Of the Baker City Herald

Baker County residents took out more trash last year, but they recycled a bit less of it.

Residents recycled 20.5 percent of their refuse in 2002, according to statistics released last week by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

In 2001 the county's recycling rate reached 23.6 percent the highest since 1992, the first year DEQ compiled the data.

Despite the decline, Baker County still surpassed its 15-percent goal, set by the Oregon Legislature in 1995, said Bruce Lumper, a natural resource specialist at the DEQ office in The Dalles.

Looming for 2005, however, is a new goal of 25 percent, Lumper said.

If Baker County falls short, DEQ might require Baker Sanitary Service to offer its customers curbside recycling, he said.

Curbside recycling would boost monthly bills by an estimated $3.50 to $4.50, said Loren Henry, president of Baker Sanitary Service.

He said he is andquot;cautiously optimisticandquot; that the county will achieve the 25-percent level by 2005.

andquot;I think it's going to be real close,andquot; he said.

Just two other Oregon cities with populations greater than 4,000 have not instituted curbside recycling, Lumper said: Hermiston and Umatilla.

In Union County, where La Grande's garbage company started collecting recyclables at the curb a couple years ago, residents recycled 29.6 percent of their trash in 2002.

Baker County did beat two other neighboring counties: Grant County's 2002 recycling rate was 18 percent, and Wallowa County's was 19.3 percent.

Yamhill County topped the state at 58.4 percent. Lake County was last, at 10.8 percent.

Although Baker County's percentage dropped in 2002, residents and businesses actually recycled almost the same amount of stuff as in 2001.

According to DEQ, Baker County recycled 3,488 tons of material in 2002 113 tons, or about 3 percent, less than the year before.

But the county produced almost 10 percent more garbage in 2002 16,422 tons compared with 14,807 tons in 2001.

Henry said the recycling statistics surprised him.

He said residents left more materials at Baker Sanitary's recycling center, at 12th and Campbell Street, in 2002 than they did the year before.

So how is it that Baker Sanitary collected more recyclables, but the county as a whole recycled slightly less?

The answers: corrugated cardboard and scrap metal.

Lumper said Baker County recycled about 180 fewer tons of cardboard last year compared with 2001, and about 142 fewer tons of scrap metal.

Henry noticed no such declines at the recycling center.

But here's the catch: Although most of the county's recycled glass, plastic and aluminum pass through Baker Sanitary's recycling center, much of the cardboard and scrap metal go elsewhere.

According to DEQ, about 86 percent of the cardboard recycled in Baker County is processed somewhere other than the recycling center.

Many businesses bale their own cardboard and don't send it through Baker Sanitary, Lumper said.

And many people collect and sell scrap metal, which, unlike most recyclables, has value even in relatively small quantities, he said.

The problem, Lumber said, is that prices for scrap metal plummeted in 2002, so many collectors chose to store their metal rather than sell it. Those metal stockpiles did not count toward the county's recycling total.

Despite the declines in 2002, Henry predicts the county will recycle considerably more cardboard in 2003 than it did last year.

That's because starting this year Baker Sanitary simplified cardboard recycling for businesses.

Before, businesses had to find their own receptacles for storing recyclable corrugated cardboard.

But this year Baker Sanitary supplied, for free, cardboard bins to more than 100 local firms, Henry said.

andquot;So far the response has been very positive,andquot; he said. andquot;There's no question we're going to see higher numbers in our cardboard collections.andquot;

If that happens, the county's overall recycling rate probably will rise, too, because volumes for most other products increased in 2002.

In that year Baker County residents recycled 110 tons more aluminum than in 2001, 84 tons more glass, and 268 tons more wood waste, Lumper said.

Henry said Baker Sanitary encourages the recycling of wood waste by allowing people to dump wood waste, including leaves and other yard debris, for free at the landfill southeast of Baker City.

Workers grind the stuff into chips. Baker Sanitary allows people to haul truckloads of those chips from the landfill for no charge, Henry said.

Although the $3.50-to-$4.50-per-month price hike that Henry predicts would result from curbside recycling sounds drastic, he said residents already pay a bit extra to maintain Baker Sanitary's recycling center.

About 40 cents of your monthly bill subsidizes the financial losses the company otherwise would absorb by operating the center, Henry said.

The problem, he said, is that Baker Sanitary spends more to collect and transport most recyclables than it receives when it sells the stuff.

Glass, aluminum and plastics, for example, are worth little.

Henry said Baker Sanitary sometimes turns a profit on cardboard, newsprint and mixed paper, but the profit is not large enough to offset losses on the other recyclables.