Climbing the Recycling Mountain

Climbing the Recycling Mountain

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One of the recycling trucks used by Fayetteville Solid Waste and Recycling. Operators actually separate the recycling at the curb for easier sorting back at the storage and bailing site on Happy Hollow.

By Terrah Baker

Roughly 50 percent of Fayetteville residents recycle. Still, over 13,500 tons of trash goes to the landfill each year — enough to cover Razorback Stadium seven stories tall.

But Brian Pugh, director of Fayetteville Solid Waste and Recycling, hopes by upping the outreach efforts of his department, participation in the recycling program that began in the 1990s will reach 70 percent by 2015. Energy Corps members, volunteers and solid waste staff will be working to educate students through in-class sessions, reach out to residents by going door-to-door and build an identity for the recycling program through creative marketing.

The First Door-To-Door

Last September, a joint effort between the City of Fayetteville Sustainability and Strategic Planning office and solid waste took volunteers to the streets and to over 670 households. They carried surveys about the current recycling program, brochures and pledge cards in-hand. At each door they asked residents how they felt about the current recycling program and recycling as a whole.

With five volunteers, 16 city employees, nine Energy Corps members, five days and solid waste trucks, they handed out free recycling bins (Previously residents got one bin for free and paid for a second. Now the second is free.) while educating about what can be recycled.


Photo By Terrah Baker
Brian Pugh gives a tour of the Fayetteville Solid Waste and Recycling compound located on Happy Hollow Road.

y didn’t take on the responsibility of spreading the word about their program in an area with historically low participation rates lightly. Elizabeth Hill, Energy Corps member with the sustainability office, researched community based social marketing to find the best way to get Fayetteville to that 70 percent mark.

“When you’re trying to change people’s minds about sustainability issues, face-to-face is the best way. The survey part was important, including the wording, but also trying to get people to do commitments, like the pledge cards,” Hill explained.

Research showed that beginning the survey with positive questioning like, “Are you supportive of recycling as a means of reducing waste and reclaiming resources in our community,” would lead to a more positive attitude — 95 percent of those surveyed answered “yes.”

The results of the surveys when tallied several weeks later showed overall satisfaction with the program, and several months later, participation in the neighborhoods surveyed had jumped — about 18 percent — according to curbside bin counts.

“All of the volunteers were really impressed with how positive people were. Most people were willing to talk with us and were very supportive of the recycling program and very satisfied with it. We got a lot of suggestions, though. A big one was taking more plastics,” explained Hill.

The Deal With Plastics

Each year, Fayetteville residents recycle about 19 percent of their waste, while composting about 18 percent, with 5 percent of that being plastic bottles. What they don’t recycle goes to the Eco Vista Landfill in Tontitown — scheduled to be full in the next 20 to 50 years. What is recycled is handled, bailed and sold by the solid waste department.

Fayetteville made $714,040 in 2011 on selling recyclables — while spending about $1.8 million on waste disposal — but not everything is marketable. Plastics three through seven are materials that have been accepted by the city at their drop-off sites at Ozark Natural Foods and on Happy Hollow Road, but have no market value or even a market at this time. Pugh explained that right now, these plastics just sit at the solid waste collection site, bailed and ready.

Over a year ago, Pugh thought they had found a buyer for mixed plastics — a domestic company out of Oklahoma that would make a synthetic grade oil for making more plastic items. But the company went under and is selling off their equipment.

“We thought we had found our golden nugget,” Pugh said. “Plastics are confusing, and they’re in everything so people want to recycle that stuff. But a pop bottle is called a blow-molded container which melts differently than an injection-molded container, so recycling them can get complicated.”

Photo By Terrah Baker
A recycling truck drops off plastic bottles one and two to be bailed and sold to markets throughout the country.

Because of an ordinance passed by the city in 2010 that requires full disclosure and knowledge of where the recyclables go and what they’re used for, Pugh can’t just send the over 36,000 lbs. of mixed plastic — 36 bails at 1,000 lbs. each — they currently have stored to just anyone.

Pugh is looking at a company in Dallas, Texas, to purchase the materials but he said no decisions will be made until the company can say for sure where the materials will be going.

The Future of Fayetteville Recycling

The next year will be spent on outreach for Pugh and his new Energy Corps members, Nina Prater and Ben Maddox. A timeline has been set out and through cooperation with organizations like Curbside Value Partnership they hope to reach their curbside recycling participation goal in just about two years.

Through creating a mascot and a logo — an identity — for the recycling program, they hope to make it easier for young children and students to get excited about reducing waste.

“We will be working with Dana Smith [sustainability coordinator for Fayetteville Public Schools] so we can get information into the schools and educate the students who in return will teach their parents about the program,” Pugh explained.

The cost of disposal will only be getting higher, he said, so that’s just one more reason for recycling. But according to Pugh, knowing that recycling saves resources, energy and money is something most people already know.

Photo By Terrah Baker
The about 36,000 lbs. — 36 bails at 1,000 lbs. each — of plastics three through seven the city is storing until a legitimate market can be found.

“Most people understand the benefits of recycling. Our program is convenient to a point because you set the bin at your curb. It’s just knowing what to put in that bin, and driving home those reasons,” he said.
For more information on what to recycle, where to recycle and places you’ll be able to drop off in the near future, visit

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