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LOCKPORT – The City of Lockport, which hardly recycled any garbage before the fall of 2011, now recycles a larger percentage of its trash than almost any community in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Modern Disposal says that of the communities its serves, only Amherst surpasses Lockport in the percentage of waste recycled.

The change came in October 2011, when Lockport switched from city pickup of trash to a privatized system with every-other-week collection of recyclables in wheeled 64- or 96-gallon carts, also called totes.

Regular garbage is also collected in such totes, but those pickups are weekly. Property owners are charged a user fee depending on the size of the totes they choose.

“Overall, 30 percent less waste is being disposed of by Lockport residents,” said Dawn M. Timm, Niagara County environmental coordinator and the main architect of Lockport’s system.

Lockport residents are now recycling 22 percent of their trash, while the figure in Amherst is 27 percent, according to Katy Duggan-Haas, Modern’s sustainability coordinator.

Amherst improved from 20 percent to 27 percent recycling after the introduction of a cart-based system during 2012. The figure does not include yard waste collected in either community.

Besides the environmental aspect, Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker has another reason to like the program. “It’s a money-saving machine,” he said.

The total cost of Lockport’s refuse and recycling program in 2012, operated by Modern, was $1.23 million, which was $474,430, or 28 percent, less than the cost of the final 12 months of the city-run program from October 2010 to October 2011.

Timm said that meant Lockport did better than the $430,000 in savings she had projected for the year.

The towns of Wheatfield and Wilson moved to the every-other-week recycling format last year, and early returns show increased recycling participation and savings for the towns, Timm said.

Duggan-Haas said other Modern-serviced communities that now have cart-based recycling programs are the towns of Alden, Newstead, Pendleton, Porter, Royalton, Somerset and the villages of Akron, Sloan and Wilson. She said Depew may switch to a cart-based recycling program as soon as July.

“Because of carts, more people are participating in recycling, and many of those who have always participated are recycling more material,” Duggan-Haas said. “The broader list of acceptable items in carts means more people than ever are recycling their yogurt and butter tubs, pizza boxes, kitty litter buckets, food and beverage cartons and even worn out pots and pans.”

“Twelve of the 14 [other] municipalities in Niagara County have reached out to Dawn Timm,” Tucker said. “It has been a vindication for us. We took this on at a time when nobody wanted to touch it. It was an election year.”

Despite public complaints about the user fee and the totes, Tucker was re-elected in 2011 and participation in recycling has remained strong.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com