Richmond Hill will officially stop accepting yard waste for pickup if it is put in plastic bags beginning March 1 following a unanimous City Council vote Tuesday night to require the debris be put in paper bags.
The move is considered both environmentally and economically sound, and the council decided to make the switch after asking City Manager Chris Lovell to make sure residents are informed and businesses have the bags available.
“Obviously there’s going to be some lag time when we continue to pick it up in plastic until it catches on,” Lovell told the council. “We’d like to make it effective March 1 and then give it a 30-day lag time and let residents know we’ll continue to pick it up as we do today. Then after April 1, that’s it — we’re not picking it up in plastic any more.”
It’s unclear how much money the city expects to save, but Lovell said earlier that providing the service currently costs Richmond Hill about $80,000 annually. The city picks up and hauls more than 1,000 tons of the dry trash a year. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to find landfills willing to accept the debris in plastic bags because they aren’t biodegradable, officials have said.
Paper bags, on the other hand, break down and can be composted along with the yard waste.
The bags usually cost about 50-cents each and can be bought at major retailers such as WalMart, Lowes and Home Depot.
Making sure they’re also available locally is important, council members said.
Council member Jon Fesperman even suggested they ask local convenience stores to carry a supply, “so residents can stop at Parkers or other convenience stores if other places are closed.”
Similarly, council member Johnny Murphy wanted to make sure supplies were on hand before the city began enforcing the measure.
“We need to make sure (local businesses) have the inventory simultaneous to us putting a date on this,” Murphy said. “Or I’ll probably be the first one to get a call from someone saying, ‘I’ve got to put this in a paper bag and nobody in Richmond Hill sells the bags.’”
As for getting word out, the city will put the new requirement on its website and on the newsletter it mails to those who get city services, such as water and sewer.
Council member Jan Bass also suggested informing homeowner’s associations along with the chamber of commerce.
But it’s also important to explain why the city is moving ahead with the requirement for paper, council member Russ Carpenter said.
“We need to clarify in the newsletter as to why we’re doing this so people will understand it’s not just an environmental thing, it’s also an expense thing,” Carpenter said. “We are finding it very difficult for anybody to take the dry trash in plastic bags. ‘Why’ is the key that will cause better buy-in from residents.”
As the board discussed the measure, Mayor Harold Fowler noted city residents recycled about 660 tons of trash last year.
“If you convert that to pounds, it sounds a little more impressive,” Lovell said, which led to various attempts by council members to do the math before the city manager came up with a number — 1.32 million pounds.
“That’s a lot taken out of our landfill, and that is fantastic. (Richmond Hill) citizens deserve applause over that,” Fowler said.