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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE -- 5/3/2018 -- Rusty Miller, plant manager for the Waste Management Little Rock Recycling Facility pulls an extension cord out of a pile of recyclable material waiting to be sorted at the plant on Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Three Pulaski County cities will ask their councils to approve new curbside recycling terms that would raise customer prices and stop glass collection.

Under the new contract terms, residents of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood would pay $4.14 per month, up from $2.99 per month, to Waste Management for curbside recycling services. The new fee would go into effect April 1 and last until March 31, 2020, when it would then rise for another year to $4.29 per month.

Before April 1, the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District would pay to Waste Management the difference between $3.99 per month per household and $2.99 per month per household, totaling about $550,000. As a part of the district's duties to serve all of the county, it would pay about $150,000 more in total to Pulaski County, Maumelle, Jacksonville and Wrightsville for recycling programs.

The cost increase is happening in other cities across the United States, where the supply of recyclables to companies that re-purpose them is so great that prices for those recyclables have collapsed.

Companies have lost one major buyer: China. The country accepted as much as 40 percent of Waste Management's recyclables but now accepts almost none from any U.S. companies. The change is so the nation can create a more internal, circular recycling stream, according to Waste Management officials.

"We simply cannot renew the contract as it is," said George Wheatley, Waste Management's public sector services manager for Arkansas and three other Southern states.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said the price increase is still less than he would expect had the cities tried to open a bidding process for a new contractor. Based on what he looked into, the price for contractors who only haul recycling and not trash is about $5 to $7 per month per customer.

"When we were at $2.99, I think we were way, way under the market," Stodola said.

That's the advantage of having a seven-year contract (beginning in 2012) in which the broad Consumer Price Index adjustment doesn't raise prices much, he said. The original per-month cost was $2.76 for customers.

"I think all in all it's a good compromise," Stodola said.

Waste Management also is struggling with recycling glass, which was a part of the original contract for single-stream curbside pickup signed with the three cities in 2012. The machinery at the processing plant, owned by Waste Management subsidiary Recycle America, can't break it down, so the company has been shipping it to a Memphis business at an extra expense not factored into the original agreement.

That change won't occur until April 1. Until then, Stodola said, "We're going to have to do a very spirited education program" to let customers know they can't toss it in their bins any longer.

Little Rock has been exploring curbside glass pickup with Ace Glass, an Arkansas glass construction company. The company creates windows for homes and for large office buildings, such as Heifer International and Arkansas Children's Hospital. It has a glass recycling drop-off center in Maumelle.

Stodola said he'd like to see if the company can provide the service for free, based on the value of the glass.

Wheatley said Waste Management did not consider shifting glass recycling to Ace Glass' center in Little Rock to be feasible, based on the size of the facility. Recycle America will keep a glass recycling drop-off container outside its building in Little Rock's industrial park, he said.

Other materials also may be prohibited under the three cities' new curbside recycling contract, said Craig Douglass, executive director of the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District in Pulaski County. The district, which is a local solid waste district funded by the state and state-required fees, is facilitating that contract.

The contract has not actually been drafted yet, Douglass said. He expects to have one ready in a week or so.

North Little Rock and Sherwood city councils will vote on approving the contract extension at their meetings Monday night. The matter will be on the Little Rock city board's docket for its agenda meeting Tuesday, but the board won't vote on approval until Oct. 2.

Also included in the contract offer is $150,000 in education funds from Waste Management, paid to the solid waste district in up to $5,000 installments each month for 30 months.

Waste Management also would agree to work with the cities on auditing the recycling program and determining strategies to reduce contamination.

North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith said he thinks contamination can be cut in half by targeting individuals with problematic recycling carts, rather than whole neighborhoods.

When recycling is contaminated, Waste Management-owned Recycle America pays a fee to Waste Management-owned Little Rock Hauling to pick up the load, and then Little Rock Hauling pays a tipping fee to Waste Management-owned Two Pine landfill to dump the load. Wheatley said he didn't know what the fees were, if one was more profitable than another, and wanted to stay out of the businesses' negotiations.

Waste Management has reported contamination of recycling between 30 percent and 40 percent for the past couple of years.

