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Tarentum reconsiders recycling

| Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002

TARENTUM: A declining population has caused the borough to rethink its stance on recycling just like several other Valley municipalities.

Tarentum is one of 14 Valley communities forced by the state to begin recycling in the early 1990s.

The mandate requires municipalities with a population of 5,000 or more, and a density of at least 300 residents per square mile, to recycle.

Municipalities such as Washington and Kiski Townships have populations over 5,000, but don't meet the density requirement.

Since Tarentum's population dipped below 5,000 in the 2000 census, council voted to discontinue the borough's recycling efforts, starting next year. Borough Secretary Jeff Thomas said the move will save the borough about $23,000. He said it's a liability to the borough to keep the program going. "I don't think it's working like it should, it costs Tarentum money, it's just not really working," he said.

Because Tarentum has a large number of rental properties, many people don't recycle, even though it's supposed to be mandatory, Thomas said.

Borough officials will consider placing voluntary recycling bins at different locations, but if it is a cost to the borough, it probably won't be done, he said.

Although 2000 census numbers show that Kittanning's population has also dropped below 5,000, it will continue its recycling program.

Kittanning Councilman Gary Klinginsmith said it's not profitable for the borough to recycle, but it has plans to continue. "Nobody makes money on recycling," he said. "It's entrenched in the borough and people are recycling."

The borough has it own recycling truck and three borough employees are used for the curbside program. He said there are advantages to recycling because it allows the borough to get grant money to purchase items that help with garbage collection as well as recycling.

Klinginsmith also said he believes recycling is a great help to the environment, and it's a responsible stance to take.

Vandergrift is another borough that's teetering around a population of 5,000. According to 2000 census numbers the borough had a population of 5,455. Vandergrift Councilman Taylor "BB" Troiano said it's hard to say if the borough would continue to recycle if its population were to drop below 5,000.

"It would be up to that council at that time," he said.

Vandergrift Borough Secretary Stephen DelleDone said the borough spends at least $30,000 a year on recycling, but only gets about $7,800 back for it's recycled materials.

Yet he said the program has been a success.

"It's working. We probably take out 9 or 10 tons of recyclables per month," DelleDone said.

Recycling is also expensive for the city of New Kensington. City Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti said it costs the borough about $81,500 per year. He said the city gets back about $19,000 for its recycled materials

If the state were to lift its mandate, Scarpiniti said its hard to say what the city would do. "We're doing something to help the environment, but obviously we could save money if we did away from the program," he said.

He also said city residents do a decent job of recycling, but he said the city could do better. The key is education and getting people involved, he said.

Across the state the recycling mandate appears to be working.

When the state put the mandate in place it hoped to reduce by 25 percent the solid waste taken to the state's disappearing landfills by 1997.

According to Patrick Paul, information specialist for the Department of Environmental Protection, the state has exceeded that goal. As of July, he said, recycling has reduced the amount of waste in the landfills by 35 percent.

He said it is working, but admits it can be costly for municipalities to maintain their programs.

He also said the situation could be improved.

"We need to make a more concerted effort to buy recyclable products," Paul said.

Arnold City Clerk Oscar Doubt said it would save money for the city of just over 5,600 to not have to recycle, but he said it's helping to save the environment.

Some Valley officials believe recycling should be an across the board mandate.

"If it's good for the goose it's good for the gander," said Lower Burrell City Clerk Ed Kirkwood.

He equates it to emissions testing which he also said should be enforced across the state.

Unlike Harrison Township which adds recycling costs to residents' garbage bills, Lower Burrell residents voted not to do that when the program started. Kirkwood said it cost the city about $92,000 this year to recycle.

Troiano agrees that the mandate should apply to all.

"If you're going to recycle, let everyone do it," he said.

Murrysville Chief Administrator Don Pepe said since the program is mandated there's nothing that can be done.

"It's not my call whether we recycle or not," he said.

At the same time some Valley communities choose to recycle even though their populations don't exceed 5,000 people. Leechburg is one such community. It has a population of 2,386 residents, but it has had a recycling program in place for about 20 years.

The borough started its own recycling plant in 1992. Councilwoman Nancy Bono said the borough has curbside recycling, and people from other communities also bring their recycled materials to the plant.

"All of the people who work for the plant are volunteers," Bono said. Even though it's not mandated that residents recycle, Bono said most residents do participate.

She said the borough doesn't make money from the plant, but rather breaks even.

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