Sunday, October 18, 2015

F.A.Q. Residential Curbside Recycling for City of Helena Residents

Frequently Asked Questions:

[Note: The proposal before the commission does not include the once a month recycling option, nor is any intent to establish this option within a year referenced.

Where can I recycle now:  

  • Their are several drop-off locations in Helena for Paper (includes office paper, newsprint and magazine), corrugated cardboard, tin cans, and aluminum cans. 
    • These include Safeway (611 N Montana), The Fairgrounds (98 W Custer), NE Corner of the Capital Hill Mall (1600 11th Ave), Downtown on Cruse Ave (between Park Ave and intersection with State/Cutler), and the City of Helena Transfer Station (details follow)

  • The City of Helena Transfer Station is one of these locations.  This tax payer funded public facility also provides collection for type 1 and type 2 plastics, container glass (jars and bottles for food items), electronic items, and automotive items (motor oil, batteries, antifreeze). 
    • The City Commission has also established a provision for an annual Household Hazardous Waste Collection event (a 2 day Fri/Sat event) and discounted tipping fees for sorted constructions and demolition material, though it is not clear when or if these provisions will be implemented at this time.
  • Persons who rent a house or apartment in a duplex, three-plex, and four-plex are eligible for a free Recycling Renters Permit. 
  • Most details for recycling at the Transfer Station are available here or by calling 447-8082. Helena Recycling, linked here and at 457-2437, provides commercial and residential recycling services. Montana D.E.Q. has free recycling bin loan program for events linked here]

Who is eligible for this recycling partnership?

Any household or apartment that receives “residential” trash service paid for by an annual tax assessment from the City of Helena is eligible for this program. This generally includes all single family, duplex, three unit, and four unit apartments within city limits. Larger apartment complexes are served by Tri-County Sanitation or City of Helena Commercial trash services. These apartments, as well as any residents outside of the city, would not be part of this partnership, but could similarly arrange for commercial recycling collection with Helena Recycling.

What items will be collected and how?

Collection will include the items pictures below with three bins under which corrugated and non-corrugated cardboard can be collected:
Click to Expand

  • Bin A: Aluminum and Tin Cans
  • Bin B: Type 1 and Type 2 Plastics
  • Bin C: Newsprint, Magazine & Office Paper
  • Flatted Corrugated and Non-Corrugated Cardboard to be stacked underneath bins
Click to Expand

What happens to customers of the City of Helena Blue Bag Program?

Part of this arrangement includes, at least informally, the City of Helena suspending its blue bag collection program. The blue bag program, unfortunately, has been touted as an indicator of the public's support for recycling. This legacy program, which was to be the free full curbside program provided by the city as discussed here had limited appeal due to major operational inefficiencies, lack of collection for cardboard and plastic, and lack of institutional support. Fortunately, this new arrangement will eventually allow for once a month collection of more items which can be covered in full by allowing residents to choose to reduce their level of trash service at the curb and at the transfer station. Commissioner Haque-Hausrath deserves extra thanks for attending several meetings and successfully advocating for this and other important options.

Why is glass not included? How could glass recycling be expanded or made easier?

Helena Recycling, the private partner, does not currently collect glass. Glass can be difficult to collect in curbside programs because it is handled differently than other recyclables. Rather than being compacted or baled for recycling, glass is processed more like gravel for reuse and is difficult to sort after it has been crushed.

The city should allow private recyclers to take glass to the transfer station if it is generated by residential customers who’ve elected for such a collection service. A model might be Salt Lake City, where Momentum Recycling provides a collection service just for glass. The city should also provide collection for glass at some of the outlying collection sites, at least on a seasonal basis.