It was 10 percent or less before the cities switched to single-stream recycling in 2012. That method of recycling means customers don't have to separate out their recyclables by type before placing them in a single recycling bin. Contamination reported by the company gradually rose before nearing 40 percent in the summer of 2015, while the value of recyclable materials dropped.

Each month, about 335 tons of materials placed in recycling bins is being dumped into the landfill, Wheatley estimated. August contamination was about 32.9 percent.

Contamination was the original impetus for China limiting its continued acceptance of recyclables. The country eventually required bales to have no more than 0.5 percent contamination before banning certain materials altogether. In the United States, companies will accept bales that are 3 percent to 5 percent contaminated, Wheatley said.

"Nobody can put out a commodity that is 0.5 percent contaminated," Wheatley said.

Contamination in Pulaski County is largely plastic bags, which are not recyclable at the processing plant and will not be a part of the contract extension, either. The bags can get caught in the plant's machinery and interfere with the processing of other materials.

Workers must remove contamination, such as the bags, from a moving conveyor belt before they enter certain portions of the machinery. Waste Management has slowed down the conveyor belt and added staff to accommodate for the increase in contamination, company officials said this week.

A Section on 09/21/2018

Print Headline: Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood to decide recycling price rise


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Archived Comments

  • LR1955
    September 21, 2018 at 7:07 a.m.

    If an individual decides not to recycle, can they turn in their container and not be charged the monthly fee?

    September 21, 2018 at 7:19 a.m.

    Congrats to our local governments. We get to pay more to get less. How 'bout Waste Management gets rid of the fancy machine that won't work with so many materials and go back to using people to sort the stuff ! Perhaps they can contract with the Correction Dept to supply labor.

  • Jfish
    September 21, 2018 at 7:50 a.m.

    Recycling should be mandatory, I am pretty sure per capita, we are the largest consumers in the world. We should be responsible for our own waste, not China or someone else. If we cannot manage our waste, maybe we should cut back. Recycling in Pulaski County is simple, you put your stuff in one bin and they pick it up every two weeks, you cannot recycle plastic bags (take them to Kroger or Wal-Mart) or styrofoam, come on people.

  • HarleyOwner
    September 21, 2018 at 11:53 a.m.

    Mayor Smith said North Little Rock's with WM isn't due to be renewed until next year and he may demand that WM honor the current contract.

  • Foghorn
    September 21, 2018 at 12:44 p.m.

    Anyone who chooses not to recycle is a flat-earther, ignorant hillbilly who thinks $4/month is too much to pay for them to do the very bare minimum to try to keep Earth from becoming uninhabitable.

    September 21, 2018 at 1:30 p.m.

    JFISH -- you forgot to mention that they will soon not take glass - one of the easiest items to recycle. And they used to take plastic bags and other sheet plastic -- that was until they bought the fancy machine that doesn't work with some items that they ought to be accepting but no longer do.

    So, yes - it should be simple. But our gov't run program is fast turning to ..... well, you get the idea.

  • Jfish
    September 21, 2018 at 2:02 p.m.

    No MBAIV, I did not forget to mention the glass although I do wish they would continue to accept it. From what I understand, glass is so cheap to manufacture, there is no market for the recycled glass. I am also a little curious as to how they separate the glass out since alot of it must get broken when being picked up and transported. Me and wife recycle and we might generate 1 small trash bag per week and twice as many recyclables. Many of the plastic bags and styrofoam containers end up on the street and/or in the storm drains and then into our rivers and streams. It is time to wean ourselves off of these materials and go to something much more sustainable, maybe aluminum. We have also gone back to the paper bags at kroger, at least they can be recyled and do not take years to break down if they are thrown in the trash or washed down a waterway. I am not saying that Waste Management is perfect but the market does drive alot of what they can accept. People who are throwing trash into the recycling bins are just ruining it for everyone else. Also, WM needs to step up their due diligence and quit picking up recycling containers which are obviously full of trash, and I have actually emailed them within the last month stating this very thing. Also, the big corporations, Wal-Mart, Target,Kroger, Home Depot, Amazon, etc., need to take the lead on some of these sustainability initiatives.