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Kicked to the Curb? Cost worries thwart curbside recycling

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NANCY Nay recycles so extensively that even though she and her husband, Bill, have the smallest city-issued trash container available, it’s never full at their Beech Drive home in Columbus.

Nay just wishes the farthest she had to travel to recycle was to the curb in front of her house.

About every three weeks, trips are made to the Columbus Recycling Center or Marsh grocery store to recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, cardboard, plastic containers, newspapers and plastic bags that the Nays have collected.

She believes curbside recycling should be available in Columbus.

“I’m kind of disappointed it’s not,” she said.

Nay believes more people would recycle if the service were available at their curbs because right now recycling “takes some effort.”

Columbus’ mayor, a city council member and the chairman of the city’s recycling committee said there is good support for the idea of curbside recycling in Columbus. The roadblock is how to pay for it at a time when the city is faced with millions of dollars in repairs of streets and public buildings.

“At some point, I’d really like to be able to offer the service,” Mayor Kristen Brown said.

But Brown opposes adding curbside recycling as a fee on people’s utility bills, like the trash fee was.

City Council member Frank Miller said he believes curbside recycling would extend the life of the county’s landfill. He said that Terre Haute, which is similar in population to Columbus, has a residential curbside recycling program.

But he added there’s “not enough appetite of the council to get into it at this point” because of other budget priorities and because the unpopular trash fee is still fresh in people’s minds.

“I’d say it’s tabled,” Todd Swingle, chairman of the Columbus Recycling Committee, said of the status of curbside recycling in the city. “I think the reaction, in general, was supportive, but it was clear there were a lot of other competing priorities.”

The Columbus Recycling Committee proposed to the City Council that it approve hiring a contractor to provide curbside recycling for all city residents.

The up-front cost to the city would be $350,000, Miller said, but the net cost would be $250,000 because of an estimated $100,000 savings in tipping fees at the county landfill.

Miller said the city has budgeted $450,000 for tipping fees in 2013.

The committee also proposed that the cost of curbside recycling be incorporated into the city sanitation department’s budget, rather than be a fee added to people’s utility bills.

Miller said that would be less expensive per household. The recycling committee’s proposal said the net cost of $250,000 divided among the city’s 14,273 households equates to a household paying $17.52 in tax dollars per year, or $1.46 per month.

When the city had the trash fee, residents paid $10 to $14 per month initially for trash collection, based on the size of their trash containers. The fee later was reduced to $5 per container in 2011 and then rescinded early this year by a new City Council.

“I would like to see us work it into the budget,” Miller said of curbside recycling.

The mayor said that would be tough to do because of $17 million in deferred maintenance costs — for streets and public buildings such as Hamilton and Donner centers — plus items in the city’s five-year capital plan.

Instead, she’d like for the recycling committee and the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District, which manages the landfill, to explore creative ways to fund curbside recycling.

She said the solid waste management district has a tax levy and could raise the tax on tipping fees to cover the expense of curbside recycling.

Another possible revenue stream for curbside recycling is expanded commercial cardboard pickup by the solid waste management district, Brown said.

The city has one truck with two men who each week go to large employers and collect cardboard for a fee. Brown said adding a truck and more workers to the city’s budget to increase that collection is unlikely.

However, the solid waste management district possibly could do that type of collection and expand it to the largest employers in the county, the mayor said. Not only would that generate more revenue for a curbside recycling program, it would divert more waste from the landfill, she said.

The Columbus Recycling Committee examined an expanded commercial cardboard collection program but with the city continuing collection.

Mark Yeaton, a fourth-grade teacher at Southside Elementary in Columbus, rides to work on a bike that was saved from the landfill. He learned about reusing and recycling from his family.

His parents reused Christmas wrapping paper. His grandmother saved rubber bands and gently used aluminum foil. Yeaton reuses the plastic bags in which his newspaper is delivered when it rains.

His fourth-grade class is building a solar heater from aluminum cans, repurposed lumber and plexiglass, leftover black paint and a hose from a broken vacuum sweeper.

“I’d like to see curbside recycling since it would save me and others time getting our recyclables to wherever, which means less people driving, less gas consumed, cleaner air,” Yeaton said.

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