  • Glass Recycling Tips:
    • Glass collected for recycling in Helena should be limited to “containers glass,” the single use glass bottles and jars containing products one would find at a grocery or convenience store. It does not include cooking ware, windshield glass, window glass, or any other glass that is not a bottle or jar.
    • The City of Helena program for glass collection provides raw materials for the nearby cement plant. The color of the glass does not matter for this outlet.
    • Metal lids and rings can be recycled with like metals. Metal rings do not need to be removed, all lids do. 
    • Materials should be clean to preserve the sanitation glass collection and improve quality control.  
What is the cost of this program?

  • Bi-monthly/collection every other week for $6.95 billed to their water utility bill
    • This rate may lower to $5.95 if a thousand residents sign up for the service.
    • The residential collection utility is paying $4 per customer, for a total charge or $10.95 or $9.95 per customer
  • This option will be available January 2016
    • Once a month collection will be $2.95 per month once established and free in coming year per agreement and commission direction last Wednesday.
    • The rate may lower to $1.95 per month if a thousand residents sign up for the service.
    • This option should be FREE for residents who utilize community bins (those bins serving multiply residents) and elect to reduce the tonnage on their permit at the transfer station.
    • This option should be FREE for residents who elect to choose to have trash collection every other week and elect to reduce the tonnage on their permit at the transfer station. Residents should be allowed two free collections per year before they are billed for any extra pickups.
    • Note: This option is important to allow for actual savings and efficiencies in our solid waste system. Simply running the solid waste system as a tonnage trash business does not allow for recognizing cost and environmental savings by generating less waste by recycling, diversion, and reduction.
The bid previously discussed at the city for recycling was single stream, why does this program have separate bins?

This cost of the “single stream program,” which would have collect all of the same items in one bin was more expensive for the one bidder, who has since worked with staff for this program. While the city competes to provide commercial trash service, staff did not support preparing a bid during the bid process. Lower cost collection options were mentioned by staff during subsequent discussion, but formal details, including detailed capital and operating costs outside of collection were not clearly defined.

Why only Type 1 and Type 2 plastics?

The contractor has cited market conditions for limiting plastics collection from Type 1-7 as part of this program. It is a very rough time for recycling right now due to market factors. While plastics has taken less of a hit than other materials, the current slump in recycling markets is likely for at least a year or two. Some of the market factors, including a strong US Dollar and other industry changes may lead to more domestic processing of plastics that could allow for collection of other types of plastics in coming years. 


In this commissioners opinion, this will be a great option Helena residents once the monthly recycling collection option is established and the city allows for residents to provide savings to the solid waste system through limited collection needs in terms of lifts at the curb and tonnage at the transfer station. Helena’s solid waste system was sold to the public as an “Integrated Solid Waste Management System” that would put recycling and diversion on par with directing material to the landfill as I write here.  This vision was not fully realized, in large part due to the collection utility, transfer station, and landfill being viewed has business operations based on trash more so than a tax funded service that should include diversion and recycling.

While this new partnership is not perfect, it gets our community a lot closer to improved services to residents--especially once addition collection options allow residents to base trash and recycling collection on the needs of their household.  

I will continue to improve and expand this F.A.Q. Please contact me with any additional questions or comments. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Centennial Trail West Kick-off Today at Noon!

[Update: Successful Event!]

Next Steps:  

  • Work with MRL/BNSF for permission for a pedestrian bridge over Henderson with a connection stairway to the Henderson trail near Capital High and Broadwater Estates (a closer bridge is need to protect sight-line for traffic safety and to save costs, but will likely need to be designed to be moved if rail required my rail maintenance and be fully enclosed with fencing to protect users, cars, and trains).
  • Design and begin work to connect trail along Country Club to VA and Fort Harrison for Helena area residents, those employed and serving at those facilities, and those training at the fort and otherwise jogging on an unsafe road.
  • Improve conductivity around Euclid/Montana/Helena Avenue junctions by improving or installing sidewalks and ADA ramps at all legs of intersection, improving crossing around the intersection, and investing in way finding and safety for the trail in the area.
  • Establish and maintenance plan for the trail, possible with an "Adopt a Trail" model as is done with highway litter pickups and for some trails in Helena's open lands system. Some areas of the trail need occasional sweeping just like streets.   
Event Highlights:
  •     A key to the city was awarded to Kelly Kugler and family for donating two vital sections of trail! Coins of recognition were provided to Prickly Pair Land Trust, Montana State Parks, Montana Department of Transportation, Narrate Church, Friends of Centennial Trail, and Helena's Non-Motorized Transit Advisory Council. Many other partners and supports of the trail were present and thanked as well. 

