Hall County and Gainesville officials are testing new strategies to promote recycling, in part through letting residents mingle different kinds of recyclable goods in one container.
The results so far, like the recycling containers, have been mixed.
A Hall County plan to test simplified recycling drop-off sites began in November.
Hall County, unlike its cities, Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Oakwood, doesn't provide curbside trash or recycling pickup for residents. Instead, it offers 13 trash compactor sites throughout the county where residents can drop off trash and recycling.
At most of those sites, residents must divide their recycling by type (green bottles, plastics, aluminum cans and such). But in November, the county introduced "single-stream" recycling at two of its facilities, Flowery Branch and Sardis Road, where residents can place cans, glass and some plastics in one bin without separating the items.
So far, the county is getting positive feedback.
"All indications are that the public likes it," said Rick Foote, the county's natural resource coordinator. "They don't have to stand there in the drizzling rain and sort out the materials."
When recyclables are sold to processing companies without being separated, the county gets less money.
Whereas the county can draw about $120 per ton for fully sorted recyclables, Foote said, it only got $10 per ton in its first load of single-stream materials.
The hope, said Foote, is that even with that reduction in price per ton, the county could recoup or even exceed that lost revenue with more recyclables.
"Logic would dictate that since it's more convenient, more people would participate than currently do," Foote said.
He said it's too soon to know if the single stream concept is successful enough to expand to other compactor sites.
At the same time, Hall County compactor sites have expanded the kind of paper materials accepted.
Recycling officials have been handing out slips of paper that list the new items that can be recycled. Until November, that slip of paper would not have been recyclable at the compactor sites.
The county now accepts newspapers, magazines, office papers and phone books in one bin. In another bin, residents can recycle single cardboard (the kind used for cereal boxes and soda boxes), as well as used pizza boxes with corrugated cardboard.
Foote expects increased recycling collection from that expansion, which means less space used in the county's landfill.
At a Gainesville City Council works session, Owen delivered what seemed like conflicting news about the city's new efforts in curbside pickup.
In January, the city took over curbside recycling pickup from a private company and took steps to reduce the amount of garbage residents could throw away.
The goal, at least in part, was to increase recycling rates.
While overall trash disposal was down, Owen reported, recycling levels have remained about the same. Recycling of metal goods had decreased.
Owens offered several possibilities for the disappointing news: the economy, scavengers picking items out of the trash or customers selling the recyclable metal themselves.
Appliance recycling was also down, presumably because residents are holding onto old appliances longer.
While the data remains unclear, the efforts are getting applause from Keep Hall Beautiful director Cindy Reed.
"County and government are make it very easy to recycle," she said.
Keep Hall Beautiful and local school officials are also taking the message to schools to encourage recycling.
Gainesville council members asked themselves what more could be done to promote recycling.
Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said the real effort has to start in each community.
"It's individual neighborly efforts that make people want to recycle," she said.
She praised the efforts in schools to teach recycling, then added, "The rest of the adults need to get off their ducks and talk to other people."
Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner said there may come a day when all governments have to mandate recycling. That's currently being done in some states, big cities and even in Griffin, south of Atlanta. However, Bruner is making no such proposal and doubts that time will come locally any time soon.
"We can't force people to do it," she said. "We're trying to encourage people to."