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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's most populous county is waging a major initiative to double its recycling output over the next two years.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is calling on residents to increase the amount of material they recycle by at least 20 percent over the next 24 months.
Every day, one person produces about 4-and-a-half pounds of trash on average. Statistically about 65 percent of that is recyclable.
Salt Lake County has had its curbside recycling program in place since 2003. Right now, only about 16 percent of the trash is recycled. The national average is 36 percent.
Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, McAdams said attaining the objective would mean Salt Lake County would match the national average for recycling waste material.
"We still have a long way to go," said Larry Gibbons, the manager of Rocky Mountain Recycling. "It's a problem that is inherent here in the west because we have so much space for landfills."
According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, a national recycling rate of 30 percent would be the equivalent of removing nearly 25 million cars from the road.
“By recycling, we not only save energy, but we also contribute to a better environment,” McAdams said. “Reaching this goal will be a win for our economy, a win for our wallets and a win for the environment.”
McAdams said some benefits are that landfills will last longer and water pollution is reduced.
"It takes 95 percent less to recycle aluminum than it does to make it from raw materials," McAdams said. "It takes 70 percent less energy to recycle plastic. So by recycling we not only save energy but also contribute to a better environment."
Over the years, recyclable materials collected countywide have increased from 4,000 tons in 2003 to an anticipated 22,000 tons in 2013, said Ashlee Yoder, Salt Lake Valley Landfill recycling coordinator.
Along with the challenge, McAdams introduced a new recycling awareness campaign. Residents will begin seeing posters at community facilities, as well as wraps and signs on county trucks touting the advantages of recycling.
The campaign is a collaborative effort between the county landfill and Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling, which collects recyclable materials.
The new campaign and challenge were unveiled at Rocky Mountain Recycling — one of two businesses that purchase and process recyclable materials.
“Recycling is not only good for the environment, but it’s also great for the economy,” Gibbons said.
Gibbons said recycling creates four jobs for every one job in waste management, and the process requires 95 percent less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to make the metal from raw materials.
"There's a statistic that says that the average aluminum can can be back in your hand in as little as 45 days with a new beverage in it," Gibbons said. "So today's diet coke, a month from now is another diet coke."
Yoder noted that plastic water bottles are the single biggest recyclable product that most often end up in the landfill. She encouraged local businesses and residents to make a concerted effort to reuse the bottles rather than throwing them in the garbage. Doing so would have a significant impact on the county’s recycling campaign, Yoder said.
“We can all contribute to the success of recycling in our community by choosing to recycle more of the material we discard on a daily basis,” she said.
Working together to bolster the economy and improve Utah's air quality and the environment can be as simple as dropping empty plastic bottles into a blue bin, McAdams said.
“We think the public will rise to the challenge,” he said. “The tools are in place.”
McAdams said the success of the program relies on continued education efforts to make more people aware of the long-term benefits of recycling.
“(It's done by reaching out) to residents to help them to learn what can be recycled and double the amount that we divert from the landfill,” he said.
For more information on Salt Lake County's new recycling campaign, visit www.recycle.slco.org.
Contributing: Keith McCord