Montgomery Recycling: FAQ

Recycling! It’s been a favorite topic of ours here at Lost in Montgomery since the city’s curbside pickup program was discontinued years ago.

In case you’re new to the story/city, a brief recap: Time was, you’d put your recycling (paper, metal, low-number plastics only) out on the curb in special bags. Those would get picked up and the contents recycled. In theory. Turns out that not many people participated and what waste was submitted didn’t much actually get recycled, plus the operation cost a lot of money.

This was a time of fragile orange bags and frustration that the city (for some reason) couldn’t recycle our glass and high-numbered plastics. The burden for sorting the recyclables of our state’s capital city was literally handed to developmentally disabled people, who, over-matched by the volume, sent most of the stuff to the landfill anyway. Little did we know that this would be our city’s most progressive era of recycling.

bildeMayor Strange, seen above posing with what we can only assume is his environmental adviser, cancelled that inefficient curbside pickup program and promised a fancy new plant that would ionize our waste, or something like that. A very expensive feasibility study concluded that this was in fact science fiction, as we’d all suspected. Back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile, the small microscopic percentage of Montgomery residents who cared enough/had the time would save and haul their recyclables to a set of bins scattered around the city. These bins were often overflowing and meant that recyclers would devote a corner of their house or apartment to vast heaps of newspapers, magazines, Amazon boxes and milk jugs.

Then, lo, it was announced that a new facility was completed that would allow everyone to mix their recyclables into the trash, as they’d be sorted before they went into the dump. This was supposed to help the environment while making money for the city (and, not incidentally, the company running the $37 million facility). We’ve got a more in-depth summary of that project here. Click the exhaustive links in that post for a multi-year history of us blogging about this subject with increasing dismay.

Things started to unravel a bit once the facility was opened. We waited anxiously for some kind of mailing, door hanger or other municipal announcement about what to do with our recycling. And waited. Then a slow trickle of information began to leak out like garbage juice from the bottom corner of a cheap trash bag. You can click here to see the comments on our previous post and get a flavor for the confusion. To clarify the new status quo for our readers, we’ve produced a helpful FAQ based on information we’ve received so far:

Q: So, we can just put our recyclables into the plastic green trash can now, leave it by the curb and they’ll be sorted out by Infinitus, right?

A: Well, no, not exactly. There are some things that the company doesn’t want thrown into your “regular” trash because it gums up the works of their pristine new magical recycling sorting plant.

Q: Wait, I can’t just throw everything away? What can’t go in the trash?

A: Well, here’s a list on a city website. Among the things you might be surprised to learn that you can’t put in your trash can anymore: dirty baby diapers, used cat litter, insulin syringes, and the sacks of dog poop you collect on dog walks because you are a responsible and good person.

Q: Wait, what? I get that you can’t throw a tire or a laptop into the trash can because those are a lot closer to very rare examples of hazardous waste. But we generate a lot of diapers, cat and dog poop, and needles … all for legal and sane reasons. What are we going to do with all that stuff?

A: “All of these items should be bagged and put in a box or other container and placed on your curb for pick up on your regular yard waste collection day.”

Q: Bagged and boxed? In what? Is the city issuing unique bags and boxes?

A: No.

Q: So I’m just going to put a cardboard box or plastic trash bag full of dirty diapers on the curb and wait for “yard waste collection day?” I don’t even know when that is!

A: Weekly yard waste collection days vary by neighborhood.

Q: I usually just leave my limbs and leaves by the curb and they take them away and I don’t think more about it. Now I’m going to leave these bags of pet turds and baby doo doo out by the curb overnight until the city comes to get them?

A: That’s right.

Q: Whose idea was it that a “clean city” involved packs of wild dogs ransacking piles of dirty diapers, strewing them all over the neighborhood?

A: Um, Florida?

The future of Capitol Heights?

The future of Capitol Heights?

Q: Wait, what if people aren’t actively reading the city’s website as part of their daily life routines? What if they keep throwing tires and diapers in the trash?

A: Well, then the magic new recycling sorting plant will break. And we’ll never see the day when all of the solid waste will be fed to magic bacteria that will break it all down and turn it into the fuel that will be used in the city’s garbage trucks. You know, like the company told us all when they built this amazing one-of-a-kind facility. (That link is a PDF).

Q: So a special space amoeba is going to eat all of our garbage and turn it into fuel for city trash trucks and other “private vehicles?”

A: ….. Um, yes — only if you have no further questions on this subject.

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s go back. So we can’t throw dead animals in the trash either?

A: No.

Q: Didn’t the city just tell people last year that they COULD put dead animals up to 50 pounds in the trash?

A: Those were the old days.

Q: So if there’s a stinking, reeking, maggot-filled smashed possum on the road in front of my house, I need to pick it up and bring it inside until my weekly “yard waste collection day?”

A: Yes. We suggest wrapping it in fabric softener sheets and spraying it with Febreze™ to help with the stench.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.49.54 PM

Finally, a use for those horse-drawn carriages! Downtown living!

