Paige Bernacchi, Business Manager, Covanta

The Indiana Recycling Coalition’s Carey Hamilton is right – few things are more frustrating than missed opportunities. What Ms. Hamilton and the IRC fail to realize is the irony in their own rhetoric. If successful, the IRC’s own efforts will stall the privately financed Advanced Recycling Center from Covanta and delay an innovative recycling solution that is desperately needed in Indianapolis. Their delay will cause more recycled commodities to be burned for energy production, or worse, lost to landfills.

Recycling for all

The IRC speaks hypothetically about what alternate programs might do for Indianapolis and claims that one-time grants for other collection paradigms would improve recycling in Indianapolis, yet fails to mention that these grants and other programs can disappear at any time, bringing recycling for our city back to square one. They continuously ask for more time, but the IRC has been in Indiana for more than 20 years. How much more time do they need and what are the details for a viable alternative plan?

Our plan is simple. We think there is value in recycling materials. Using a single bin, residents will send traditional household waste and recyclables to a new, state-of-the-art materials recovery facility. Using the latest technology, the facility will separate recyclable materials from trash accurately and efficiently. This is the only plan that will make recycling available to all single-family homes of Indianapolis at no additional cost. In other words, recyclable materials will be recovered from every resident’s trash, not just those who subscribed and paid an extra fee for curbside recycling.

On the jobs front, Covanta will create 70 jobs during construction and more than 60 full-time jobs during operation. Also, this plan will not replace or take away any existing curbside recycling participation. Residents can choose to pay for and participate in curbside, or they can make use of the single-bin program. Covanta’s Advanced Recycling Center is simply an additional resource to ensure 100 percent single-family household participation in the effort to increase recycling in Indianapolis.

For a city that currently only has 10 percent resident participation in any type of recycling, the Advanced Recycling Center is a valuable and necessary tool if we are ever going to reach the state’s goal of a 50 percent recycling rate.

The risk is on our shoulders. Covanta will completely fund the $45 million dollar project without a dime from the city or its taxpayers.

We’re confident it will work. Otherwise we wouldn’t be making such a sizable investment. Covanta is already in discussions with several Indiana companies that could potentially buy these commodities – all are aware of the separation process, yet they still express a strong interest in purchasing the recovered materials.

As we have said many times, the IRC is letting perfection get in the way of pretty darn good.

A good deal for Indianapolis

Our deal with the City of Indianapolis was worked out over long negotiations, during which we met with more than 20 stakeholders, including the Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club, the IRC and elected officials in order to be transparent and gather feedback.

Covanta will shoulder the cost and the risk of building the Advanced Recycling Center and, in return, we asked the City of Indianapolis to continue delivering the waste from single-family homes to us. The more the City delivers for recycling, the more revenue the City gets in the form of both steam-share revenue and commodity revenue.

Several years ago, when Indianapolis sought an economically viable way to increase recycling, no other entity stepped forward with a solution that could meet the city’s request. Covanta provided a plan and the funds to significantly boost the city’s recycling rate with no additional costs to residents.

Covanta’s Advanced Recycling Center will bring an innovative approach to recycling in Indianapolis, and if you’ve read Ms. Hamilton’s opinion piece, those words will sound familiar.

Ms. Hamilton touts that “innovations in recycling occur virtually every day” and that Indianapolis will “miss out on the potential to embrace ever-emerging innovations in recycling.”

Mixed-waste processing facilities, such as the Advanced Recycling Center, are one of those innovations. Ignoring the technological progress in these facilities and looking to the same solutions that have failed us in the past would be the real missed opportunity. It’s clear that the current approach isn’t working – Indianapolis’s recycling rate is stagnant and has been for decades. Let’s try a new approach. Let’s put Hoosiers to work recovering recyclables from the full waste stream and reduce our impact on the environment in the process.

After decades of struggling to increase recycling, it’s time to try something new.


Paige Bernacchi is business manager at Covanta Indianapolis, which has operated an energy-for-waste facility since 1988 and is currently constructing a single-stream advanced recycling center. Covanta is a world leader in providing sustainable waste and energy solutions and operates 45 energy-for-waste facilities across North America. Contact Bernacchi at [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in a future Op-Ed, please send a short proposal to [email protected] for consideration.