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Recycling’s Coming to Athens Apartments and Businesses

A lot more beer bottles and pizza boxes are headed to Athens-Clarke County’s recycling facility soon.

A new law requiring businesses and apartment complexes to provide recycling bins kicks in Jan. 1. Some large employers and property managers are already on board, but ACC officials say they’re struggling to get the word out to many businesses that they must comply.

“There are a lot of businesses that are already recycling and doing a great job of it,” says Joe Dunlop, the ACC Solid Waste Department’s commercial recycling specialist. “For them, it’s a matter of improving education a little bit and filling out a form.

“For those who aren’t, it’s a little bit harder to do, but I can help them with that. That’s my job.”

The law is part of a years-long push to boost recycling in Athens, with an eventual goal of a 75 percent recycling rate. The recycling rate in Athens is currently 45 percent—18,000 tons of waste a year are diverted from the county landfill—putting ACC ahead of schedule.

Other measures put in place to encourage recycling include single-stream. The county recycling center was retrofitted in 2011 to separate paper from aluminum, plastic and glass, allowing people to throw all of their recyclables into one bin. The changes also allowed a wider variety of plastics and other materials to be recycled. “Making that switch, it really makes it a lot easier,” Dunlop says.

More options for recycling will come online in the coming years. One is a CHARM (Center for HArd-to-Recycle Materials) on College Avenue where people will be able to drop off items like mattresses, and companies will pick them up and recycle them. Construction on the $193,000, SPLOST-funded CHARM is scheduled for next year.

But back to the mandatory recycling law. Every business except those run out of homes falls under the law. So do churches and nonprofits. So far, Dunlop says he has focused on large businesses, and many smaller businesses are either not aware of the law (in spite of letters sent by ACC) or are waiting to see if ACC will really enforce it.

Violators can be fined by the ACC Community Protection Division. “Like any new ordinance, eventually you’re going to have to go out and hit people over the head with a stick,” ACC Solid Waste Director Jim Corley says.

But don’t expect the trash cops to start beating down doors. “Freeze! That can went into the garbage,” Dunlop says. “That’s not what it’s about… We’re saving enforcement for those who are obstinate, who fold their arms and hold their breath.”

In fact, some business owners feared that’s exactly what it would be about when the commission passed the law earlier this year. Because it was called the mandatory recycling ordinance, they misunderstood it to mean people would be required to recycle. That’s not the case; the ordinance merely requires that the option of recycling be available for customers and apartment-dwellers.

Private haulers, as well as some property owners, also opposed the recycling education fee (60 cents per month for residential customers and $1.20 for businesses) that pays Dunlop’s salary. Critics also raised concerns about how they’d fit receptacles onto their property. Space is definitely an issue, Dunlop says, especially at apartment buildings, fraternities and sororities. 

Dunlop distributes educational materials to business owners and apartment residents, such as green tote bags with instructions on what can be recycled printed on the side. Tenants can use them to carry their recyclables down to bins.

Another part of his job is to conduct trash audits to help business owners figure out how to comply. They’ve come up with some pretty creative solutions so far.

Dunlop points to the downtown apartment complex 909 Broad as an example of how to get around obstacles. With no space for a large recycling container, instead, property manager Courtney Redmond, who served on a Solid Waste Task Force appointed by former Mayor Heidi Davison that recommended the law, put 10 96-gallon green rollcarts (the same ones homeowners use) in a storage space. Solid Waste picks them up twice a week, and they’re full every time, she says. And everything that’s recycled doesn’t go into the building’s trash compacter, which saves money.

“If you provide it, they [tenants] will use it,” Redmond says. “A lot of people are educated and want to recycle, so it’s not that difficult.”