Conway offers residents curbside collection, a free co-mingled program in which no sorting of recyclables is necessary, and its recycling program accepts many items traditionally excluded elsewhere such as Styrofoam and plastic bags.
Then there’s the 35,000-SF recycling center that boasts a new $1.7 million automated sorting system that can sort through the same volume in one to three hours that it takes five days to do manually.
Indeed, Conway is serious about its recycling, and that commitment to conservation initiatives earned it recognition as a 2011 Arkansas Business Green City of Distinction.
Angela Howard, recycling coordinator with the city’s sanitation department, said that in addition to the program’s other features, the new sorting system is the most sophisticated in the region. “These factors have allowed us to achieve the ultimate initial goal of offering the most comprehensive, convenient and successful program in the state,” she said.
The Conway Sanitation Department owns and operates the recycling program as well as the city landfill and compost facility. The self-sufficient program was created through a $1 million bond issue passed in 1994 with 93 percent of the vote. Its reception in the community since has been just as overwhelmingly positive.
“Recycling rates in our volunteer program are more than twice the statewide average of other community recycling rates,” Howard said. “We have also begun extending weekly curbside co-mingled recycling routes to rural areas of Faulkner County by a partnership with the Faulkner County Solid Waste Management District, adding well over 1,000 new weekly recyclers to our routes.”
Howard said the recycling program represents Conway’s commitment to enhance the quality of life of its residents and businesses, and even those in neighboring communities.
“Conway’s integrated solid-waste management program is unmatched throughout the state in scope and breadth with a residential recycling participation rate of 68 percent in our completely elective program compared to the statewide average recycling rate of 32 percent,” Howard said. “Because of this, we’ve played host to several delegations from neighboring municipalities interested in replicating the services we offer to our community.”
Model programs and practices employed by the city and copied by others include:
• The addition of plastic grocery bags and department store sacks to the recycling programs, as well as textiles such as bedding and towels. And, of course, Styrofoam was added to the list of co-mingled recyclables.
• Conway has teamed with the Faulkner County Solid Waste District to offer free electronics recycling to all county residents. At its first electronics recycling event, Conway’s sanitation department collected more than 150,000 tons of electronics waste for recycling, collected from local residents, schools and businesses. Howard said the department has pledged to offer such an event annually, and that the most inspiring part of the event was the more than 100 community volunteers, including students from the University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College, who helped over the two-day event.
• Weekly curbside recycling services are free in Conway, and all yard waste is recycled into nursery-quality mulch available to the public at no charge. “This is a true example of an in-house project by the department to ‘close the loop’ of recycling materials, and benefits all residents who take advantage of this service,” Howard said.
• A household hazardous waste (HHW) reuse center operated by the city properly disposes of items like paint, pesticides, fertilizer and cleaning agents. Conway residents can drop off such materials at the center as well as pick up materials no longer needed in some households but desired in others. Howard said this practice enables residents to recycle and reuse their unwanted, hard-to-manage waste items.
• Conway offers free educational programs and free business waste audits. Annually, roughly 7,000 people – students, residents, delegates from neighboring towns – tour the city’s sanitation and recycling facilities. In addition, the department offers a waste audit service to area businesses where city professionals help determine just what can be recycled. “This service has been invaluable to many area businesses that have seen an obvious reduction in their sanitation service costs through a lessening of their garbage collections and/or downsizing their company’s refuse receptacle.
• The city works with local schools to implement campus recycling programs. Conway public schools, St. Joseph Catholic School and Conway Christian School all have added recycling bins in classrooms and cafeterias. The recycling program in the Conway School District has been recognized statewide by the Keep Arkansas Beautiful organization and the Arkansas Recycling Coalition as a model program. Howard said the department provides free recycling receptacles for any school classroom, breakroom or cafeteria as well as outdoor receptacles. “We also facilitate the programs by hosting classroom recycling education programs, by providing custom-designed campus recycling posters, and through the establishment of student-led ‘green teams’ at each campus,” she said. “Annually, we recognize top student recyclers from various campuses to comprise our ‘green teams’ and provide them with ‘Super Recycler’ T-shirts to encourage their efforts.”
• Conway has increased efficiency in operational practices, and it has dramatically increased the life expectancy of its landfill as well. Five years ago, the city began using a 3 ML liner to cover the landfill rather than using the traditional method of covering it with dirt. The transition resulted in the life expectancy of the fill remaining the same rather than decreasing. Ultimately, a new landfill will have to be constructed, but, Howard said, “The longer we can preserve the life of the landfill, the more our community will financially benefit from its use.”