County recycling districts offer different service levels

2013-03-24T22:30:00Z 2013-03-26T07:40:03Z County recycling districts offer different service levelsPhil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

With vastly differing budgets, the Lake County Solid Waste Management District and the Porter County Recycling and Waste Reduction District are worlds apart in what they can offer people who recycle.

At first glance, the only similarity between the two appears to be the long names.

With its budget of $4.6 million, Lake County offers a host of things Porter County can only dream about with its $1 million budget.

Most of Lake County's revenue comes from a property tax levy assessed for recycling. It also gets $2.50 for every ton of trash dumped at the construction-debris landfill in Lowell.

Almost all of Porter County's revenue comes from a $15 annual fee for each household, while the rest comes from tipping fees at the compost sites, returns from recycling and some program registration fees.

Despite the disparity in recycling incomes, Porter County recycled 5,400 tons of material from the unincorporated areas in 2012 from its drop-off centers and special collections for household hazardous waste and its compost sites. Lake County, with about three-times the population, collected about 11,400 tons.

Lake County uses a portion of its revenue to give grants to each community based on population with the money to be used for its recycling program. Most of the rest is used for education programs, which Executive Director Jeff Langbehn said reaches about 65,000 kids each year.

The big feature of the program is the Enviromobile, which teachers can reserve for the coming year, but Langbehn said they have to be quick. The bookings open at midnight April 23 for the following school year, and by 8 a.m., all are  gone for the year -- and there's a waiting list.

The district operates a reuse center in Hammond where people can bring items they no longer need. Langbehn said yarn is a popular donation, and the center is frequented by teachers who are able to get schoolroom supplies for projects. It also has the only indoor operating trout stream and a "tree of Life."

The trout stream has four teaching stations, each dealing with a type of runoff that can get into streams or rivers and damage wildlife. The tree has teaching stations, and, at the top, a slide takes kids down to the ground inside the tree.

The district's main office in Merrillville also classrooms, including one resembling a wetland, and the district operates 19 recycling drop-off centers around the county. The newest feature is what Langbehn said is the only paint-recycling facility in the country.

Located at the Hobart Public Works facility, the paint recycling center has a machine that recycles the cans and about 12,000 gallons of paint, which are available for $3 a gallon.

"You can have any color you want as long as it's beige," he said.

The district partners with Lake Michigan District Household Hazardous Waste, recycling more of it than the rest of the state, Langbehn said. The district also bought leaf vacuums to have the Lake County Highway Department handle that duty -- but the county didn't have the manpower and it was left to the district to do the pickups at a cost of about $200,000 a year.

Recycling can take many forms, Langbehn said.

"When the phone rings, you never know what's going to happen. We cleanup illegal dumps. When Munster, Highland and Griffith were flooded in 2008, we ended up taking all the stuff from those homes," he said.

Household hazardous waste includes a variety of explosives, he said. A lot of it is ammunition and a lot of chemicals that, over time, have turned explosive and even unstable to the point of being more powerful than dynamite. It all becomes the property of the district for disposal.

Porter County offers education programs and has its own drop-off centers, which have continued to collect an increasing amount of material since the advent of mandated curbside recycling. Porter County also works with Lake County on the household hazardous waste and paint recycling.

"We are always seeking partnerships and looking to develop synergies which allow us to provide services while controlling costs," Porter County's Recycling and Waste Reduction District Executive Director Therese Davis said. "(We have) collaborative education efforts with the Portage Parks and Recreation, Porter County Parks and Recreation, MS4 communities and NIRPC as well as regional composting efforts, such as the partnership with Valparaiso."

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