Both counties applied for other grants to pay for recycling education programs and a transfer station.
By HAROLD GWINand LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR STATE STAFF
Mercer and Lawrence counties are tapping Pennsylvania grants to reach people who have never recycled.
Municipalities of 5,000 or more people already have recycling programs mandated by the state, but this program will reach out to the smaller communities where recycling is often hit-or-miss, said Don Blakesley, recycling coordinator for Mercer County.
Recycling bins will be placed around the counties at places where people go regularly, such as grocery stores or shopping centers, to make it convenient, Blakesley said.
Progress report: The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is putting up the money, and Mercer County is ahead of Lawrence in implementing the program.
Blakesley said Mercer County has signed an $800,000 grant contract with the state and will open bids Monday for 60 customized recycling bins and two trucks to dispose of the recyclables.
Lawrence County is getting $1.038 million but doesn't expect to get its program off the ground for at least another year, said Amy Jo Labi-Carando, director of Recycling and Solid Waste for the county. The Council of Governments will spearhead Lawrence County's program.
Blakesley said Mercer County plans to establish 10 depot sites, most of them stocked with several bins.
It will provide 24-hour, seven-days-a-week recycling, which doesn't exist in Mercer County now, he said.
Lawrence County's plan is similar. Labi-Carando said there will be nine drop-off sites .
"In reality it will serve everyone. It will especially help small businesses in communities where there is no recycling," Labi-Carando said. "Most have small amounts of stuff, and they can take it to the bins themselves. They can save money on haulers."
Both counties have curbside recycling in larger communities such as Sharon, Farrell, Hermitage, New Castle and Ellwood City. However, the rest of the communities are limited to one Saturday per month drop-off recycling at a few locations, officials said.
Step forward: "It will be a major step forward for Mercer County," Blakesley said, noting that recycling has been declining in the county.
Mercer County residents recycled 13,182 tons of material in 1999 but that's only 12.2 percent of what was generated. The rest went to landfills, he said.
That number dropped to 9,312 tons, or about 8.4 percent, in 2000, he said.
Blakesley said the state wants to see recycling reach 35 percent.
Labi-Carando said Lawrence County has fared better in its efforts at recycling, attaining about 30 percent overall. But Lawrence County, too, is trying to attain that state standard of 35 percent.
The recycling bins are about the size of commercial trash bins, but they are bright blue and have designated openings for specific materials. They won't be placed behind stores but will be in high-visibility areas.
Up and running: Other Pennsylvania counties have already instituted the program, and bins throughout the state will be identical, Labi-Carando said.
"The idea is to have contiguous counties across the state with the same system," she said.
Eventually several counties could combine their recyclables and sell them to brokers who recycle the material into new products, she said. The money generated could help pay for each county's recycling efforts in the future, Labi-Carando said. The grants will cover only the costs for equipment and a few other items, she said.
There are some concerns that people will just dump trash there, but Blakesley said that can be eliminated with a little education.
Toward that end, the counties are jointly seeking an additional grant of $680,000 to launch a two-year educational program to encourage recycling, he said.
Residents will be able to drop off newspaper, cardboard, tin and metal cans, recyclable plastic 1 and 2 and glass.
The plan is to have each depot adopted by a local civic group that will agree to keep it cleaned up in exchange for a donation to the club by the Mercer County Solid Waste Authority, Blakesley said.
Blakesley said the effort will also concentrate on small stores that get a lot of cardboard but have no place to recycle.
At schools: Mercer County also intends to put bins at schools that are already recycling to help them with collections, he said. Schools in Sharpsville and Sharon are being targeted.
Lawrence and Mercer counties also applied for a $2.2 million state grant to put a transfer station in one of the counties to collect the material before it is shipped to a recycling facility. They expect to hear next year if they will receive the money, Labi-Carando said.