Celebration of Centennial Trail West made possible by four new sections of public
right-of-way made possible by donations and partnerships!
View KXLH Coverage Here!

[End Update]


Contact: Ryan Kettel, Chair, NMTAC (406)495-0151

Helena Pedestrian Advocacy Group Hosts Centennial Trail Groundbreaking

October 16, 2015 – The City of Helena Non-Motorized Travel Advisory Council (NMTAC) is hosting an event celebrating the next phase of construction on Helena's Centennial Trail bicycle and pedestrian path. NMTAC will recognize the many people and organizations that worked together to make upcoming additions to the trail possible including the City of Helena, Lewis and Clark County, Montana State Parks, Prickly Pear Land Trust, Narrate Church, Friends of the Centennial Trail, and adjacent land owners.

Construction of a paved, ten foot wide, pedestrian path connecting the Montana Wild Center on Broadwater Ave through to the existing trail extending east from Joslyn St is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2016. Remediation work on former railroad beds will likely be completed this November.

Montana State Parks Marketing and Communications Manager Pat Doyle said "Montana State Parks is ecstatic about the completion of Centennial Trail connecting to Spring Meadow State Park. This is a great improvement for safety and recreational opportunities for local guests and visitors from across the state and nation. Montana State Parks looks forward to doing our part to compliment this effort going forward.” 

City Commissioner Haque-Hausrath said she is “very excited to see Centennial Trail moving towards completion. Centennial Trail provides an important connection for biking and walking across town, safe access to recreational opportunities for families who choose to reduce their fuel costs, and a tourism benefit for Helena."

The event is Friday at noon. Interested citizens will meet where the existing dirt trail intersects with Joslyn St, south of the railroad tracks. City and County Commissioners, along with representatives from Montana State Parks, Prickly Pear Land Trust and the Montana Department of Transportation will be on hand to discuss the project with the public and answer questions.

Related Posts:

Additional posts related to Centennial Trail linked here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Curbside Recycling Partnership Starting in Helena January 2016!

This Wednesday, the Helena City Commission finalized details for a curbside recycling partnership that will be available to most Helena residents starting this coming January (residents living in commercial apartments are not part of the city's solid waste system). 

Initially the program will allow residents to pay for bi-monthly curbside service through their water bill.  Collection will include aluminum and tin cans, corrugated and non-corrugated cardboard, paper/newsprint/magazine, and type 1 & 2 plastics (images below). The cost of the service will be $10.95 per month, with a $6.95 charge going to residents and $4 being covered by the collection utility. Going forward the City will allow additional trash service options and the contractor will allow for once a month collection at $6.95 ($2.95 charge to residents). Costs of the recycling service will be reduced by $1 if a thousand residents sign up for the service. 

A related city goal it to allow additional trash options by July 2016. This is to include allowing residents with individual bins to elect for alternative weekly service to save staff time, fuel, and vehicle wear by reducing truck stops and lifts. It should allow residents choosing this option, or residents using community bins (67% of residents) to fully pay for once a month service if they elect to utilize half of their transfer station allowance to pay for the recycling service. The contractor said he could provide the once a month service option outlined in the contract summary, but may need a year to establish the option. 

