16 percent, to 10,127 tons. But that was it. In the fiscal year ending last June, volume increased by less than 1 percent.
"We got the big increase because of bigger carts and taking more materials," says Kendra Pyle, senior recycling coordinator at Recycle Ann Arbor. "We expected it to level off."
But nobody expected it to level off so soon. A consultant had assured the city that volume would double, to 18,000 tons a year--thanks largely to an incentive program run by a company called Recyclebank. When the promised increase failed to materialize, council canceled that contract last year.
The underwhelming response saddled RAA, an independent nonprofit, with a $338,000 shortfall in the first year of the transition. The city voluntarily renegotiated their contract, and between that bailout and internal cuts, there'll be no shortfall this year: "We're tracking to roughly the same $4.5 million budget," says Kirk Lignell, the group's new CEO.
Amazingly, Ann Arborites are recycling less today than they did at the turn of the millennium--the city's all-time high for collections, 12,011 tons, was set twelve years ago. But don't blame diminished environmental awareness. The biggest factor in the decline appears to be the loss of the city's daily newspaper.
Back in 2000, the Ann Arbor News printed more than 22 million copies a year. Today the biweekly AnnArbor. com prints just 3.5 million. If the average paper weighs a pound, the 2009 transition alone took more than 9,000 tons of newsprint out of the waste stream. City solid waste coordinator Tom McMurtrie believes that if it weren't for the switch to single-stream the following year, Ann Arbor's recycling volume would actually have fallen.
Single-family households still
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