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For Jefferson County, single-stream recycling is close, yet far

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Jefferson County virtually is surrounded by single-stream recycling facilities, but despite an industry trend toward the method, which processes paper and recyclable containers together, it likely will be a long time before residents of Jefferson County see it here.

An unusual set of economic and geographic barriers keeps the practice from making sense for the county, said Deputy County Administrator Michael E. Kaskan, who worked for a number of years managing the county’s recycling and waste management operations.

“It’s going to cost more and somebody has to pay for it,” Mr. Kaskan said.

Proponents of single-stream recycling — where consumers mix their recyclables together at one collection point — say it increases participation by 20 to 30 percent.

But to do it efficiently requires millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and thousands of tons of recyclables.

Of the three north country counties that send their trash to the Development Authority of the North Country’s solid waste management facility in Rodman, only St. Lawrence County offers single-stream recycling.

And this is primarily a function of good fortune.

“We would be in the exact same boat if it weren’t for the fact that Casella is right here in our backyard,” said St. Lawrence County Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart, who supervises recycling and waste management in the county.

Casella Waste Services, the county’s largest private hauler, sorts plastics, glass and metals from paper at a facility in West Parishville and then ships them to a materials recovery facility in Geneva, according to General Manager Chester W. “Skip” Bisnett.

Automated “MRFs” — pronounced like “smurf,” only with a silent s — use a sophisticated system of conveyor belts, optical scanners, air guns and electrical charges to sort paper and cardboard from plastic, glass and aluminum containers.

Within a two-hour drive of Watertown, there are three such facilities.

In addition to the Casella facility in Geneva, there are a Waste Management-owned MRF in Liverpool and a public-benefit-corporation-owned MRF in Utica.

The Geneva facility processes 80,000 tons of recyclable materials a year, Mr. Bisnett said.

And the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, which recently overhauled its operations in Utica at a cost of $9.5 million, handles 30,000 to 35,000 tons of recyclables a year, according to David E. Lupinski, director of recycling there.

The facility is processing about 15 percent more material since it converted to single-stream processing from dual-stream processing two years ago, Mr. Lupinski said.

Dual-stream processing requires residents to separate cardboard and paper from glass, plastic and metal containers.

Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties combined generate only about 9,200 tons of recyclables a year — not nearly enough to justify the construction of an automated MRF, according to Mr. Bisnett.

“You could do it, but it may cost you more to process than it’s worth,” Mr. Bisnett said.

Jefferson County generates the most recyclables by far — 5,100 tons in 2012, compared with St. Lawrence County’s 3,000 tons and Lewis County’s 1,200 tons — but uses the most consumer-intensive form of recycling.

Jefferson County residents have to physically sort their materials into different categories before they can take them to a town transfer station or to the county’s transfer station on Route 12 in Pamelia.

But the system, which may be slightly more painful for residents, works well at keeping costs down at the transfer station, said County Highway Superintendent James L. Lawrence Jr.

Jefferson County does not charge to process recyclables, which it sells to various brokers.

Profits from selling recyclables cover 25 percent of the operational costs at the transfer station. The other 75 percent is covered by “tipping fees” paid by commercial haulers who bring trash to the facility, which the county then trucks to the DANC landfill.

Building an automated MRF at the site largely is out of the question, but even trucking recyclables to a nearby facility would be cost-prohibitive, according to Mr. Lawrence.

“For us to bring it to Syracuse or Utica would not be cost-effective because there would be a limited profit,” Mr. Lawrence said. “There would be a cost and we would not see the revenue.”

Mr. Lawrence is staunchly proud of his transfer station and its self-sufficient status, but other municipal representatives are keenly interested in the virtues of single-stream recycling.

Eugene P. Hayes, city of Watertown superintendent of public works, said that single-stream recycling would drive up participation, be safer for his workers and increase the efficiency of trash and recyclable collection.

“Would the city embrace that? Yes, absolutely, the city would embrace that,” Mr. Hayes said.

But the city processes only about 500 tons of recyclables a year, leaving the county at an impasse.

“Is it convenient? Absolutely,” said Jan M. Oatman, DANC’s regional recycling coordinator. But “that doesn’t mean it’s effective for the municipality.”

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