Could a different color container be the solution to garbage collection delays resulting from an aging fleet of trash trucks? While public curbside recycling could reduce the load currently facing Mobile’s garbage trucks and possibly keep them on the road longer, the start-up of a curbside recycling service is costly. Even for cities that, unlike Mobile, charge a garbage fee, recycling remains just shy of revenue neutral.
Almost every time Executive Director of Public Works Bill Harkins goes into the community, he said, a resident will ask about curbside recycling. His response is always the same.
“Show me a way to do it that doesn’t cost the city more money.”
Harkins said he is by no means opposed to the idea, but thinks it would cost the city more money in the long run, even if it reduced the daily stress on the garbage fleet. Also, he said, it would reduce the amount of money paid out to Waste Management through tipping fees at Chastang Landfill, which are calculated on a per-ton basis.
“We’re constantly looking at it,” Harkins said. “I think we have to make it convenient and profitable for the average person to participate.”
If the city charged residents a fee for collection, curbside recycling could be included in the resulting service, but even then it’s hard to make it profitable.
Daphne has been offering a curbside recycling service as part of its routine garbage and trash pickup for at least a dozen years, Public Works Director Richard Johnson said. The city loses money on the service, but it’s recouped through a $13.90 per month garbage fee.
“Garbage makes money, recycling loses money,” Johnson said. “There is a cost to recycle, but in Daphne it’s the most popular plan we have.”
Right now, a little more than 50 percent of Daphne residents participate in the service. The city hopes to raise that to 55 percent within the next two years, Johnson said.
The recycling service, which has its own dedicated fleet of rear-loading trucks in Daphne, does relieve stress on trash collecting equipment, as some 3,000 tons of recyclables per year are saved from going into the landfill.
In addition, he said, trucks designated to pick up recycling could run 20 years because recyclables are often rinsed before they are disposed of at the household level.
“It doesn’t wear on them as much,” Johnson said of the trucks hauling recyclables. “It’s leaner and lighter and there are no juices.”
Fairhope also offers curbside recycling, with its costs covered in part by a $12.80 monthly garbage and trash fee charged to residents. A portion of ad valorem tax also goes toward garbage, Mayor Tim Kant said. Around 48 percent of the 8,000 garbage customers participate in the city’s recycling program.
The Fairhope City Council has been discussing moving to a single-source recycling program in order to make the service more popular, Kant said. Single source would allow residents to put all recyclables in a single container without sorting. The items would be sorted at a facility in Loxley, Kant explained.
Pascagoula, Mississippi, also provides curbside recycling to residents through its $14.35 per month garbage and trash fee. In Pascagoula, however, the service is less popular than on the Eastern Shore, with only 3 percent of garbage customers taking advantage, city spokeswoman Ann Petri said.
While curbside recycling hasn’t arrived in Mobile, the city and county both offer drop-off facilities, which both stay busy. Bob Haskins, director of Keep Mobile Beautiful, said the facility on Government Street in Midtown sees about 150 or so cars per day on Saturday and Sunday, about equal to the county facility in West Mobile.
Haskins said a public curbside recycling program would be an “expensive ordeal” and would start with the city bidding out the service. He said the service wouldn’t be able to take as many items as the drop-off location would. For instance, it would be tough to collect glass curbside.
“At the time we started this, there was no money for curbside,” he said. “We started in 1999. It has been a booming business since then.”
Haskins said he has almost daily conversations with residents about curbside recycling, but explains the drop-off center comes at no additional cost to them. He said he doesn’t think most people would participate in curbside recycling.
According to information provided to the Keep Mobile Beautiful board last week, the Midtown collection center has taken in 1.2 million pounds of paper, 350,400 pounds of cardboard, 530,577 pounds of glass, 152,950 pounds of plastic, 24,560 pounds of aluminum, 37,140 pounds of steel, 1,022 cubic feet of styrofoam, 2,526 gallons of motor oil, 200 gallons of antifreeze, 22,842 gallons of cooking oil, 1,028 dry-cell batteries, 1,192 fluorescent bulbs, 3,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads, 108 flags and 1,700 Christmas trees in the past year.
A private company called Earth Resources does offer curbside recycling to business and residential customers throughout parts of Mobile County. Co-owner Tucker Yance said the company has fewer than 5,000 residential customers.
“The real issue is it’s expensive to recycle,” Yance said. “It’s also expensive to throw away garbage, but nobody knows that.”
Earth Resources offers weekly curbside recycling to residential customers for $18 per month. The company also offers a commercial service, but the price varies. Yance said anyone interested in the service is issued a bin and the company empties it once per week.