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Editorial: City taking baby steps to recycling

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Local residents would be well-advised to take advantage of a rare opportunity Saturday — an amnesty day that will offer them the opportunity to rid their residences of items containing hazardous materials, among other things.

The difference on this particular day (and one other each year) is that disposal of the materials is free. Try that on any other day of the week that the Columbus-Bartholomew Recycling Center at 720 S. Mapleton St. is open and you’ll be socked with a fee.

Amnesty Day — this is the autumn version, and another opportunity will be offered in the spring — not only provides residents a chance to get rid of materials for free that would otherwise be stored around the house for months and even years but also serves to increase awareness among the public about the benefits of recycling.

Unfortunately Columbus and Bartholomew County are behind many other Hoosier communities that have been much more aggressive in dealing with the issue of recyclable trash.

The major difference between this area and these other greener communities is curbside recycling. It doesn’t exist in this county.

Instead city and county leaders have chosen to pass recycling initiatives onto the public at large, mostly through offering stations where residents can bring their materials.

Make no mistake, these voluntary efforts have made a difference and have shown a gradual improvement year by year. Consider, for instance, that the amount of commercial cardboard recycled by Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management has increased from 726,873 pounds in 1997 to 2,041,582 last year.

More individuals are participating in recycling. The number of vehicles bringing recyclable materials to the recycling center and various stations in the county in 2011 increased by 8.5 percent over the previous years. In that same time span, the volume of materials brought in increased by 3.6 percent.

Unfortunately, those are only a small fraction of the recyclable materials that are deposited in the landfill each year, taking up valuable space that will grow even more critical in the years to come.

The fact that the recycling numbers have grown slowly but steadily over the years is due in large part to the willingness of some residents to go the extra mile in recycling household and business goods.

Not everyone, of course, is willing to make multiple trips each month to drop off recyclables. That is why interest has grown each year in the adoption of some form of curbside recycling, especially within the city limits of Columbus.

The notion has certainly gotten at least lip service from elected leaders and has reached a point at which a city recycling committee has outlined steps to take in adopting such a program and the amount of money it would take.

It is that last factor that has proven to be the stumbling block time after time. The current city administration has had to adopt extraordinary funding measures just to keep up with infrastructure needs such as street maintenance and a majority of the City Council is loath to even consider a Toter-fee style arrangement in which residents have the cost of curbside recycling tacked onto their utility bills.

Unfortunately, voluntary recycling can only accomplish so much, and as the amount of materials that could be easily recycled continues to clog the landfill, there will come a point at which the cost of doing nothing will outpace the cost of a curbside recycling program.

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