Citizens recycle 10 million pounds

Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The city’s recycling program has collected more than 10.1 million pounds of recyclables in its first 11 months of service, according to a report to City Council on Wednesday.

The new program, with TFC Recycling as the service provider, began Sept. 5. Through July 31, the company had recorded an average participation rate as high as 63 percent, said city Public Works Director Eric Nielsen.

“The rates continue to increase as residents adapt to the service,” he said. He added he would like to see the participation rates up around 70-72 percent, which is a typical high recycling rate across the country.

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The program was instituted as part of the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget. A new $210 annual fee included with residents’ property tax bills covers the cost and establishes a separate fund to cover waste management costs, including those of trash disposal.

Nielsen judged the program a success, especially when compared to the system that was discontinued in 2007. Run by the Southeastern Public Service Authority, it was unpopular, served only a portion of the city and collected far less material, Nielsen said.

“It was broken and in need of change,” he said.

City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said the city was right start the program because of looming changes to SPSA, which currently accepts the city’s trash free of charge in exchange for Suffolk playing host to the regional landfill. It will not always be so, she warned.

“This City Council had the vision that you just don’t wait until change occurs,” she said. “You plan. I think you ought to be commended for what you’ve done.”

City Councilman Charles Parr noted that SPSA could decide to close the regional landfill at any time, in which case Suffolk no longer gets free disposal.

“By doing the recycling, we’re offsetting the cost of tipping fees when we would have to go,” he said.

Nielsen said the material recycled through June would have cost $6.1 million if it were sent to SPSA and the city had to pay tipping fees on it.

Some City Council members said they are noticing the change in their homes and their communities.

“My blue can is tumbling over today, and my green can is 1/3 full,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said, referring to her recycling can and trash can, respectively.

“Now when you go down the street, there are more blue cans than there are green cans,” Parr added.

But questions remain about the program, Councilman Leroy Bennett said. People have asked him why TFC charges the city to collect the material and then turns around and sells the processed recyclables.

“They feel like that is double-dipping,” Bennett said. “There are a lot of questions out there regarding the cost.”

Nielsen responded that the cost of collection is not offset by the price the company receives for selling the material.

Other council members simply want the participation rate to increase.

“I’m just hoping that we all can get on board,” Vice Mayor Charles Brown said. “I’m so glad you’re doing everything humanly possible to improve that number, because recycling is very important.”