It's been kept low key.
But anyone who purchased a green waste sticker at a QuikTrip store can get a refund, said company spokesman Mike Thornbrugh.
"If you had a sticker and you bring it back to QuikTrip, QuikTrip will refund you for that unused sticker," Thornbrugh said.
The company has purchased several thousand dollars worth of stickers from the city.
It wasn't a means to make money. The stickers have been sold to customers at the same price as if purchased directly at city hall, $2.50 for a sheet of five stickers.
Each sticker ensured Tulsa residents of a curbside pickup when placed on a transparent bag filled with tree and yard debris like leaves, clippings and branches. The sticker money helped offset the costs of the new program, part of a larger overhaul of the city's waste collection practices.
But the green waste effort has not worked out as planned.
Unable to efficiently separate the plastic bags from the leaves and branches, the city has instead been trucking the green waste with ordinary refuse to be burned at the Covanta waste-to-energy plant. Compared to the mulching operation envisioned for the green waste, burning it is an environmentally-inferior option when compared to finding a re-use for the material.
Then, too, it remains unclear exactly how much green waste is being thrown out by Tulsans, a goal of the program's first year.
That uncertainty makes it hard to predict the program's fate, as green waste has been allowed to be put in city-provided trash carts with other trash.
On Aug. 27, about two weeks after it became widely known that the separately bagged green waste was not being mulched -- and amid an uproar from at least some city councilors -- the city's trash board temporarily waived the sticker requirement for bagged green waste while mulling the program's future.
"It's like anything in life. There's a cost-and-benefit analysis," said Randy Sullivan, president of the Tulsa Authority for the Recovery of Energy. "That's where we are. No decisions have been made. There's a lot of questions."
On the TARE board, Sullivan is a volunteer, appointed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Others on the seven-person board include Tulsa City Manager Jim Twombly, who serves as Bartlett's designee, as well as City Councilor David Patrick.
Bartlett has said he only recently learned the bagged green waste was being burned, leading to criticism from his mayoral opponent, Kathy Taylor.
Still, Sullivan called it "premature" for QuikTrip to be offering refunds on the green waste stickers.
"I was unaware that QuikTrip was taking measures to do the refunds. I just think it's premature because we haven't decided what to do with the program," Sullivan said.
City spokeswoman Liz Hunt was also unaware of QuikTrip's decision to offer refunds. She encouraged people to keep the stickers.
The TARE board suspended the green sticker requirement only through January.
"QuikTrip pays us a certain amount. If we at the program have not sold all of the stickers, the city purchases them back," said Sarah Palmer, an administrative assistant in the city's solid waste services program who also works with the TARE board.
While a large quantity of stickers was initially distributed to the convenience store chain, many of those were returned because the stores didn't want to keep the extra inventory on hand, Hunt said.
The net distribution has been roughly $140,000 worth of green waste stickers delivered to approximately 60 QuikTrip stores, which also sell extra refuse stickers that allow for residents to have extra trash picked up. It's unclear how many stickers have been purchased by residents.
Bartlett has expressed frustration with the separate green waste program, which is run by city crews while another hauler handles refuse pickup.
It's a set-up that, at least in terms of having a separate stream from green waste, follows the options laid out in a 2008 consultant's report.
But the TARE board's decisions also differ from some of the details laid out in that report.
The consultants emphasized trying to keep yard waste separate from residential garbage: "It will be critical to collection efficiency and employee safety to ensure that any yard waste collection program does not encourage setting out any bagged yard waste for collection with residential garbage."
The report did not explicitly recommend paper or plastic bags, but, in providing cost estimates, outlined how paper might be used: "Grass and leaves would be placed in resident-purchased Kraft paper bags or resident-owned containers to be compatible with a composting operation," the report states.
It listed plastic as a potential alternative "typically used when the yard waste is disposed."
The report also noted, however, the path ultimately chosen by the TARE board, that plastic "can be used for mulch/compost if the process includes a debagger and/or screen." As noted by the report authors, plastic bags "are typically significantly less expensive than Kraft bags."
Hunt said input from citizens led to changes.
"I think initially it was TARE's intent to have a solid dedicated stream to green waste disposal and not allowing green waste in the primary refuse cart," Hunt said.
The 2008 report included information about seven cities with a yard waste collection program. Of these cities, two have measures explicitly prohibiting the mix of green waste and refuse, the report states.
"From an operations standpoint, it would have been much better to have a pure system, where trash was in the cart, green waste was in a bag," said Andy Higgins, a city superintendent in the streets and stormwater department who also helps with the green waste program.
Hunt, however, said such mixing was what Tulsans wanted.
"Our city councilors, both the current administration and former administration, received feedback from customers that they did not want to have a separate cart for green waste and that they wanted to have the opportunity to put green waste in their individual refuse cart, that that was important," Hunt said. Sullivan said it would be too much to ask a hauler to judge what's inside a trash cart.
In choosing plastic, cost was a factor, Hunt said, as well as the city's interest in mulching rather than composting.
No formal testing took place for the equipment that proved unable to separate waste from plastic bags, and Sullivan blamed the manufacturer for an "unfair representation" of their equipment's capabilities.
Now, Higgins said nobody knows how much green waste Tulsans are getting rid of. Sullivan said having haulers re-bid for trash service is on the table. But if that were to happen soon, it will be without much data on green waste amounts.
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