Don't recycle? It's money down the drain

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Franz Adler, Margate recycling coordinator, shares ideas on how the city has become the recycling capital of South Jersey.  

MARGATE – Franz Adler would like people to recycle because it’s good for the environment. But that argument, he admits, usually isn’t too persuasive.

“The only thing that raises people’s awareness is when I talk about money,” said Adler, recycling coordinator for Margate who organized the Shore Towns Recycling Summit Jan. 24 at the Atlantic County Utilities Authority in Egg Harbor Township.

“You can’t just tell a resident taxpayer to do something because I said so. You have to explain the advocacy you’re promoting and show them how it saves money.”

The money-saving message has been heeded in Margate, which ranks No. 1 in recycling per capita in the Garden State. The shore town is a model for other towns that want to save money by recycling disposables including cardboard, newspapers, magazines, automotive scrap, textiles, wood and other items, along with cans and bottles.

Margate is a leader because of combined efforts, including six ordinances that pertain to fiscal responsibility when it comes to trash,” said Adler, who was named a New Jersey recycling leader in 2010.

Among those ordinances is one that requires carpet recycling. Margate is one of just three towns in the state to mandate it. Another limits bulk trash to one big item per week. Margate also started recycling electronics like computers and TVs in 2008, two years before it was required by state law, and called for the use of biodegradable paper bags for leaf collection.

How much have such measures saved the taxpayers? For the two-year period from 2010 to 2012, “between the recycling ordinances and the restructuring of our trash and recycling, we saved over $100,000,” said Adler, or about $16 for each of the approximately 6,300 year-round resident in the municipality.

The savings will likely increase with Margate’s recently inaugurated Civic Pride program, which enlists block captains who inform their neighbors about the benefits of recycling and other cost-savers, like making sure street drains are clear of debris. It costs $1,500 per day “on the low end” to send a truck out to clear a trash-clogged drain, Adler said. “We asked people to take responsibility for the drain at the corner, and we have 40 volunteers already.”

New Jersey was the first state in the nation to require recycling, in part because of a lack of landfill space. But though the Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act became law in 1987, some residents and businesses still do not fully understand their responsibilities. Until a few years ago, even the ubiquitous Wawa convenience stores did not have recycling bins.

ACUA President Rick Dovey said it took “a lot of jawboning” from lawmakers and the state Department of Environmental Protection to get the Pennsylvania-based company to comply. Some other chain convenience stores still do not provide recycling bins for customers.

“The law will be in place 25 years in April, and people are still not aware that it’s mandatory,” Dovey said. “It’s not just homes but the commercial sector and institutions like schools and hospitals; but if you go to the doctor’s office or the food store or the dry cleaner, you’ll see (recycling receptacles) are not universally available.”

When towns fail to recycle, they spend more money in tipping fees, or the cost to haul away regular trash. The loss is compounded because the community also gets less money in state tonnage grants, which are based on the amount and value of a town’s recyclables. In 2009, for example, Atlantic City earned $15,800 in tonnage grants, Ventnor received almost $14,500, Brigantine $6,200, Margate $8,480 and Longport $841.

The January summit drew representatives from the county’s barrier island communities, which share distinct waste problems related to summer tourism. But officials in mainland communities including Hamilton Township and Linwood have also contacted the ACUA to find out how they can get the most out of recycling.

Aline Dix, newly elected committeewoman in Hamilton Township, said she has been “agitating for years and years” to get the community to boost its efforts. In 2010, she said, merchant volunteers were dismayed when they collected trash at a local beach, separated out the recyclables, then saw township crews toss it all in the same Dumpster.

“It’s important that people realize, especially in these times, that this is a financial loss,” said Dix. “We need to decide what we’re doing to require everybody to recycle, not just each home but the big places, because they have more tonnage and can make a bigger impact more quickly if they recycle.”

Hank Kolakowski of the Linwood Public Works Department said the city inspected all the businesses in Linwood to make sure they were recycling; if not, the business owners were told to expect a visit from the ACUA. 

“We did not have any recycling cans on the bike path,” Kolakowski wrote in an email. “We now have about 10 recycling containers along the length of the bike path, and the citizens are using them.”

Linwood also installed additional recycling bins at the All Wars Memorial park, and recycles appliances and electronics to lower its tonnage weight, which lowers its tipping fees, he said.

Commercial businesses can account for up to 75 percent of a community’s recyclables, but compliance “ebbs and flows,” said Adler. A 2006 recycling enforcement sweep resulted in a 47 percent increase in business recycling, “but they’ve fallen back into their old ways,” said Adler. “One of the greatest coups was getting Wawa to recycle.”

Dovey said Adler has clearly been deputized and authorized by the city of Margate to enforce the law.

“It’s an example of what can be accomplished,” he noted.

Adler called himself an “advocate for the taxpayers.”
“We’re not about comparing ourselves to those other communities, but sharing ideas and making people more efficient,” he said.

For information on recycling in Atlantic County see




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