A ruling will allow the City of Indianapolis to move ahead with controversial plans for a mixed-waste processing facility to recover recyclables.
A lawsuit that challenged those plans was dismissed April 6 by Marion County Judge Cynthia Ayers. The ruling was first reported on by the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Indianapolis’ mixed-waste strategy includes a 14-year contract with waste-to-energy company Covanta. The company would finance, build and operate a processing facility with the capability of separating recyclable materials from garbage. Such facilities, which are sometimes termed dirty MRFs, have been at the center of industry debate over the past year.
Indianapolis’ director of sustainability, Melody Park, welcomed the decision on the Covanta deal, writing in an email that “Indy’s effort to boost recycling rates is moving forward.”
“Covanta’s private investment, estimated at $45 million, in the Advanced Recycling Center (ARC) will feature innovative, game-changing recycling technology that will benefit the environment and taxpayers,” Park wrote. “The Covanta ARC will work in tandem with the city’s existing curbside and drop-off recycling programs to position Indy as a national leader in sustainability.”
Many in the recycling industry, including the Indiana Recycling Coalition (IRC), have opposed the plan on the grounds that it would give the mixed waste processing center a monopoly on the city’s MSW and shut out the possibility of developing a robust curbside recycling system.
Carey Hamilton, IRC’s executive director, told Resource Recycling her group is “disappointed and awaiting word from the plaintiffs about a possible appeal.”
Under the Indianapolis contract, a copy of which was obtained by Resource Recycling, the Covanta facility will be required to divert at least 18 percent of the material it receives. While the contract does allow existing Indianapolis recycling programs to continue, it includes stiff financial penalties for introducing any alternative programs.
Indianapolis residents can currently subscribe to a curbside program through Republic Services. Drop-off recycling is also available.
“If the City grants any contractor the right to implement a recycling program for single family residential households in any part of Marion County, the parties acknowledge that the Company will suffer material damages … equal to $333,333.33 per month, multiplied by the number of months remaining in the then-current term of the Service Agreement,” the contract reads.
Paper companies Graphic Packaging International and Rock-Tenn Converting Company along with citizen Cathy Weinmann were plaintiffs on the recent lawsuit. They claimed city officials failed to follow “the statutorily proscribed public process” in awarding the $112 million contract to Covanta without seeking and considering additional bids. Paper companies that use recycled feedstock have been particularly opposed to mixed-waste processing.
Graphic Packaging and Rock-Tenn said in a brief statement sent to Resource Recycling they were “considering next steps.”
In the original lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued the plan would “degrade the recycling stream, harming both the public and the plaintiff companies that rely on recycled waste, and actually creates a disincentive for the City to promote clean recycling.”
In her ruling, Ayers found the City acted legally in amending a contract it already held with Covanta. The City has contracted with Covanta since 1985 and previously amended its agreement in 2008.
According to Indianapolis’ Park, the facility “should be on-line by fall of 2016.”