One person's global thinking, acted out locally, can be another person's nuisance.
Such is the case with recycling at the city's Fort Marcy Park drop-off station on Murales Road. The collection of four dumpsters sits waiting behind the right field foul line at the Fort Marcy ballpark for recyclable cardboard, mixed material like paper and aluminum cans, and glass.
It's the glass that's the problem.
People have complained about noise from the facility to City Councilor Signe Lindell, who represents District 1 and has often served as a voice for residents on the wealthy north side of the city. Lindell believes it's time to shut down the site.
In a story published in Monday's The New Mexican, Lindell told the newspaper, "No one would want to live near it … The way those dumpsters are, when people put glass in them, it breaks; it's loud. It's louder at different times of day than others. And let's face it: Sometimes, when people throw glass in those, it's fun to break it."
Setting aside the somewhat dubious existence of a civic-minded recycler who also takes joy from gunning bottles into a metal trash bin (through a small hole with a hinged cover), no one who's considered the potential problem argues that dumping glass into a bin is loud. Dumping that bin into a truck is louder.
Wednesday night, the city's Public Utilities Committee considered closing the site and also opening a new one somewhat nearby, on city land across US 84/285 off Calle Mejia. After an hour of questioning each other and city staff, councilors voted to postpone opening a new site and also to put off taking any action on the Fort Marcy.
Councilor Renee Villarreal, who also represents District 1, told Environmental Services Division Director Shirlene Sitton that she'd like the city to try to conduct an email survey of nearby homeowners to determine if there are widespread complaints.
Sitton told the committee that she was aware of complaints having been lodged with Lindell, but also added her office hadn't received a complaint about noise from the site in more than a year.
City staff recently conducted a survey of 167 people at the site, the vast majority of whom—even if they lived close to the facility—did not report any issues with noise from the drop-off station.
Most users praised the city for creating the option to recycle glass. One person told the survey staff that they would dump recycling on the baseball field next door if the city closed the site.
Citing the handful of people who reported an issue out of 167 people surveyed, District 2 Councilor Peter Ives called requests to close the site "a solution in search of a problem."
While the facility's users overwhelmingly support keeping the drop-off station where it is and are generally not bothered by it, Villarreal told Sitton she'd asked the Kiwanis Club to share an email list of homeowners that it maintains to communicate information about Zozobra, the annual effigy burning which takes place at the same site. The group agreed, and Sitton said she'd work on an email survey in an effort to better gauge the level of annoyance.
The city also plans to change the collection containers to make the site more quiet and efficient, including providing a haul-away container for glass that can be raised onto a truck instead of the dumpster that's emptied on site into the back of a recycling truck. The new containers would also have gabled lids and be shallower.
Sitton said the city plans to color-code lids and the front of collection bins to prevent cross-contamination of recycling loads, which have to be taken to the landfill if there's too much of one material in the wrong bin.
The upgrades would be to facilities citywide, including the Southside's Airport Road and Midtown's Siler Road.
When the city stopping curbside collection of glass in the spring of 2017, it set up a series of drop-off sites. Sitton said Fort Marcy's is by far the most popular. Crews both empty and clean the site daily.
The city hauls the glass it collects to the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Center, where it pays $15 a ton to the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency. That agency then readies most of the glass for shipment all the way to a facility near Denver, Colorado, where it's further broken down and ultimately sold to a company that recycles it into bottles. While it costs $55 a ton to transport, the Denver facility pays $35 a ton for the material. Added to the the $15 the waste agency gets from the city (or county or other large haulers), and the cost to recycle glass is about $5 a ton.
The Solid Waste Management Agency also crushes some of the glass itself, using it for landscaping or readying it for inclusion in a landfill project slated for next year at the Caja Del Rio facility in Santa Fe.
"There's nothing bad about beneficial reuse," agency head Randall Kippenbrock told SFR Wednesday. Some recycling purists object to breaking down the glass for later use, he said, but the agency has had good luck with finding other ways to use crushed glass.
Kippenbrock and Sitton both said public property is the only practical location solution for any recycling facility. Albuquerque has experimented with placing recycling bins at grocery stores or in mall parking lots, but illegal dumping and keep the sites tidy has created a problem. The city did not return a call from SFR requesting more information.
The committee discussed the possibility of a new facility on city land near the Lodge at Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Spa. The area is bordered by open space, but also would serve several large apartment complexes that do not have curbside recycling service.
Some councilors wondered if sound would be an issue there, too. Sitton said the open space would likely alleviate annoyance.
"We think that the sound won't carry as much based on the geography, but we can certainly go out there and slam some glass in a dumpster [to see]," she told the committee.