Spring is nearly here, and the annual cycle of rebirth is in full swing. What better time to think about garbage?
Actually, we were thinking more along the lines of recycling. It's a bit of a sore subject around Augusta, because a November 2001 Augusta Chronicle investigation revealed that one of the city's haulers was throwing recyclable material out with regular trash.
Theresa Smith, Augusta's director of public works, said public interest in recycling withstood the incidents, which also involved the same hauler's mixing public and private waste together.
"We didn't see a decrease in the participation; we've actually had more people who have called about receiving the recycling bins since then," she said.
With a hodgepodge of programs as diverse as the counties themselves, Georgia and South Carolina residents are making an effort to lower the amount of trash going to the dump.
Lillian-Katharine Blanos, the executive director of Keep American Beautiful in Richmond and Columbia counties, said recycling awareness has improved since she began working there eight years ago.
"When I first started, it just wasn't there. But I think education programs and media awareness have done a lot to help," she said. "Ultimately, we want to keep everything that's recyclable out of the landfill."
Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties have varying degrees of recycling. In Richmond County, curbside pickup is offered to 51,778 of 56,812 households. Mark Johnson, the assistant director of solid waste, said that translated into 1,246,940 pounds of paper, plastic and aluminum in 2003. Tires, scrap metal and yard waste also are recycled at the landfill, which receives about 620 tons of garbage a day. Mr. Johnson said that ideally, he would like for curbside collection to be expanded to the remaining parts of the city.
"I see opportunities for more recycling in and around Augusta," he said.
The biggest issue in the future will be the possible inclusion of households south of Willis Foreman Road, when a new contract is negotiated in 2005. Even within the area already covered, Mrs. Smith said, participation can stand improvement.
In Columbia County, curbside collection is available, but on a more individual basis. The county landfill manager, Don Bartles, said the current system, in which private trash collectors offer various recycling packages to consumers along with trash pickup, is there to stay.
"The majority seems to be content with it; there doesn't seem to be an issue in the public's mind," he said.
Consumers aren't demanding more choices, and in any case, the market for most household recyclables is still too volatile to make economic sense for haulers.
"Of the 20-odd haulers licensed in Georgia, I bet you won't find three that do any more than two or three commodities," he said.
Still, there are some encouraging developments. At the Columbia County landfill, Mr. Bartles said, the drop-off area for batteries, tires, scrap metals and paint is always crowded.
"There isn't a day that goes by when those things aren't dropped off," he said. "In fact it's hard for us to move them in a timely manner so they don't get cluttered up."
In Aiken County, curbside pickup is provided in Aiken, North Augusta, Jackson and New Ellenton, and is encouraged for the rest of the county. The county has opened 10 recycling drop-off centers since 1995.
Bill Anderson, Aiken County's recycling coordinator, said the Langley Municipal Solid Waste Landfill would have closed a year and a half earlier had the county not begun recycling when it did.
"I try to encourage the haulers not to charge extra to those people who want it curbside pickup," he said. "I know it's a hot issue because Richmond County has like two years left on their landfill and Columbia County is just about tapped out."
Sorting out how towns throw out their garbage is the province of Joe Dunlop, the program coordinator for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in Atlanta. Recycling is tough to measure, though, because among other things, it's debatable whether an object should be counted when it's picked up, processed or finally reused.
"The state doesn't know how much is recycled, but we known how exactly much is thrown out," he said.
Statewide, he said, there is actually plenty of landfill space available. That doesn't mean recycling is a waste, however.
"Recycling is about keeping costs down, not making money," he said. "One thing people don't like to think about is after a landfill with municipal waste is closed, it needs to be monitored for 30 years to make sure it doesn't leak methane gas or leach out and contaminate the groundwater. And while you're paying for that monitoring, you are getting no tipping fees."
Asked what was most encouraging about recycling programs in Georgia, Mr. Dunlop first noted that any time the economy hits the skids, environmental programs suffer.
"We've seen a number of recycling programs actually drop off a bit, but up until that point it had been increasing," he said. "The kinds of materials that were starting to increase, like construction and demolition materials, household cleaners, aerosol cans and personal computers were also encouraging. I'd much rather recycle a plastic bottle; but compared to a bottle of carburetor cleaner, that plastic bottle (is) pretty benign."
At Keep American Beautiful, Mrs. Blanos said an indication of progress for her office is as obvious as a full recycling container.
"We have 30 newspaper and magazine containers around the counties, and we have to empty them continuously. Many of them are in schools, too, so it teaches the students about recycling," she said. "We need to become stewards of the environment. This really isn't our world, it was loaned to us by God."
Augusta Metro Clean & Beautiful, Inc. Phone: (706) 261-4390Web: www.keepgeorgiabeautiful.org
Phone: (706) 592-9634Web: www.augustaga.gov/departments/waste_ managment
Phone: (706) 261-4390.Web: www.co.columbia.ga.us/Community_ Leisure/CCCB/clean_ beautiful