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. 

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