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Mississippi has growth potential where recycling programs are concerned

By JULIA MILLER

Each day, Americans create 4 pounds of trash, and landfills fill up a little more. To help counter that, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is working with local governments to encourage recycling.

“Across the state, our 60 percent of our residents have access to recycling services,” Jennifer Milner, MDEQ’s recycling coordinator, said. “Nationally, that number is about 96 percent. Mississippi has some potential for growth there.”

MDEQ has two different grants to offers local governments looking to start or expand their recycling service: Solid Waste Assistance Grant and the Regional Recycling Cooperative Grant.

“We’re continuing to work to promote recycling,” she said. “As long as we have those funds in the budget, we will award these grants.”

SWAG helps cities and counties fund clean-ups for illegal dump sites, hazardous waste events or starting and enhancing programs. It offers both competitive and non-competitive divisions. For the competitive grant, cities, counties and regional authority groups can apply. The non-competitive is restricted to counties only. It’s allotted based on millage rates, and counties just have to apply to receive as long as the project is related to solid waste.

For the cooperative grant, it is created to encourage cities and counties to work together to collect and transfer materials to be recycled. Milner explained cooperatives help to move those materials more efficiently, which helps in a rural state like Mississippi.

Generally, recycling seems off putting because of the steep upfront costs, but these grants help mitigate that.

“It seems to be cheaper to throw this thing away,” she said. “It’s not only good for the environment; it’s good for the economy.  These materials have value.”

Manufacturers use recycling materials to lower their costs. This in turn is passed along at a lower price or increase employees. The amount of energy saved from recycling one aluminum can power a TV for three hours.

Across the state, many cities and counties are working to improve their recycling programs. One of the longest-running programs in the state is Ridgeland’s, which has been running in some form since 1992.

Ridgeland’s recycling coordinator Mike McCollum said having a program running for more than 20 years helps because a recycling culture already exists, but they are always working to help improve their recycling rates.

One way is through Recyclebank, which is a program in its sixth year that incentivizes recycling for residents. Each recycling bin is geotagged, and on days the bin is scanned that household receives points based upon the average weight of the whole city. When residents participate, they average about $160 a year in rewards, which counters out the $5.75 a month fee they pay for recycle.

“The hardest part of a recycling program is getting started,” McCollum said. “[In Ridgeland] it’s a cultural thing, and it’s been developed over time.”

For programs just starting off, McCollum said it’s best to begin small, such as with a drop off location. He also said Ridgeland’s environmental policy set by the mayor and board has helped create a vision and could help a new program.

“That’s a good starting point to see what direction you’re going,” he said.

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