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RACINE — The City of Racine is evaluating how to offer free recycling opportunities in the future after a pilot program proved more popular than anticipated.

Residents typically have to pay a fee to recycle large waste items such as tires, appliances and televisions. On June 30, however, the city invited people to drop off such items free of charge at its Pearl Street facility, a move that aimed to reduce illegal disposals.

The event turned out a larger crowd than officials expected, drawing criticism from people about long wait times and backed-up traffic on a day when the high temperature was 90 degrees. City officials say they are studying the day’s outcome and deciding how it could offer a similar opportunity in the future.

Mark Yehlen, the commissioner of Racine’s Public Works Department, said the turn-out was “well beyond” what city staff anticipated. If the city offers the event again, he said, it will likely be at a different site, where traffic could flow more smoothly, along with additional staffing.

Saturdays are typically the heaviest traffic day at the Pearl Street site, Yehlen said. The city staffed the facility for the event as though it would be a “really heavy” Saturday.

“It was way beyond that,” Yehlen said.

The temperature, Yehlen said, “didn’t help matters” as drivers waited in line for their turn.

Henry Miller, a Racine resident who attended the event, said he was surprised that he didn’t see traffic crashes as the waiting line developed. Miller said he wanted to recycle televisions and arrived more than an hour before the event was set to start to get a place in the line.

Traffic wrapped around the streets, and drivers who arrived later tried to cut in, he said.

“Traffic was galore,” Miller said.

He said he waited more than an hour to recycle the televisions. Despite the lag time, Miller said he thinks the event is a good idea. In the future, however, he said the city should host it elsewhere or more than once in the year to cut down on the wait. He added that police should be present to direct traffic.

“The planning just has to be better,” he said.

Goals and impact

Those are considerations staff are making now as they assess the event’s impact, Yehlen said.

When staff members proposed the idea for City Council approval, they said people often avoid paying the recycling fees at the facility by illegally disposing of their items in parks, public streets or on other people’s property. The facility usually charges $3 to recycle a tire, $10 for a television or computer and $15 per microwave, for example.

A memo from Assistant Public Works Commissioner Thomas Eeg estimated that the city could lose $4,200 in revenue by offering the event. The figure would be offset, however, by savings in labor costs, because the city would not have to send out staff to collect the items that people dumped illegally.

The fees the city charges for recycling are intended to cover its own costs, and the event “put a dent in our recycling fund,” Yehlen said. The exact amount had not been determined as of Tuesday afternoon.

He said he is interested in offering the event multiple times in 2019 and is looking at how he can build the event into his department’s budget. Yehlen said staff would look at other places, preferably city property, where it could host the free drop-off.

“The fact that people waited in line as long as they did is an indication of the public support for this,” he said.

“The fact that people waited in line as long as they did is an indication of the public support for this.” Mark Yehlen, Racine
commissioner of Public Works

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Sari Lesk covers the City of Racine, Gateway and UW-Parkside. She is new to the community and moonlights as an amateur baker.

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