Having convinced Recyclops to bring its subscription curbside recycling service to Patagonia and having sponsored monthly collections of cardboard and glass, the Patagonia Recycling Task Force now faces some tough decisions about how best to advance recycling opportunities in Eastern Santa Cruz County.
Chief among these decisions is whether to suspend the glass and cardboard collections to encourage more households to sign up for the Recyclops curbside service. Nine months after its service launch, Recyclops still has not attracted the 100 subscribers it maintains it needs to make the local effort profitable.
The task force was created early in 2020 when it came to light that most of the recyclables going into the county-provided trailers behind the post office were not being recycled because of the high level of trash mixed in with the recyclables. In March 2020, the county yanked its containers, virtually halting all local recycling opportunities from a community with a strong contingent of citizens eager to recycle.
Unable to bring back a full-scale drop-off operation, the group implemented a series of once-a-month collections of glass and cardboard in January 2021. By the end of 2021, the task force had also succeeded in attracting Recyclops to the community.
Commenting on the group’s current challenges, task force chair Bob Brandt said, “Recyclops customers tell us they are pleased with the service, and we hope the number of people who take advantage of it will substantially increase,” Brandt said. “However, we need to figure out if our monthly collections are undermining the curbside pickup subscriptions and what we can do, if anything, to support both curbside and drop-off recycling.”
To determine why those who drop off their glass and cardboard have not subscribed, the task force has started asking those recyclers to complete a short questionnaire. That effort got off to a very slow start at the monthly collection on July 23 when fewer than ten people brought cardboard and the total haul was not enough to fill even a small trailer.
Two of the seven people who filled out the questionnaire said they don’t want to pay for curbside service if they can drop their recyclables off at no cost or for a small donation, two said they don’t generate enough to make it worth the cost of curbside pickup and two reported they would subscribe to the Recyclops service if the service were available where they live. The task force initially had hoped that Recyclops would serve customers in Sonoita, Elgin and other outlying areas but the company has yet to identify a cluster of homes and businesses there that could be served profitably.
The Recyclops service model seems well-suited for small jurisdictions such as Patagonia. The company pays local drivers to use their own vehicles to collect the recyclables rather than large trucks that have comparatively large carbon footprints. They provide subscribers with a supply of transparent lightweight plastic bags that allow drivers to detect any unacceptable items in the bags and call that to the attention of the customer. The result is that, in comparison with larger operations, significantly less of the material that goes to Republic Services in Tucson, the recycling processing facility, gets landfilled.
According to Recyclops operations chief Eric Holeman, the company accepts plastics 1-7 because the Republic Services facility in Tucson has the capability to process, and has buyers for, the hard-to-recycle plastics. Holeman noted that, in this region, the bags supplied by the company to their customers are recycled after they are emptied and are used by Trex in the manufacturing of composite decking materials.
The task force continues to invite comments from anyone who may have suggestions on how to improve recycling in the region.
Brandt may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org