By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Advocates of curbside recycling in Yukon asked city leaders this week to consider launching the service.
While many city officials and residents support the effort, Yukon’s mayor says a “pretty major financial commitment” is required to begin a curbside recycling program.
“From the city’s standpoint, we already are facing large financial obligations with the Frisco Road development, the TIF (tax-increment financing) districts, Highway 4, and the movement of the gas pipelines,” Mayor Mike McEachern said. “We’ve discussed it several times. But in our current financial condition, it’s not something we can take on right now.
“I believe curbside recycling will be of value to the City of Yukon and I believe the council is behind it. But we need to do the detail work – how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to pay for it because you’re looking at a pretty expensive project.”
After a recent Yukon Community Coffee, the mayor said he invited advocates of curbside recycling to attend a city council meeting to present a proposal.
Armed with extensive research and data, Yukon’s Jenny Davis, Kyra Birkhead and Debbie Bounds proposed to city officials what Davis called a “low-cost plan” to gauge interest in curbside recycling for Yukon residents.
The program would specifically target customers served by the city’s utility department.
Davis, who spoke at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, said council members “welcomed us to come voice our opinions.”
Options include making curbside recycling a phased plan and allowing residents to “opt in” or “opt out”, Davis added.
“What we would need to implement the program would be to weigh the cost of handling the recyclables in-house, providing staff and equipment, including trucks and bins; or contracting the recycling program to an outside contractor,” she said.
Among documents city council members reviewed this week was a list of 15 metro cities with populations above 7,000, according to 2018 U.S. Census figures.
Yukon is one of only four cities on that list without a curbside recycling program. The others are Piedmont, Ardmore and Moore.
Four cities smaller than Yukon have curbside recycling programs – Tuttle, Choctaw, El Reno and Mustang.
Yukon handles about 8,500 households’ waste and has its own trucks and staff to handle their waste and disposal.
Yukon shares space with several other cities at the Oklahoma Environmental Management Authority (OEMA) landfill on Highway 81 near Union City.
Mayor McEachern agreed strongly with recycling advocates about the benefits of reducing waste at the landfill.
Yukon now offers residents a drop-off recycling program at 5th and Ash where people can leave glass, tin, aluminum, paper, cardboard, and plastics for recycling.
Mayor McEachern said having this site open daily has been a “big step forward” and there are “a lot of people participating”.
The more people recycle, the mayor noted, the less waste ends up at the landfill.
“I’m a fan, on a personal level,” McEachern said. “It benefits all of us to recycle.
“Curbside recycling is something that I think we need to get into. I’m for it because a majority of the communities around us are already doing curbside.”
In her presentation this week to the city council, Davis referred to a 2016 study showing U.S. residents with a curbside cart recycle an average of 357 pounds of recyclables per year.
“If you took that average to Yukon, that equals more than 3 million pounds or 1.5 million tons of trash that would not be placed in our landfill,” she told council members.
Davis listed the main benefits of curbside recycling in Yukon:
• Businesses and the school district would alleviate a large amount of waste. (Bounds, a longtime Yukon teacher, leads an active volunteer recycling program at Parkland Elementary)
• Recycling would extend the overall capacity of current landfill space for years.
• Yukon would receive compensation for recycling aluminum, tin, newspaper, and cardboard.
Davis told council members she believes Yukon could eliminate the current drop-off recycle facility at 5th and Ash. She predicts the convenience of a curbside service would encourage many more residents to recycle.
Davis also believes a Yukon curbside recycling program could be partially funded through grants. She cited one grant program from The Recycling Partnership of Falls Church, Va. that provides curbside bins to cities starting a program to offset some of the costs.
To gauge interest, Davis, Birkhead and Bounds propose including in all city utility bills a one-page paper survey to complete; along with an online option.
“There may not be funding in the budget to launch a curbside recycling program in the next year, but our goal is to start the conversation and possibly get on the agenda to discuss the options,” Davis said.
“We know that building this program takes time. So maybe once the program is complete, the funding will be available.”
Until there is enough interest, Davis acknowledged that funding the equipment and personnel specifically for curbside recycling may not be feasible.
“Maybe we don’t buy trucks and hire staff until we know what our interest is like,” she said.
“Maybe we just have an opt-in service and contract it out. All these other cities are contracting it out.
“I do not think that adding a mandatory cost to people’s (utility) bill and giving them a bin is the answer either. That would be a mistake. And that would be unfair to ask a lot of elderly and low-income residents to add an extra cost at this point. Maybe phase one is ‘opt-in’.”
Yukon’s mayor looks forward to seeing results of the citizen survey and a feasibility study to determine options on ways to pay for a curbside recycling service.
“If everyone feels strongly about it, then we’d certainly be interested in looking at this as a budgeted item,” McEachern said. “Ultimately, we’d have to pay for it somehow.”