Rolling out a new curbside recycling program comes with challenges when a city is facing a tight timeline.
The Solid Waste Disposal Authority (SWDA) of Huntsville, Alabama, had about six months to find a new processor, hauler and supplier of curbside carts before its contract ended with Phoenix-based Republic Services, which has collected and processed the city’s recyclables for the past 29 years.
Before the launch of the new curbside recycling program in August, 60,000 residents signed up for the opt-in service.
“It’s challenging to get 60,000 carts delivered on a tight time frame,” says John “Doc” Holladay, executive director of SWDA.
After 29 years, SWDA, which provides curbside recycling to seven communities in Northern Alabama and operates a waste-to-energy facility and landfill, wanted to make changes to its curbside program. For one, residents complained about materials flying out of their open-top 16-gallon carts. SWDA also wanted to cutback weekly recycling pickups to once a month to make the program more sustainable, Holladay says. In addition, SWDA wanted to provide all the households within the authority’s service area access to curbside recycling. Under the old program, only residents in Huntsville had curbside services.
Rebranded as the Recycling Alliance of North Alabama (RANA), the new curbside program offers residents 95-gallon bins, five times larger than the old carts, and a monthly pickup. With Red River Waste Solutions (RRWS), Hays County, Texas, as the hauler and WestRock, Atlanta, as the processor, the new program now provides services to not only households in Huntsville, but Madison County and smaller communities within the authority, including of Gurley, New Hope, Owens Cross Roads and Triana.
Traditionally, SWDA funded the curbside recycling program and Republic Services paid for processing and operating its material recovery facility (MRF) in Huntsville. Holladay says revenues for the WTE facility helps pay for the program and keeps the authority from charging residents a recycling fee. He adds that Republic wanted to restructure its contract to include revenue and loss sharing and operating the MRF due to lower commodity prices. This was one of the reasons SWDA sought to start a new curbside recycling program along with its desire to expand its service area.
“The price increase was going to be fairly substantial,” Holladay says of Republic’s new proposed contract. SWDA signed a one-year agreement with WestRock with an opportunity for a six-year contact after a review, he adds.
SWDA has incorporated technology into the new program to optimize routes and track carts. Holladay says during the first month of the program, 82 percent of residents who signed up for the program participated.
“I think that 82 percent participation rate is outstanding,” Holladay says. “What’s amazing about that is we ran the old program until July 31 and within two days, we were picking up for the new program.”
He says in terms of volumes of material, each household averaged 18 pounds per cart. Contamination rates hovered around 25 to 30 percent in the old program. Holladay says initial reports from WestRock say “our materials have been very clean.”
To start receiving services in the beginning of August, residents had to opt-in to the program by signing up online or by calling RANA. SWDA is in the process of a third phase of sign-ups, in which a total of 67,000 households have joined the program.
“We think that number will continue to grow,” Holladay says. He adds SDWA chose to run a voluntary program to include residents who intend to recycle as opposed to providing residents with bins who don't want to participate in the program.
Republic Services decided to close its MRF in Huntsville, Holladay says. He adds that Republic provided a drop-off site for residents to recycle excess commodities, including cardboard, and the authority is looking into opening a drop-off for residents in the future.
The authority also opened a new household hazardous waste facility, which collects electronic scrap, paint and other products, to supplement the city’s former pickup service for batteries and motor oil, he says.
Holladay adds that participation continues to climb due to SWDA’s partnerships with Huntsville, Madison and other communities. Each participating community applied for grants through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to fund new recycling carts. Communities will find out this month if they are awarded the grants.