DeKalb OKs free recycling

At a time when metro Atlanta governments are weighing how to cut or even eliminate services, DeKalb County on Tuesday voted to give its residents a freebie.

By eliminating the one-time $30 subscription fee for recycling, the County Commission hopes to gradually double the number of people who participate. That, in turn, will save money in the long run by extending the life of the county-owned Seminole Road landfill.

“Half of the waste in the landfill could have been recycled,” said Commissioner Kathie Gannon, who pushed for lifting the fee. “That really speaks to how we will be able to save room in the landfill.”

DeKalb has grown to a 21 percent participation rate since launching its recycling program in 2005. At the time, the county imposed fees to avoid the impression that all residents were subsidizing recycling.

But the cost — which covered an 18-gallon bin and a box of 100 bags just for recycling — also kept all but some of the more die-hard environmentalists from signing up.

For a county that likes to tout itself as the greenest urban county in the country, removing that barrier seemed the best way to encourage more participation. Many residents agreed.

“I think DeKalb has done an outstanding job of managing the landfill,” said Gordon Kenna, who lives in a condo in the Oak Grove area. “This is something the county will find saves everybody money.”

The current recycling rate has already added 16 years to the 70-year life expectancy of the landfill. Curbside rates, which last went up in 2006 to the current $265 annual fee, will still likely need to go up in the near future. That fee includes yard waste.

But further extending the landfill’s life will save the county from having to pay more to haul its waste away, a driving force for higher sanitation rates in other large metro jurisdictions.

Gwinnett County, for instance, charges $218 and $120 a year for limited trash and yard waste pickup, respectively. The recycling cost is embedded in the trash pickup fee.

But for DeKalb to keep costs low, officials said the challenge now is to get the word out about the newly gratis service.

Plans are under way for handouts and community meetings to push the initiative, county spokesman Burke Brennan said, though a formal marketing plan is not in place.

A key part of any effort will be to remind residents that, while the county eliminated the fee, a sign-up is still required so sanitation trucks know where they need to go every week on recycling runs.

“We know we want to increase participation, so we have to make sure this is something everyone knows about,” Commissioner Stan Watson said. “This is a win for everyone involved.”

To sign up: Residents who want to sign up for recycling services can call 404-294-2900 or email sanitation@co.dekalb.ga.us.

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