Lawrenceville considers tossing current recycling program

Lawrenceville is exploring alternatives to its recycling program, which it might cancel altogether. (Courtesy of Gwinnett Recycles)
Lawrenceville is exploring alternatives to its recycling program, which it might cancel altogether. (Courtesy of Gwinnett Recycles)

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Clarkston’s recycling program has been restarted after it was suspended last year.

It used to cost Lawrenceville nothing to recycle. But in recent years, as the costs to trash haulers increased, the cost for the city has, too.

Now, as Lawrenceville spends about $122,000 a year to provide recycling services to residents, the city is considering other options. One of them is eliminating recycling entirely.

“That gets your attention,” Lawrenceville Mayor David Still said of the annual cost. “The question is, what do citizens want?”

If Lawrenceville leaders vote to eliminate curbside recycling, they won’t be the first metro Atlanta city to do so. Clarkston temporarily eliminated curbside pickup, while others are making changes to their own recycling programs.

Gwinnett County gave haulers the option to raise their rates last year, if the price of commodities they recycle falls. And the county eliminated a number of categories that people used to be able to put into recycling because there’s no longer a market for the products.

A few miles northeast of Lawrenceville, Dacula will soon start handling recycling on its own. Beginning June 1, the city will no longer use Republic Services to collect due to concerns over rising costs.

Dacula residents won’t face any additional costs for the change in service.

If the city continued to use Republic Services, it would have faced a 17% increase in service fees from the last negotiated rates, City Administrator Joey Murphy said.

In Lawrenceville, city leaders on Wednesday were set to discuss giving residents a third-party recycling option or opening a recycling center, in addition to eliminating the service entirely.

Still said leaders have known for more than a year that something needed to change about the recycling program, but the coronavirus pandemic put a decision on hold. While he said it’s important to limit the materials that are put in landfills, Still said many people recycle things that aren’t recyclable, raising costs.

“If you can recycle stuff and people can make money, no brainer,” he said.

But that’s no longer what’s happening.

“The cost of recycling is going up simply because there’s not a huge market for it,” Sugar Hill City Manager Paul Radford said. “We all have a responsibility to keep as much out of the waste stream as we can. ... Our community expects recycling to be part of that service that we’d provide them.”

Gaye Johnson, the public works director in Snellville, said she thinks it would be hard to eliminate curbside service. People are used to the convenience. Even though Snellville has a recycling center, she said the city still offers pickup.

Haulers used to offer Snellville a rebate for recycling, but that’s since disappeared, Johnson said. Still, the recycling center is bringing in revenue. Through the end of April, Snellville made $114,490 on nearly 860 tons of recyclables, she said. Some of that comes from glass, which many local services no longer take.

But the center costs nearly $1.9 million to build and has two full-time and three part-time employees.

Johnson said she didn’t think recycling was “something to be done away with.”

“I understand why they’re looking,” she said. “I hope they continue to find ways to make it work.”

Box: What are the most littered plastics in your Gwinnett city?

Auburn: Drink bottles, snack wrappers, styrofoam cups, bags and cigarette butts

Berkeley Lake: Bags, cigarette butts, drink bottles, snack wrappers and styrofoam cups

Braselton: Drink bottles, bags, cigarette butts, styrofoam cups and snack wrappers

Buford: Drink bottles, bags, cigarette butts, styrofoam cups and styrofoam plates

Dacula: Drink bottles, balls, bags, plastic cups and snack wrappers

Duluth: Drink bottles, bags, cigarette butts, snack wrappers and plastic cups

Grayson: Bags, drink bottles, snack wrappers, cigarette butts and plastic cups

Lawrenceville: Drink bottles, bags, plastic cups, cigarette butts and straws

Lilburn: Drink bottles, snack wrappers, styrofoam cups, bags and cigarette butts

Loganville: Drink bottles, cigarette butts, snack wrappers, styrofoam cups and plastic cups

Norcross: Drink bottles, cigarette butts, snack wrappers, bags and styrofoam cups

Peachtree Corners: Drink bottles, styrofoam packing material, bags, snack wrappers and styrofoam cups

Rest Haven: Drink bottles, cigarette butts, bags, styrofoam cups and plastic cups

Snellville: Drink bottles, straws, styrofoam cups, candy wrappers and snack wrappers

Sugar Hill: Drink bottles, snack wrappers, plastic cups, bags and paper cups

Suwanee: Drink bottles, bags, snack wrappers, styrofoam cups and candy wrappers

Source: 2021 Plastic Litter Report by Gwinnett Recycles

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