Creating a solution to a community problem takes imagination, follow through, and at least one visionary leader who refuses to take no for an answer. In Bisbee’s case, that person is Andy Haratyk, the city’s operations manager.
When originally offered the task of recycling, Haratyk wasn’t sure it was doable. “I didn’t know if it would work for a small town,” he admitted, realizing that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) single-stream recycling model used in larger cities wouldn’t work in a small town with no budget. Haratyk needed to study his city’s situation and make a plan.
The first step was to analyze the waste stream. “I stood and watched the garbage truck dump into a trench every day for a month,” Haratyk said. “I photographed it and kept track of what was coming out of that truck.” He discovered that the majority of material dumped was what ADEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) call commercial cardboard. He then approached commercial businesses around town and made a deal that if they would let him put a recycle bin next to their garbage bin for the sole purpose of collecting cardboard, in a year he would bring down their monthly garbage fees by half. The bet was on.
Haratyk could only make this work if he could prove to the town that there was economic value behind it. He started with a 20-year-old city van and two prison laborers. In the first month, he made only $1,200. By the second month of recycling, Haratyk was able to show a little profit. And, as he pointed out, “When you can show numbers, then you have the attention of city and county managers.”
The next step was to take on plastics. The first recycling stations went up in Old Bisbee right where the tourists park. He put the garbage cans in a corner and put the Plastic 1 and 2 bins right in the middle of the parking lot. “I’d hear people saying, ‘Honey, get that stuff out of the car, there’s a recycling station,’” said Haratyk. Awareness was building.
Getting everyone to participate was the next step, and that took some real effort. “We went to schools and talked to kids, who then influenced the parents,” Haratyk said. Then they went to every tenth house and asked to audit their garbage, pulling out everything that could be recycled: cardboard, plastic bottles, newspapers, magazines, cat food cans, metal food cans, aluminum cans and white paper. “When we pulled all of that out and put it into separate bags, [the residents] realized that they really didn’t have any actual garbage,” Haratyk said. “We told them that we would have those bins at the end of their block and showed them just how much they could actually recycle.”
Today, there are almost 300 recycling stations around Bisbee. As people became acclimated to the idea of recycling, the town started to eliminate dumpsters. “Every little town can now recycle in Arizona,” Haratyk said. “The hardest part about recycling is convincing public works departments and the people who run sanitation divisions that it’s not trash.”
This guest blog post is from Jill Bernstein, the Executive Director of Keep Arizona Beautiful, a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering communities to take care of their environment through litter abatement, recycling and beautification. This article appeared in Green Living Magazine where Bernstein writes a regular column that focuses on environmental success stories in rural communities.