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Items must be sorted by material before they’re sent to the Blaine County Recycling Center in Ohio Gulch, and contamination is a perennial problem.

Blaine County will look into making a number of proposed changes to its recycling system presented to the county commissioners Thursday evening by the Wood River 3R Task Force.

But the commissioners ex-pressed hesitancy to adopt one particular suggestion from the task force: switching from a multi-stream model to a single-stream one.

Suggestions from the task force—assembled last year by a local coalition that includes the Sun Valley Institute for Resilience, the Environmental Resource Center and the Ketchum Sustainability Advisory Committee—included staffing local community collection sites, researching new end markets for recycling materials and looking into national grants and pilot programs for Blaine County to participate in.

The task force also suggested that the county look into the cost and logistics of switching from a multi-stream recycling model to a single-stream recycling model—meaning that all recyclable materials would be collected together, rather than sorted into separate piles. That would entail driving recyclables to Western Recyling, a recycling center in Boise, rather than sorting those recyclables in Blaine County, according to the task force’s presentation.

Numbers from Western Recycling suggest that when an area switches from multi-stream to single-stream recycling, the amount of product that ends up being recycled doubles, presenter Rebecca Bundy told the commissioners. When the amount of waste that ends up with recyclables is taken into account, that could mean a 76% increase in recycling in Blaine County, Bundy said.

But single-stream recycling is more expensive than multi-stream, Bundy noted, and would require yet-unknown startup and ongoing costs for labor and equipment. Transporting the recyclables to Boise would also have its own effect on the environment.

In a Monday Hailey City Council meeting, Bundy said the single-stream model could result in about 11-12% contamination, higher than the current presorting model. But the current system is not working well for multifamily developments, she said, “because there’s no one that really has ownership of the [trash cans].”

Public recycling sites in Hailey have also seen high levels of contamination, Bundy added, and the sites have garnered a number of noise and “visual disturbance” complaints to the city and Clear Creek Disposal.

“The county is looking at a lot of options and we don’t know at this point if they are really going to go to single stream, as had been indicated to us before,” Bundy said. “It’s really up in the air at this point.”

Commissioner Angenie Mc-Cleary said Thursday that she was hesitant to embrace the idea of single-stream recycling without more information, citing the possible high cost, potential environmental impacts of transportation and higher risk of contamination among the recyclables.

“I have very serious concerns about the cost, and frankly I’m even more concerned about the environmental impact of going to single-stream than the cost,” McCleary said.

Commissioners Dick Fosbury and Jacob Greenberg echoed McCleary’s concerns, saying more information was needed on the potential costs and benefits.

“I’m concerned about the cost, but I’m also concerned about how much more effective single-stream might be,” Greenberg said.

At Monday’s Hailey City Council meeting, Greenberg said he was primarily concerned with the model’s higher contamination rates, steeper maintenance costs and associated carbon footprint.

“We just don’t have enough information to make a decision about single-stream at this point in time,” he said.

Bundy told the Hailey council that regardless of what the county decides, the city can implement a number of its own changes. One suggestion she presented was adding a roll-off, glass-only dumpster with small slots at the top to prevent residents from dumping “whole bags and boxes” full of jars and bottles. The dumpster would help keep glass out of the waste stream, preventing it from driving up dumping costs that are based on weight, she said.

Another option she presented was adding a self-serve cardboard compactor, which would eliminate the need for the city’s handful of cardboard-only dumpsters.

“Folks would have to fold their cardboard up and feed it in. The [compactor] could help alleviate some of the mess that’s occurring at these sites,” Bundy said.

In a public comment session, Hailey resident Robert Lonning said, “It sort of feels like people think our recycling center is a city dump. That problem has to be addressed. Also, if we have containers with slots instead of open bins, like Ketchum’s [glass dumpster at the YMCA], we’re going to see a lot less Styrofoam and other trash.”

Bundy also discussed on Monday the implications of adding food and yard waste collection to the franchise agreement, a proposal championed by council President Kaz Thea. If Blaine County were to add food and yard waste pickup, it could divert almost a quarter of what is currently going to the landfill, she said. (An audit of the county’s waste stream conducted last March showed that food waste accounts for 23.5% of what ends up in Milner Butte Landfill.)

Bundy said food and yard waste would be sent to Winn’s Compost in Ohio Gulch, helping to support a local business, and the compost pickup would add around $6.25 to the monthly cost for garbage and recycling.

“Interestingly, it costs less to dispose of the compost [at Winn’s] than it does to tip it into the landfill,” she said.

McCleary said she would rather see the task force focus on new approaches to community outreach and addressing challenges around food waste.

“I think there’s a real opportunity and a real need right now [for education], especially with so many people moving into our area right now,” she said.

Hailey Mayor Martha Burke took a few minutes on Monday to remind the public that for paper recycling, only newsprint and printer/copier paper can be recycled in Blaine County, from where it’s trucked into Twin Falls to be turned into hydromulch and insulation.

“They need it to be really, really clean,” she said.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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