More details follow. The importance of allowing for a once a month option is summarized here:

While this may be a positive direction, a critical component must not be overlooked. Residents who (A) recycle or generate less waste, (B) use community collection bins (the larger alley bins serving several residents with one truck stop) or do not fill their trash bins every week, and (C) have excess tonnage at the transfer station should be able to choose to pay for a monthly recycling pickup with the savings they provide to the solid waste system. For the city collection utility, these saving are reduced fuel, driver time, and equipment wear for requiring less trash pickups by shared bins or less than weekly pickups for individual bins. For the city transfer station, these savings are less trash by weight being charged by the transfer station and the landfill. 

The City of Helena was granted a monopoly on trash service with the promise of curbside recycling. Wednesday's action should give residents a voluntary option to direct their assessment towards recycling if they generate less trash and provide savings to Helena's solid waste system. Please consider attending this important meeting to demonstrate support for recycling. More details here.

Summary of Contract Between City and Helena Recycling:
(From 10-14-15 Admin Packet, download Full Admin Packet Here)

(From 10-14-15 Admin Packet, download Full Admin Packet Here)

(From 10-14-15 Admin Packet, download Full Admin Packet Here)

(From 10-14-15 Admin Packet, download Full Admin Packet Here)
Further, the commission agree to suspend the trip visit policy at the transfer station for permit holders. This policy was strongly recommended to the commission as part of the recent solid waste efficiency study. The policy is misguided as I write here.

Lastly, the commission and staff further discussed capital improvements at the transfer station as a follow up to the budget process. Staff committed to get a contract in place with a consultant to address traffic flow at the facility in conjunctions with the following improvements: 

o Z-wall for clean/sorted Construction and Demolition Waste (allow additional diversion options for soft fill and other C&D Waste that could be used in construction projects, otherwise diverted, or sent to the lower cost C & D pit at the landfill; this would also prevent staff time needed to prevent damage to specialized tractor trailers used to transfer waste to the landfill)

o Convenience bin for customers with smaller loads of trash (this could also allow for more flexibility in staffing facility; for example, Sundays in the Winter could be staffed with fewer personal by not having to open up the transfer station pit/floor, but allowing residents to still recycle and bring household levels of trash)

o Shelter for the e-waste collection (and workers of!) and recycling area, including compactors for plastics program, and consolidation of bins (would provide better working environment, allow residents to make fewer stops to recycle)

o Removal of loader bay/shed for operations of TS floor (Current shelter for loader is due for replacement, limits floor access to the pit, and restricts loader operations on the floor)

o Some structure for the loader that could double for recycling and events such as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection (for limited events, the full structure could be used with the loader stored at pit floor)

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The City of Helena has the following board openings:

DATE:   October 5, 2015

CONTACT: Debbie Havens, Clerk of the Commission  at  447-8410


The City of Helena has the following board openings:

Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Compliance Committee
One citizen in the medical field to serve on the ADA Compliance Committee; the unexpired term will begin upon appointment and expire September 1, 2016.
One citizens with expertise in the field of architecture and/or construction; the unexpired term will begin upon appointment and expire September 2, 2016.
The ADA Compliance Committee will act as an advisory committee to assist in determination of reasonable accommodations.  The Committee may review requests for reconsideration of complaints forwarded by the ADA Coordinator, may make determinations as to the validity of complaints, and my provide descriptions of the resolution of those grievances that have been appealed.  The Committee may recommend priorities for making structural changes to public facilities, offer suggestions on how to achieve program accessibility, and review and make recommendations on employment practices and accommodations for compliance.

City-County Planning Board
One city resident to serve on the City-County Planning Board; term will begin upon appointment and expire September 1, 2018.
One citizen to serve as the joint appointment on the City-County Planning Board.  Term will begin upon appointment and expire September 1, 2018.
This board shall perform planning functions for the city and county and shall be the sole Planning Board to serve either or both governmental entities.  Duties of this board will be to ensure the promotion of public health, safety, convenience, order, and the general welfare, and for the sake of efficiency and economy in the process of community development, the Board shall prepare a growth policy and serve in an advisory capacity to the local governing bodies establishing said Board.

