Despite fierce opposition, all-in-one-bin recycling and trash collection has overcome its final hurdle in one of the Midwest’s largest cities.
The Board of Public Works in Indianapolis last week approved a contract that hands municipal recycling collection to Covanta for 14 years. That firm, which already collects trash in the city, has committed to build a $45 million facility that will sort recyclables from garbage.
Such plants, sometimes called dirty MRFs, have become an industry talking point as more municipalities consider the sorting technology. The process is touted as a method to increase recycling tonnages in areas that have historically seen low participation rates or have limited funding to put behind traditional curbside recycling efforts.
Critics of all-in-one bin collection, however, say dirty MRFs struggle to spawn materials that are of high enough quality for many companies looking to integrate recycled materials into their products. In recent months, the Indiana Recycling Coalition, alongside Alcoa, Pratt Industries and other consumers of recyclable materials, pushed Indianapolis decision-makers to consider other recycling options.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has also recently come out in opposition to all-in-one-bin collection.
The Covanta contract was negotiated by the administration of Indianapolis’ mayor, Greg Ballard, and the Board of Public Works approved it by a 4-1 vote. All three members of the board who were appointed by the mayor voted for the measure.
The contract requires the Covanta system to achieve an 18 percent recycling rate, though Covanta has said its facility could lead to the recovery of more than 80 percent of recyclables. There is no penalty to Covanta should the company not reach the 18 percent recycling rate.
“Today’s vote marks a giant leap forward for Indy’s efforts to boost recycling rates,” Melody Park, director of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability, said in a statement obtained by the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Carey Hamilton, executive director of IRC, said the group is “disappointed” with the deal, and she noted the new contract precludes the private sector from working with the city to boost recycling activity. “As we have stated, this plan is a major step backwards for recycling in Indianapolis,” Hamilton said in a statement. “Having in recent days received access to the agreement, we now know it is a bad deal for taxpayers as well.”
Currently, curbside recycling collection in Indianapolis is available through a subscription plan, which is offered by Republic Services. That program, which has seen participation rates only around 10 percent, will continue alongside implementation of the Covanta system, though if the participation rate of the subscription program increases more than 5 percent per year, the city will be financially penalized under the new contract.
The editorial staff of the Indianapolis Business Journal also criticized the deal for not going before the full city-county council, in particular singling-out some of the more onerous penalties attached to the Covanta contract. “If a better program, or better technology, comes along in the next 14 years,” the staff wrote, “the city won’t be able to adopt it without paying Covanta more than $333,000 a month in damages.”