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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's capital city may soon place mandatory recycling requirements on large condo complexes, apartments and businesses, a law that would be the first of its kind in the state.
It's an ordinance that the Salt Lake City Council has been considering for years, but now the city is in its final stages of gathering feedback on the issue. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 17, and a vote is anticipated for early December.
"We have heard repeatedly from our residents that it doesn't make sense that we provide recycling for single-family homes, but not for the densest part of our city, so it makes sense to the council and to our residents that we broaden our recycling requirements and our ability to supply recycling needs for the entire city," said Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall.
Even though Salt Lake City is considered one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S., Debby Lyons, the city's sustainability program director, said it could follow the example of states like California that have already established similar recycling mandates.
"Anything in government, especially mandates, takes a long time," Mendenhall said. "It's clear that this is a direction we've needed and wanted to go for a long time, and it's great to see it finally getting closer to a vote."
Through curbside recycling in residential areas, Salt Lake City is currently diverting 40 percent of its waste from going to landfills, which is above the nation's average recycling rate of 33 percent. But according to Lyons, only 10-15 percent of the city's waste is being recycled in multi-family or commercial properties.
"More than half of our waste is generated by the business and multi-family, so we can't achieve high recycling goals if we're ignoring that part of our community," Lyons said. "We estimate more than 20,000 tons of material could get diverted from the landfill (per year) if this ordinance passes."
Fines would be assessed if a complex or business doesn't comply with the ordinance, according to the city's website. Some exemptions to the ordinance would be allowed if at least 50 percent of waste is diverted through other means — like green waste collection for composting — or if the waste does not contain a significant amount of recyclable material, such as less than 1 cubic yard per week.
More than half of our waste is generated by the business and multi-family, so we can't achieve high recycling goals if we're ignoring that part of our community. We estimate more than 20,000 tons of material could get diverted from the landfill (per year) if this ordinance passes.
The council is also considering allowing an exemption for affordable housing if the property manager can demonstrate that it will cause significant financial burden.
Mendenhall said she would also like to see the mandate broadened to include smaller businesses if the city is able to make it economically feasible.
"We know that the best way to equip individuals to make changes in their daily lifestyle is to make an institutional change," Mendenhall said. "Making recycling a part of apartment complexes and businesses and equipping them with what they need to have it be convenient is the role government should be playing to help make positive change."
She encouraged Salt Lake residents to attend the upcoming public hearing to share their opinions of the proposed ordinance.
Lyons said if it passes, the mandate would be a "huge step forward" for not only providing recycling in apartment complexes, but also improving recycling convenience citywide.
"This has huge potential to make an impact and create a way to get everybody involved in sustainability issues," she said. "Recycling is probably one of the easiest ways that people can contribute in a positive way to the environment."