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Rural residents in Benton and Washington counties can get their recycling picked up from their homes with a new service that launched this year.

Neighbors NWA is one of several trash pickup services that operate in the unincorporated areas in both counties, but it’s the only one of its size offering to pick up steel and aluminum cans, plastic bottles, paper and cardboard for recycling as well. The program comes with a $5 additional fee per month for the needed bags, though in many cases having less non-recycled trash means a lower trash bill that partly offsets the fee.

Alex and Hannah Joannes, whose family lives outside Farmington, recently bought the company and rebranded it from Courtesy Services. Alex said adding a recycling option for their roughly 1,000 customers is a natural extension of his and his wife’s mission to provide sterling customer service and value.

“It’s just doing the right thing, that’s really what it comes down to,” he said. “Just doing the little things right.”

Alex Joannes, who runs Neighbors NWA with his wife, Hannah, picks up trash on a recent run in rural Washington County.

The pickup service complements multiple rural drop-off stations that the Benton County and Boston Mountain solid waste districts have placed throughout Northwest Arkansas. (You can find drop-off locations and the districts’ websites on our Resources page.) Some haulers had previously offered rural curbside but stopped because of downturns in recycled material markets and other issues.

Neighbors’ rural recycling works simply but differently from local urban programs. Instead of dedicated bins or carts, customers receive bright blue reusable bags for their recyclables that Alex and his company’s other drivers pick up at the same time as trash. The company then hauls the entire load to the Boston Mountain Solid Waste District transfer station near Prairie Grove, which separates the recycling from the trash and sends it on its way.

The setup shows how context matters in recycling. Northwest Arkansas’ city programs and major hauling companies need the public to keep recyclables loose and unbagged, for example. Plastic bags are actually a major contamination issue that makes the recycling process more difficult and expensive, so if you’re in a city program, don’t use them.

On the other hand, a small, rural hauler like Neighbors NWA needs the bags, which it buys from the Boston Mountain district, to make recycling work. Without them, the Joanneses would have to make multiple trips to a given house, buy expensive collection vehicles or take other steps that could quickly run the operation out of business.

By using special bags for recycling, Neighbors NWA can pick up trash and recycling at the same time and keep costs low.

There’s also the challenge of showing customers why they should try out a new approach to their waste. Right now the Joanneses are focused on staying connected with their customers through the business’s changes in ownership and name. On a recent morning out picking up trash, Alex’s phone rang every few minutes from current and potential customers with questions.

Most didn’t ask about recycling, but a couple did. A few dozen people have already signed up.

“The goal of all of this is creating new habits,” Alex said. “Once you start to recycle, you get into the habit.”

Rural residents interested in learning more can start by visiting Neighbors NWA’s website.