The city of Mobile and its appointed Solid Waste Authority (SWA) may have to navigate concerns related to a 24-year-old contract with a seemingly endless term before any changes or updates to a recycling program can be approved by the City Council.

The issue involving two new contracts for the transportation and processing of recyclables is set to come up again on the council’s agenda, but there’s no clear indication whether a resolution will be reached.

At issue is the contract SWA entered into with TransAmerica — now Waste Management — in 1993 for operation of the Chastang Landfill. In addition to the contract term running for 20 years “or the life of the landfill,” it’s unclear how the contract applies to recyclables, although the term “recycling” is defined in the contract, SWA Chairman Pete Riehm said. It is clear the SWA controls the waste stream and the waste stream must be sent to the landfill.

“The contract obligates us to send the solid waste stream to Chastang,” Riehm said. “The general perspective is what we deal with may or may not apply to recycling.”

In addition, Riehm said the life of the landfill could be anywhere from 75 to 150 more years.

Last month, Mayor Sandy Stimpson introduced changes to the city’s recycling center. The changes included a switch to single-stream collection at the recycling center on Government Street in midtown, which would mean residents would not have to sort their recyclables. It also called for more drop-off locations in the future.

The two contracts under consideration would allow for the acceptance and processing of recyclables at Emerald Coast Utilities Authority for $125,000 over nearly three years as well as the hauling of recyclables and rental of equipment for three years at $900,000.

While some have argued recyclables do not apply when discussing the solid waste stream, Riehm said there’s reason to be cautious. He said for years officials believed yard debris wasn’t included, but Waste Management successfully won a multi-million-dollar judgment from SWA charging breach of contract and lost revenues.

“When they sued us they had very good lawyers who went over the contract and said you should get [construction and demolition] waste,” he said.
Waste Management is still not receiving yard debris, but also is not paying royalties to SWA, Riehm said.

“We’re still trying to work that out,” he said.

Riehm said recycling, while the SWA supports it, could be similar to the yard debris issue.

“The board is not opposed to anything that improves service,” he said. “We want to get right whatever we have to legally so we don’t get sued again.”

To that end, Riehm said the board is currently reviewing the recycling contracts and could hold a meeting on the issue as early as this week.

City Attorney Ricardo Woods confirmed the city has given SWA the contracts in hopes the sides can come to a decision.

“We’re trying to do something positive for the city,” he said.