Rural Recycling: A Cost-Savings and Waste Diversion Opportunity for Teton Valley Idaho

Developing a successful rural diversion and recycling program has been an educational experience and a challenge over the last decade.  Small communities, such as Teton Valley Idaho are attempting to meet lofty recycling and waste reduction goals of 15 to 70 percent increases.

For areas like ours, solid waste volumes fluctuate due to seasonal residents and tourism. And without growing participation in recycling, we can have difficulties accumulating enough processed materials which limit cost-effective, commodity-marketing options. (The higher the volume, the easier it is to sell). Additionally, our efforts can be limited due to low population, low-density housing and tax base, as well as limited budgets to develop processing infrastructure and hire personnel for processing.

However, Teton Valley has strengths that have assisted us in developing and operating recycling programs. For example, our residents have a strong sense of community, a history of volunteering (such as the TVCR or Teton Valley Community Recycling Organization) and a proactive waste management team at the Transfer Station.

Typically, rural waste streams come from residences and small businesses. As a result, our waste stream is lighter than what is found in urban waste streams with large amounts of commercial wastes. A successful rural recycling program will focus on and extract heavy items such as glass, metal containers and newspapers. Although not considered heavy, cardboard containers and other commercial wastes have boosted the diversion rate as well due to its volume. Uniquely, +20% of Teton Valley’s waste is being generated through construction and demolition and is a current focus of the effort to educate general contractors that if they sort materials, the tipping cost is $15/ton; if they do not sort it is $210/ton. With just 3 tons, it is significant savings.

It may not be well known, but recycling often is not a money-maker, despite its many benefits. Because markets can be volatile, recycling sales revenues cannot be relied on to solely support a regional program. Instead, view recycling costs as part of the entire municipal solid waste management strategy. A diversion and recycling program should be considered a viable method for reducing overall disposal costs and improving the overall waste budget.

Keys to Continued Success

  • Avoid High-Cost Items - Avoided landfill tipping fees; Avoided landfill-liabilities
  • Increase Revenues - Higher volumes of recyclables can make materials easier to sell
  • Regional Economic Stimulus - New collection and processing jobs
  • Improved Participation - Convenient and easy recycling opportunities and services

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