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December 2007

A Closer Look E-mail the author

City of Longmont, Colorado

A Closer Look

Rather than contract waste hauling to an outside vendor, the city of Longmont, Colorado provides that service to most of its residents. Charles Kamenides, operations manager for trash and recycling in the city, explained that multi-family buildings with eight units or more can opt to use a private service. Excluding those that opt for other haulers, the city has over 29,000 residential waste customers who receive weekly trash pickups, along with recycling pickups twice a month.

“We collected 30,560 tons of trash curbside and in our large item collection,” Kamenides said of the totals for 2006. Of that, 30,169 tons came from curbside pickups and 391 tons was from large item collections. Also, 7,956 tons were picked up in the curbside recycling program.

Besides picking up trash and recyclables from residents, the city provides extra services, with the goal of keeping material out of landfills when possible. During an average fall season, the city picks up about 30,000 compostable bags full of leaves at no extra charge. In the spring, the city picks up branches on scheduled dates, but Kamenides noted that citizens can call at any time for branch pickups.

After the Christmas holidays, Christmas trees are also picked up and recycled on designated days. Branches, leaves and trees all go to the city’s “tree limb diversion site,” according to Kamenides. There, the material is turned into mulch, which is then available to citizens year-round, at no charge.

The city also partners with other organizations when appropriate. For example, one year the state used leftover Christmas trees to create fish habitats in local lakes.

The city also hosts a household hazardous collection day, where paints, solvents and other materials are picked up and “treated appropriately for proper disposal,” Kamenides said.

“Stop and drop” is a service where citizens can drop off bulky or large items at the public works facility on designated days. Along with taking things like furniture, the city accepts electronics. The electronics are broken down for recycling, metals are recovered, and it’s all done at no charge to residents.

For residents who want to haul some of their own trash, there are two “landfill days” when residents can drop off material at the landfill at no charge. The recycling center is open to residents 24 hours a day, and the tree limb diversion site is open 7 days a week, with a few exceptions, such as when grinding operations are running.

Besides residential recycling, the city also recycles when it can. Asphalt and concrete from street projects is re-used for other projects, and even the sludge from the city’s wastewater treatment plant is composted.

Kamenides said that the city is in a “transition phase to create a more sustainable city.” Part of that transition is the placement of recycling containers in the downtown shopping area and in the parks system, so that residents and visitors have a place to toss recyclable materials. “Our goal is to make recycling much easier,” Kamenides said.

He also believes that a switch from a five-day-a-week trash hauling schedule to a four-day-a-week schedule will increase his department’s efficiency. That will build on the increased efficiency when the city changed to automated collection vehicles in 1998.

Currently, the tree limb diversion site only accepts leaves and branches, but there is a pilot program to collect green waste, like lawn clippings, at the site. When the program is up and running, Kamenides said the site will also accept wood.

Another change is an upcoming switch to single-stream recycling, which will also broaden the scope of what can be recycled. Kamenides said that he is looking forward to more participation from residents, “up to 30 percent greater.” Kamenides said that some neighborhoods are better at recycling than others, but overall, “We have a real dedicated population here. They want to recycle more.”

According to Kamenides, the key to getting more households to participate, and more recycling from each household, is to “develop a recycling system that is easy.” He said that his department often gets calls from residents who need more information about what can be recycled and what can’t, and sometimes it’s too complicated or confusing for people to deal with. The new system should alleviate some of that confusion. “Our mission is to keep things out of the landfill,” Kamenides said.

Kamenides has been working for the city of Longmont for three years, but he said that the city has been providing waste hauling services to its residents since the city grew big enough to need the service.

Kamenides said that at one of the city’s events, Rhythm on the River which drew a crowd of 30,000 people, there were only 22 bags of trash generated, and that 96 percent of the waste generated was diverted because of recycling. “I’m kind of proud of that,” Kamenides said. Vendors were asked to make sure everything was consumable, compostable or recyclable, including plates and plastic utensils. As a result, participants could take the trash to “zero-waste stations” for composting and recycling.

To some people, Kamenides may have a trashy job, but as far as he’s concerned, he’s “making a difference to our residents,” by providing the best service he can, and by recycling as much as possible.