Non-Motorized Travel Advisory Council (NMTAC)
One resident of the City of Helena to serve on NMTAC.  The unexpired term will begin upon appointment and expire March 31, 2017.  Interested persons should have knowledge, expertise and interest in promoting non-motorized transportation.
The general purpose of the council is to advise and make recommendations the City Commission regarding matters related to non-motorized travel and traffic calming, including the impact Commission actions may have upon bicycling, walking, and traffic calming.

Public Art Committee  
Two citizens to serve on the Pubic Art Committee.  The terms will begin upon appointment and expire on December 31, 2015 and December 31, 2017.
The Public Art Committee assists in promoting the concept of community awareness of and involvement in providing public art in Helena.

Zoning Commission
One city resident to serve as the alternate member on the Zoning Commission.  The un-expired term begin upon appointment and expire September 30, 2018.
This commission shall perform zoning functions for the city and shall be the sole Zoning Commission for the City of Helena.

Applications are available at /commission/boards and committees or by calling 447-8410 and can be submitted to the City Clerk’s Office, 316 N. Park Avenue, Room 323, Helena, MT 59623.  The deadline for all board applications is 4:00 p.m., Thursday, October 22,, 2015.

Celebrate Centennial Trail West at Noon this Friday, October 16th!

Celebrate Centennial Trail This Friday, October 16th! This will be a great opportunity to celebrate the establishment of a safe, accessible path across town. Event will include an update of currently schedule construction and discussion of what needs to be done to complete the trail across town to East Helena and to Fort Harrison to the West. 
Centennial Trail West will provide a safe, accessible pedestrian and bike path along former rail right of way recently donated for the project shown from "A" to "F" above and discussed in more detail here
Friday, October 16 – Noon to 1 p.m.
We will be meeting at the intersection of Joslyn Street and the trail, east of the Reynolds Trailer Court
Because the Centennial Trail, when fully constructed, will be the backbone east/west urban connecter through Helena that will provide people who are walking and biking safe travel routes from Spring Meadow Lake to East Helena.
Contact Ryan Kettel , Non-Motorized Transportationl Advisory Council Chairman at 406.495.0151 for more information.

Important Recycling Meeting This Wednesday


Download Full Meeting Materials Here
This Wednesday's admin discussion of recycling will be critical in setting forth the future of recycling for Helena Residents. Items 5b and 5c both have implications for how Helena residents are taxed for refuse and recycling services. The agenda and information packet provided to the commission can be downloaded here

The Helena City Commission should ensure that the cost saving for city services from residents who recycle or otherwise generate less cost to city services are recognized. Initially, the most effective way to do this is to allow resident to have a choice in how their solid waste and recycling assessment is spent. Residents who utilize community trash collection bins, or residents who would be adequately served by collection of their person trash bins every other week, should be allowed to voluntarily choose a once a month recycling option without additional assessments or charges. To ensure all cost are covered, these residents would also need to accept halving their transfer station tonnage allowance to 1,500 pounds. 

Helena's current solid waste system was establishing with a promise of recycling, including curbside collection. Wednesday's decision should allow resident who want to recycle to have a basic option to do so without an increased assessment or charge. Not doing so is not only an unfair use of their tax dollars, but is fiscally and environmentally wasteful as garbage trucks and recycling trucks will be spending more time, fuel and vehicle wear collecting partially full bins. 

Item 5c, regarding new charges for permit holders use the City of Helena Transfer Station should be amended to allow sixty trips a year per residents, especially for persons living outside of the city who do not have private trash collection. I write in more detail here

Please join the City Commission this Wednesday at 4pm to show your support for recycling or write the Mayor and Commission by sending an email to MayorandCommission(at)

Thank you very much!


- Matt E

Matthew Elsaesser, Commissioner
City of Helena, Montana, USA

406.431.0815 / 59624-321