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Maybe light at end of recycling conundrum

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera County Commissioners recently learned that "life with recycling" is not only feasible, but could also be somewhat profitable.
During a Thursday, March 26, meeting, Claudia Rogers of the nonprofit Keep Utopia Beautiful and Utopia Recycling and Rachel Hering, executive director of Cooperative Teamwork & Recycling Assistance, spoke to the court at the request of Precinct 4 Commissioner Jordan "Jody" Rutherford.
The women opined that recycling was not only viable, but could routinely end up in the black - something which has eluded Bandera County for years.
$$$ return can be had
Residents of the western end of Bandera County, as well as those in Uvalde and Real counties, routinely recycle in Utopia. Last year, Utopia Recycling saw a return of $8,000 - in spite of a decrease in the prices for commodities.
According to Rogers, Utopia Recycling collected 70 tons of materials and half of that was cardboard shipped directly to a mill in Oklahoma - without hauling costs. At the prospect of free shipping, the court's collective ears perked up. Other marketable recyclables included plastic, steel, aluminum and even paper, which, according to Rogers, "... isn't selling well right now."
Describing the Utopia Recyling set-up, she said the location is open three days a week with everything processed and consolidated in a centralized location. This site includes both recycling and trash collection. Close monitoring, Rogers said, prevents the recyclables from being contaminated.
Contamination - Bandera's bane for years - has kept the cost of local recycling in the red. One bag of carelessly placed trash morphs a load of recyclables into, well, garbage.
Approximately 35 volunteers staff Utopia's recycling program. Additionally, an employee paid by the nonprofit was recently hired.
After crediting her eagle-eyed volunteers for keeping contaminants in check, Rogers added, "And you have to educate people so they know what your expectations are." School programs on recycling, she said, are an important part of the process. "Education is what it's all about."
Rogers said about 250 families and businesses, including Lost Maples and Garner State Parks, use the service and that the customers meticulously pre-sort the recyclables prior to depositing them in a drop box. "It's really a phenomenal thing," she said.
Utopian site
"Uvalde County provides the space and a forklift and we have a non-financial interlocal agreement with the county," Rogers explained. "A grant was used to purchase a bailer."
The site includes two screen-sided buildings for storage and selection, as well as a collection area for motor oil. "Our goal was to have the cleanest, most comfortable recycling facility," Rogers said, adding, "You could have lunch at our site."
Once cardboard is bailed into 1,000-pound load, employees of Hering's Cooperative Teamwork & Recycling Assistance (CTRA) haul it off. "We negotiate to get the best market prices," Rogers said. When Precinct 1 Commissioner Bob Grimes asked if Bandera County could ship recyclables from all four precincts to Utopia Recycles, a horrified Rogers said, "No, no, don't do that. That's not why I'm here!"
'Fair market prices'
With that caveat, she introduced Hering who spoke about Cooperative Teamwork & Recycling Assistance. Formed in November 1994, CTRA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based on the concept of cooperative marketing. Currently, CTRA consists of 60 rural recycling cooperatives representing more than 500 public, private and nonprofit entities.
"Our company looks for the fair market prices for recycled commodities," she said. "And we service all sizes from Joint Base San Antonio at Lackland to Utopia, which is our smallest."
CTRA provides technical assistance to communities or groups interested in recycling. The company also serves as liaison between the public and private sector by negotiating contracts with haulers and end-market at competitive prices.
The collection, transport and sale of recyclables - especially for smaller communities and remote areas - is coordinated by CTRA through their contractors.
Hering told commissioners, "When you take recyclables directly to the mill, you'll get the best price, but if you have to send them to San Antonio for sorting, you're going to pay more."
Hering also assured the court that the trucks would "... never go negative. We have a lot of options that we can tailor to your situation. We'll stick with you and make it work. We will find options that make sense to your community." CTRA charges a 10 percent administrative fee.
Grants will help
After ascertaining that it would cost nothing to ship bailed cardboard directly to a mill, commissioners also discovered the same applied to bailed paper and #1 and #2 plastics. Although easily contaminated, cardboard, according to Hering, plays an important part in recycling and will offset other costs.
She suggested that an outreach to local businesses might result in obtaining more recyclable cardboard.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson said a Boy Scout Troop collects his aluminum cans and Rutherford said a private individual takes his. Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris sells his scrap metal to a company.
"We don't want to take away from local businesses," Hering said. "You can choose what you want to recycle."
The only bailer in the county is located in Precinct 2. However, because bailing makes recycling more effective, Hering said it would be easy to apply to the Solid Waster Grant Fund to purchase another one. "It would not be a huge expense, only $5,000 to $7,000," she said.
Cost analysis?
"Would you help us do a cost analysis?" County Judge Richard Evans asked.
After answering in the affirmative, Hering said she would also gather numbers from counties similar to Bandera.
Citing the need for continued recycling, Harris said his program in Lakehills has seen a "1,000 percent increase" in the last three years. "Every time we raise garbage fees, we see an increase in recycling," he said.
Currently work crews from the Bandera County Jail assist in the recycling program. However, Sheriff Dan Butts said that he would not have the manpower to handle additional work.
"If we use volunteers and consolidate recycling to two areas in the county, we'll be in good shape," Wilkerson said.
"We'll have a lot of questions and homework to do," Evans said. He asked Hering, "If we contract with your company, would you guide us through the process?"
"Before we get to a contract, I'd like to see all the facilities and find partners. It would help to share hauling," Hering responded.
A visit to the county's recycling stations was scheduled for April 8, with Rutherford serving as coordinator. "If people become invested in their community, a recycling program will be a success," Hering told the court.
Another go-round about recycling will be on the agenda during the Thursday, April 23, meeting of commissioners court.