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Report: Average DeKalb County resident produces 4.26 pounds of garbage daily

Dekalb Iron & Metal Co. employee Brian Isenogle loads blocks of crushed aluminum cans onto a pallet earlier this month. Each block is made up of about 630 cans and 96 blocks make up a pallet that are sold to aluminum mills.
Dekalb Iron & Metal Co. employee Brian Isenogle loads blocks of crushed aluminum cans onto a pallet earlier this month. Each block is made up of about 630 cans and 96 blocks make up a pallet that are sold to aluminum mills.

DeKALB – DeKalb resident Rick Bauernfeind picks recycleable material off DeKalb streets simply for the fun of it.

Bauernfeind sells the material to DeKalb Iron & Metal Co., 900 Oak St., DeKalb, and donates the proceeds to nonprofit organizations.

“The whole idea is to reduce the amount that’s going into the dumps,” he said. “At least make an effort.”

But it’s not an attitude DeKalb County residents, collectively, are embracing as much as they once did.

The DeKalb County Health Department recently released its 2013 solid waste report, which includes results from a voluntary survey of about 60 recyclers and waste haulers. Landfills in and around DeKalb County were surveyed to determine the total amount of municipal solid waste the county generates. Here are some highlights:

1. The county generated 125,053 tons of municipal waste last year, the most since 2007.

That’s the most waste county residents sent to the landfill since they produced 125,705 tons in 2007. But that may be a good thing, said the health department’s Solid Waste Coordinator Christel Springmire.

“More waste means the economy is getting better,” she said.

2. The recycling rate dropped 10 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.

The recycling rate, measured as the total municipal waste divided by the total recycled waste, dipped from 61 percent in 2012 to 51 percent in 2013.

Springmire said it may be unfair to compare the 2013 results with 2012. The 2012 recycling results were affected by a major construction demolition project that contributed 27,830 tons of recycled construction and demolition material, such as concrete. By comparison, 2013 recorded only 917 tons of recycled construction and demolition material.

“Since concrete is so heavy, it can skew the numbers pretty easily,” Springmire said.

The average recycling rate from 2003 to 2013 is 51.64 percent, just more than 2013’s 51 percent recycling rate.

3. The average county resident produced more than 4 pounds of garbage daily.

For the first time, the county tabulated a statistic showing the average person in the county generates 4.26 pounds of trash daily that ends up in the landfill. Although that rate is lower than the national average of 4.4 pounds a day, Springmire said it could be better.

“I’d like to get that to less than a pound per day,” she said. “There are counties that do that. I would like to see that rate reduced every single year.”

4. It pays to recycle.

Mark Hein looks at these figures, too. Hein, DIMCO vice president, said he has seen more people recycle since he first started work at DIMCO in 1975.

DIMCO accepts recyclable material such as aluminum cans, scrap iron and steel, and stainless steel and nickel alloys. They do not accept plastics or paper, but will begin to accept roof shingles in a couple of weeks.

DIMCO pays customers for turning in recyclable material. Customers may also donate their proceeds to nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and DeKalb County Community Gardens.

“I think people are recycling more and for different reasons,” Hein said. “Some people recycle because they know it’s the proper thing to be doing. Some for the extra source of income.”

As for Bauernfeind, one of DIMCO’s most loyal customers, he’ll continue to grab trash off the ground to keep neighborhoods clean.

“If everybody just [recycled] a little bit,” he said, “think of the amazing things you can accomplish.”

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