Approaching its third full year in operation, the Mobile County Recycling Center in West Mobile is gaining statewide attention for its three-pronged approach to environmental stewardship, jobs training and education.
Earlier this month, the center received the 2017 Excellence in County Administration award, which is given out by the Association of County Administrators of Alabama (ACAA) at its annual conference in Orange Beach.
The center opened in 2014 and is currently on track to have recycled seven million pounds of material by the end of the year.Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson, who spearheaded the project, said she was proud of the acknowledgment from ACAA but also proud of the support the recycling center has continued to see from the community.
“We’re seeing an average of around 375 cars a day and up to 500 on Saturdays,” Hudson said. “There’s a support in the community for recycling. I think there’s also a lot of people who didn’t recycle in the past who’ve started to recycle when this became accessible because the city’s existing recycling center on Government Street hasn’t really reported a decrease in their levels.”
The roughly $3 million project was almost entirely funded with grants from the Coastal Impact Assistance Project and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, but while the county owns the facility, its operation, employees, long-term maintenance and repairs are managed by Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast.
Part of that responsibility is overseeing the recycling center’s jobs training mission, which has always been planned to utilize individuals with “mental and/or physical disabilities” that “need job training to enter or re-enter the job market.”
Since it’s opening, students and adults with special needs have logged more than 1,450 training hours at the facility. Through other volunteers and the county’s community corrections program, the center has seen 400 hours of community service logged in a single month before.
The educational component was met with programs that bring in students from local schools for hands-on experience in the recycling and sorting process and specialized classroom components. So far, Mobile County students have spent more than 900 hours at the center.
One of the goals of those programs was to spread the knowledge about recycling to those who visit the center. Frank Harkins, CEO of Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast, has previously said that he’s routinely seen that play out.“Sunday is my drop off day, and I’m always amazed at how many times I see a child out here showing their grandparents or their parents where things go and saying, ‘No, that doesn’t go there, it goes here,’” Harkins told Lagniappe in a previous interview. “I remember before seat belts were standard in everything you had kids who’d grown up with them reminding parents to wear them. That’s kind of what this reminds me of.”
Last fall, dips in commodity prices for much of what the center accepts to resell — glass, paper, plastic, aluminum — led to overall losses for Goodwill, Easter Seals. However, the Commission voted 2-1 to cover those losses with a $50,000 allocation in December taken from oil revenues generated by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).
While the secondary markets for many of those commodities haven’t rallied, Hudson said she’s not concerned, adding that the county is prepared to use GOMESA again if the need arises.
“Commodity prices, they fluctuate greatly within a given period time, and it was never our intent that Goodwill, Easter Seals would have a deficit operating the center. They’re really doing us a service,” she said. “GOMESA funds have to be used in the context of conservation, and could be a source of funding to help when those commodity prices are down to keep (GESGC) from shouldering any type of deficit.”
As Hudson noted, the county could likely see a “very substantial influx of funding” from GOMESA as early as March 2018, as oil leases closer to coastal Alabama become active in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mobile County generated more than $1.2 million from 79 active leases between 2009 and 2016, but the number of active leases — and expected royalties — is projected to quadruple within the next year.
In December, Harkins also told Lagniappe that Goodwill, Easter Seals was supportive of its role at the recycling center. Even though he acknowledged the cost of labor had been “a struggle,” he called the facility and its programs “a good thing” the organization is “proud to be a part of.”
“We want to do things that make the community better, and we want to partner with people who see that. We have a number of entities that help us in different ways,” he said. “This is a reflection of how well we take care of our community, and we are going to work together. Planet Earth only has so much place to put this stuff, and I think people want to help. I really do.”