RECYCLING BIG PART OF GARBAGE SERVICE'S OPERATIONS

October 16, 2003 12:00 am
STATE-OF-THE-ART TRUCK: City Garbage's new split-bodied truck, equipped with cameras that allow the driver to see what is being collected, enables recyclables and trash to be picked up at the same time and put into separate bins. (Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK).
STATE-OF-THE-ART TRUCK: City Garbage's new split-bodied truck, equipped with cameras that allow the driver to see what is being collected, enables recyclables and trash to be picked up at the same time and put into separate bins. (Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

Observer Staff Writer

Kitty litter.

The average person may not know it, but that's what newsprint becomes when it can no longer be recycled into more newsprint.

The secret to knowing whether the paper's worn out for good is in the fiber, says Darin Larvik of La Grande's City Garbage Service.

Larvik, standing before a bale of recycled material ready to be shipped to Portland, gave a demonstration recently.

He ripped off a small piece of newsprint, held it up to the light. He ran a forefinger along the jagged edge of it, pointing out the length of the fibre.

"When the fiber gets too short, the paper is worn out. It won't hold ink well, and print looks dingy. So then it will be made into something else, kitty litter for instance," Larvik says.

If Larvik sounds like an expert on the subject, it's because he is. Recycling is a major part of City Garbage Service's overall operations in La Grande and Union County.

The company, owned by Darin's father, Ron Larvik, serves residential, commercial and industrial customers in the La Grande, Island City, Cove, Elgin, Imbler and Summerville areas.

As a major Union County sanitation service, the company has scored some big successes recently, including being named the Association of Oregon Recyclers' Recycler of the Year.

City Garbage has surpassed in advance a Department of Environmental Quality requirement that it divert 25 percent of material at the Fox Hill landfill to the recycling program by 2005.

"We diverted 29.6 percent in 2002. The biggest increase came from our yard debris program," says Larvik.

The yard debris program, financed with a $1.75 residential rate increase, was begun last year as part of an effort to improve air quality in La Grande.

The program allows City Garbage customers to drop off unlimited amounts of yard debris and wood waste at a depot to at no extra cost. The debris is recycled into compost and wood chips for landscaping.

Since the yard debris program's inception, the number of backyard burn permits issued in La Grande has fallen by 45 percent, Larvik noted. He also said the number of customers at the transfer station has been reduced 16.5 percent.

City Garbage Service began its recycling program in 1995. The company bought 14 acres of land to build a material recovery facility that included a pick line, a compactor, a hog for urban wood and yard-debris recycling, and a compost area.

The facility, which cost $2 million, was built without any funding guarantee from local government, Larvik said.

"We spent the money knowing that Union County would need such a facility to have a successful solid-waste recycling program," Larvik commented.

Over time, however, it became apparent that more needed to be done in order to meet the DEQ-mandated recycling rate. City Garbage saw the answer in curbside recycling.

After receiving permission from the city of La Grande to raise its rates by $4, the company bought 5,000, 60-gallon rollcarts and issued them to customers. It then embarked on a program to educate the public on the benefits of recycling.

That program has paid dividends. In 2000, City Garbage recycled a total of 2,543 tons of material. In 2002, it recycled 3,513. The company projects it will recycle 4,609 tons in 2003.

The curbside recycling program received a big boost recently when City Garbage added a brand-new, split-bodied truck to its fleet.

The state-of-the-art vehicle features one compartment for recyclables and another for non-recyclables. The truck is equipped with cameras that allow the driver to monitor pickups.

"We've been picking up trash at one time and recycle materials at another. With the new truck, we reduce traffic by half. There's less backing up and beeping. It's safer and better for the community," Larvik said.

Larvik said City Garbage employs 15 people, 11 of them full time.

A spinoff operation provides jobs for clients of New Day Enterprises, a non-profit organization that provides employment for mentally challenged people.

With help from City Garbage, New Day has started a

document-shredding business.

"It works out well for us because they get the money to shred the material and we in turn receive high quality office paper that doesn't need to be sorted," Larvik said.

New Day clients also work at the MRF, and are paid above minimum wage, Larvik said.