In recent hearings before two city magisterial district justices, the Intermunicipal Relations Committee has put the squeeze on haulers who flout recycling rules, after a lighter approach over the years failed to get traction.
Two citations against Burgmeier's Hauling on Thursday brought into focus the difficulty of getting compliance because haulers' recycling strategies vary - making it hard for customers to learn what they ought to do and for the IRC to craft a consistent educational message to help the area achieve recycling excellence, according to IRC Executive Director John Frederick.
The same case highlights difficulties faced by a hauler who has invested millions of dollars in a particular kind of recycling truck that may not be ideal for compliance with all IRC rules, according to Burgmeier controller Steve Kasun.
The Burgmeier hearing - before Judge Jeff Auker, who found the hauler guilty in both cases - focused on cardboard, hinging on a dispute over which set of guidelines should prevail - the official regulations for handling recyclables adopted by the four IRC municipalities and based on their recycling ordinances, or the informal curbside recycling guidelines on the IRC website.
In both these cases, the IRC accused Burgmeier workers of trashing "properly prepared" corrugated cardboard.
According to Burgmeier's policy, however, the cardboard was not properly prepared, because it was not flattened, it was too large to fit through the opening of the recycling hatch on the Burgmeier trucks and because it may have been contaminated with extraneous material like packing peanuts and tape, argued Burgmeier lawyer Mike Routch.
Burgmeier's requires cardboard to be flattened and folded or cut to fit within a standard recycling bin because the recycling compartments on its trucks - which also have trash packers - are about the size of the bin openings, according to Kasun.
If workers had to flatten or cut those boxes, "they would never get done," he said.
The company is justified in demanding boxes be flattened because the IRC's own website says that residents "must" do it, Routch argued.
"Must" is underlined on the website.
Boxes also must be free of "contamination," which the company defines as foreign material, including packing, in unflattened boxes.
Routch's argument for mandatory flattening of boxes is "ironic," Frederick said after the hearing.
The IRC website urges residents to flatten them only as a courtesy to haulers, to make it easier for their workers, he said.
Flattening isn't a requirement of the regulations or the ordinances, he said.
The IRC doesn't require it because those kinds of requirements tend to discourage resident participation, he has said.
Haulers can hope residents flatten boxes, but if they don't, haulers need to "figure out" a way to take them, even if it's not convenient, he said.
Moreover, neither the website, the regulations nor the ordinance allows haulers to trash cardboard that is simply oversized, according to Frederick.
It also shouldn't permit them to trash boxes that simply have some foreign material in the bottom, he said.
That's hardly contamination on the order of heavy food residue, like that found on the bottoms of pizza boxes, according to Frederick.
A few months ago, Judge Todd Kelly ruled Burgmeier guilty for trashing co-mingled recyclables.
That case also reflected idiosyncrasies in the company's recycling strategy, according to Frederick.
The IRC standard is to collect all recyclables every other week, he said.
This week, for example, is a recycling week for the agency municipalities.
Burgmeier's, however, collects only co-mingled recyclables - bottles and cans - on such regular recycling weeks.
It collects cardboard and other paper on the other weeks.
Kelly found that company workers trashed bottles and cans set out during an off-week, when those workers were expecting paper products.
The company adopted the split-week collection policy because the recycling compartments in the double-duty trucks can't handle all the recyclables at once, Frederick indicated.
Kasun was reluctant to talk much about the issue because the IRC plans to file a similar citation in Auker's court.
Frederick may not like some of the limitations created by the double-duty trucks, but he's not the one that made the investment, Kasun said.
They each cost $300,000 or more, and there are 44 of them, he said.
"Do the math," he said.
The company can conform to all the details in the plan with no problem "if [Frederick] wants to start buying me new trucks," he said.
Actually, there are advantages to the double-duty vehicles, including reduction of the number of trucks on the road, he said.
The Kelly guilty finding was actually an anomaly, according to Kasun.
Normally, workers who find co-mingled recyclables on a "paper" week leave them on the curb or - if there's room in the recycling compartment - they recycle them, Kasun said.
They should only trash them if they're contaminated, he said.
The IRC is OK with the Burgmeier policy of collecting co-mingled one week, paper the next - provided workers take both kinds during the official IRC recycling weeks - and never trash co-mingled recyclables set out during the off weeks, according to Frederick.
Still, Frederick doesn't like the policy, because it tends to confuse customers, as does the company's stricter cardboard rules, he said.
Split weeks aren't bad in and of themselves, Frederick said.
They work well in Tyrone, where Burgmeier is the borough's single-contract hauler, he said.
But in Tyrone, everyone follows the same rules and have for years, he said.
If a resident is unsure which kind of recyclables should go out, he or she can just look at what's in his or her neighbors' bins, Frederick said.
But residents can't do that in the other IRC municipalities, where many haulers operate by private subscription, and there are many recycling strategies, he said.
Those strategies include separate trucks for recycling and trash.
One firm uses a recycling packer and takes the material to a company that accepts everything together.
That allows residents to put all recyclables together, with boxes unflattened and no size limitations.
One hauler takes all recyclables every week, he said.
A single-hauler contract like the one that handles Tyrone would solve many of the problems created by the strategic differences among companies in the other IRC municipalities, Frederick has said.
Kasun acknowledged there would be advantages.
But there are drawbacks, he said.
A single hauler system would eliminate free enterprise and residents' choice, he said.
Now, "If you don't like my price, you can fire me," he said.
The same goes for poor service, he said.
Kelly on Thursday also pronounced guilty verdicts on Waste Management, Jim's Hauling, Paul Kane Trash Removal and Merle Rightenour Hauling for failure to file required reports - reports that are necessary for the IRC to obtain full performance grants and for code officers to track residents who don't have hauling services, Frederick said.
He also found Rightenour guilty of scattering recyclables on the street because he hauled them illegally in an open truck.
It was an "egregious violation indicative of general carelessness," Frederick said.
Ultimately, the responsibility for the success of recycling is "three-headed" - on haulers, the IRC and residents, Kasun said.
"Shame" on whichever fails to do its part, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.