On Oct. 15, city workers will start switching out the diminutive 18-gallon bins with rolling, blue 96-gallon "carts." Total cost to the city: $2.3 million, which the mayor claims will be made up in cost savings.
Crews will first begin switching out containers in southwest Atlanta before moving to Virginia-Highland, Morningside, Poncey-Highland and other communities in the northeast part of the city three weeks later. Grant Park residents and other southeast Atlanta neighborhoods should expect their carts to arrive shortly after Thanksgiving. Northwest Atlantans will receive their bins after Christmas and into the new year. Around one-third of Atlanta homeowners already have the large carts.
In a City Hall press conference this morning to kick off the effort and accompanying PR campaign, the mayor stressed the importance of recycling, which he says is part of his plan to make Atlanta a top ten sustainable city. In addition, says the mayor, recycling makes financial sense.
According to the city, Atlantans throw out an estimated 96,000 tons of trash each year, which costs the city $7 million to toss in landfills. But residents only recycle 12,000 tons of materials each year, which the city says leaves " leaves significant room for improvement." City officials have set a goal of diverting 90 percent of municipal waste from landfills by 2020.
Flanked by Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson, City Hall officials, local sustainability advocate Laura Turner Seydel, and several big blue carts, the mayor said he thinks making larger bins available will help increase the percentage of Atlantans who recycle, which, according to the Department of Public Works, now stands at a ho-hum 37 percent.
"The bins eliminated all the excuses that have been used about recycling," said Reed, who admitted he used to needle staffers who tossed plastic bottles in one bin and trash in another. "'It's inconvenient. I don't know what to separate, what to put in, what to put out.'"
Since taking office, the mayor's made sustainability a key part of his administration and has looked at citywide initiatives that could make Atlanta more green, some of which we should expect to see spelled out in the new sustainability plan that will be unveiled in the coming weeks. He's encouraged the city look into alternative fuels to power its fleets. His staff is in the tail end of developing an urban farm that could serve as a model for others throughout the city. The Department of Sustainability, once funded by a federal grant, is now included in the city's budget. The airport's on its way to launching (or already has kicked off) a composting program. And from what we've been told and the mayor's comments today, it's not just greenwashing, or angling to land on top ten lists to make desperate grabs for positive headlines.
"Everybody understands that we are harming our environment and planet and everyone understands that something is going on with our weather patterns," the mayor said. "And that we're all playing a role in it. We need to be constantly educating folks and that's what the city will do. What you're going to see is again and again you're going to keep hearing from the city, whether you like it or not, whether you're bored, that we're moving in the direction of sustainability."
What should be interesting to watch: how far Atlanta will go to reduce the city's carbon footprint and make Atlanta more green. Once the city catches up with other municipalities, the mayor, be it Reed or a successor, will have to make serious decisions — ones which might anger citizens and the private sector — to make gains. Maybe banning plastic bottles, styrofoam containers or plastic bags? Requiring all materials from a demo or remodeling be transported to a recycling facility rather than a landfill? But that's a topic for another time. Maybe we should first focus on getting people to recycle their bottles of Jolt Cola.
Oh, and lest we forget: the mayor says residents can keep their old recycling bins. If not, Reed says to just leave it on the curb and work crews will come by to recycle the container.
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