Businesses still struggling to comply with recycling ordinances a year after deadlinePosted: March 26, 2015
By Evelyn Andrews
Krysten Dryfus finishes a milk container, but walks past the trash can to her outdoor closet where she stores her recyclables. Dryfus lives at the Connection at Athens and she is not aware of any recycling at the complex, so she keeps her recyclables and takes them to a recycling center.
“I just want to help the environment and recycle, but it’s so difficult and inconvenient because I have to collect all my trash and take it to a recycling center,” said Krysten Dryfus. “I wish more apartments in Athens recycled like they do in the dorms at [The University of Georgia].”
Under an Athens-Clarke County ordinance that took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, businesses and apartment complexes are required to have recycling bins, educate residents and customers about their recycling program and have adequate recycling space.
It turns out that the Connection does have recycling bins, but residents seem to be unaware of them because the apartment has failed to educate their residents at the proper level, said Joe Dunlap, a commercial recycling specialist at the Athens-Clarke County recycling division.
“If an apartment complex installs a recycling Dumpster and doesn’t tell anybody about it, yes, they are recycling but they’re not compliant with the ordinance,” he said.
“All residents are given information on recycling the day of move-in and we do encourage them to utilize the resources provided,” said Melissa Brand, the bookkeeper at the apartment.
However, Dryfus said that she doesn’t remember receiving information and has not heard about recycling programs since moving in.
Apartments are also not compliant if they do not have adequate recycling space. The Connection has one recycling container, the same size as a typical garbage disposal container, Brand said. However, Dunlop said one container is not enough space for a complex of that size.
Dunlop said about one-third of all businesses in Athens, which includes apartments, comply with the regulations. The number is fluid, Dunlop said, but a January Red & Black article said about 74 out of 284 apartments comply. Many apartments that are not compliant do have recycling, but lack education.
“A lot of apartments have put recycling in place, but it hasn’t been promoted as well as I would like and there is not the education level that I would like for residents,” Dunlop said.
Other businesses or apartment complexes are either unaware of the ordinances or waiting to see if Athens-Clarke County will enforce them. The recycling division is now pursuing businesses that don’t comply with the regulations more aggressively since the deadline to comply was Jan. 1, 2014.
“We are now more aggressively going after those that are not compliant,” Dunlop said. “If we have been working with somebody for a while and they still do not have the recycling in place, then there is a process where we turn them over to code enforcement and they are issued a citation.”
The Club apartment complex is the most recent to be turned over to code enforcement, Dunlop said, but an apartment representative reported that they do now have recycling.
The county has a benchmark to reduce waste in 2015 by 40 percent from levels in 2010 and Dunlop said they are ahead of schedule. The county has reduced waste by 47 percent and is working toward their next objective – reducing waste by 60 percent in 2018 and 75 percent in 2020.
All of this work by the county was in jeopardy of being stopped before completion. Earlier this month, the Georgia Senate passed a bill, Senate Bill 139, intended to prohibit local governments from restricting the use of plastic bags.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Athens Sen. Frank Ginn, also would have had significant consequences for Athens – it originally eliminated local governments’ ability to regulate recycling. This would have overturned the ordinances that require businesses and apartments to recycle.
However, work by Jerry NeSmith, the ACC District 6 commissioner, and Dunlop helped convince legislators to change the language so that local governments still had control over
regulations. NeSmith argued in an opinion piece for Athens-Banner Herald that the bill “does exactly the wrong things.”
Environmental factors also motivated NeSmith to try to stop bill, citing statistics that 24 million tons of plastic are disposed of every year and less than two million are recycled.
“My effort was, of course, to completely kill the whole idea of not allowing us to have ordinances regulating plastic bags,” NeSmith said, “but at the very least, don’t make us go backwards by making our existing recycling ordinances illegal.”
Although the part of the bill that would overturn the county’s ordinances has most likely been changed, it may still be included when it leaves the House Rules Committee.
“We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the Rules Committee, but I believe we have been successful in changing that part of the proposal,” NeSmith said.
Dryfus is grateful that the bill has been rewritten so that recycling will continue to become easier for her and others in the community.
“I’m glad the bill won’t make it so that Athens business don’t have to recycle,” Dryfus said. “I hope the Connection starts to make it easier to recycle and more businesses and apartments start to recycle.”