Q: And if the family pet dies and I have an apartment and don’t have a place to bury it, I can’t put it in the trash, I have to leave it on the curb in a special bag or box that I provide until the city comes around some time next week to get branches and limbs and leaves?

A: We are sorry for the loss of your family pet. Hopefully your children will not be traumatized when roaming packs of dogs spread its ichor and bloody remains across your welcome mat.

Q: So, again, the rules are changing about solid waste collection, but the city didn’t do any kind of brochure or series of commercials? Did they just send out a passive press release and assume that a city of hundreds of thousands of people would just understand the new rules?

A: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The Clean City Commission actually said on its Facebook page that it isn’t the city’s fault if the media chooses not to make a huge deal out of the press releases that were emailed out, so let’s all shrug our shoulders and blame the local newspaper and TV stations for not doing a multi-part breaking news all points bulletin on how to throw away trash. Clearly, it can’t be a leadership fail or a PR lapse on the part of the city. Clearly. Surprisingly, the company running the new sorting plant had to go to the media after the fact due to confusion and tell everyone to please stop putting tires and microwaves in the trash because they are “clogging” the new center. If the city and the media and Infinitus all point fingers at each other for the public’s ignorance, the garbage piling up on the curb will probably turn into special fuels that you can put in your car. Just be patient.

Q: You realize this makes us look like idiots, right? That we kill curbside pickup instead of improving it, and replace with with some kind of corporate sweetheart deal for fantasyland tech we may never see, and now are telling the public to fundamentally change their waste disposal practices in nonsensical and seemingly arbitrary ways? You know that people will look at our city as if it were run by a bunch of backwards morons who can’t figure out simple municipal services like recycling? That this company’s sorting plant is probably less amazing than anticipated if it can’t handle an initial level of “sorting” that removes dead animals, tires and appliances from the waste stream? You know this is why people say that cities like Nashville and Atlanta represent the new South and cities like Montgomery and Jackson are seen as backwards, primitive provinces run by old people, where smart and progressive people flee at their first opportunity, and what are we really going to do about the diapers and cat litter all over the street?

A: We’d be happy to offer you a tour of the new sorting facility and you can see it in action. Just kidding. You can’t do that. It’s private property. Please keep producing trash though. Just kidding. You don’t have any choice.

13 responses to “Montgomery Recycling: FAQ

  1. Where’s a “banging one’s head against the wall” emoticon when needed?!?

  2. elaineann2013

    OMG!!! Kitty litter is no longer trash.? Shall I deliver it to City Hall to the Mayor’s office?

  3. I am soooo excited about this I just wanna ride around and get all the roadkill I can find and shove all of them into the trash can

  4. I just read this entire post aloud to my husband, and we both say, “You go, girl!” In years past, my husband was a regular contributor to the Montgomery Advertiser’s Letters to the Editor, and we think that you should submit a letter or two on this topic if you haven’t done so already. You WILL get hate mail and phone calls, but you’ve made excellent points that beg for a larger forum.

  5. This is hilariously written but a sad sad state of affairs. Here is an Aug. 2013 press release where Mayor Strange said “The beauty of this project is that residents don’t have to do anything differently. All of the separating takes place at the MRF”: If Infinitus said this in their RFP they should be held to it. If they didn’t, why did the Mayor say that? I wonder how the health dept. feels about this instruction to leave bio waste on the side of the road in a box?

  6. Carla, this mayor has a long history of making grand pronouncements or decisions that backfire.

    The infamous “plasma plant.” The city ordnance that parking your car on grass is a sin and you will be punished. Driveways must have hard surfaces and must have curbs.Giving one employee complete control over every tree in the city, even if it’s in your own back yard.

    The list goes on. He is Strange.

  7. I left a bag of filled with used kitty litter out by the curb to be picked up with the yard trash. It stayed there for over a week (I’m sure that my neighbors and those who used the side-walk were thrilled). Is there some “drop-off” for this kind of thing now?

  8. This is an excellent question. I have repeatedly called the Department of Public Health seeking comment on exactly this issue, to no avail. All I can discern is that the waste is your problem as long as it’s on your property. Also – get this- it turns out it was illegal to put that stuff in the trash in the first place, but that part of the solid waste ordinance has never been enforced.

  9. We hear the MRF is not achieving the 60% diversion it is supposed to be getting according to its contract. No one wants to buy soiled paper, cardboard and plastics and the operating expenses are high. Would love to chat with you on the phone. Please contact the Zero Waste Houston Coalition:

  10. Do any of you understand waste and the waste stream. In all honesty you should be proud to be leading the world in waste diversion and processing. Let’s be clear, kitty litter, dog poop and human waste (diapers), can be put in your waste. Sure. This waste will in fact be removed from the waste stream. Systems like this see all kinds of material, dead animals, bowling balls, brake pads, bumpers, paint cans microwaves, frankly all kinds of material that responsible and reasonable people would not put in the garbage. Is this ideal for a processor, of course not. If you were employed here and had to deal with medical waste, or needles from a drug addict, you would not want to be put at risk. Too much to ask that you think of others as well as yourself.
    I realize that people writing on these blogs cannot fathom that a company or city makes money. This is America, the great capitalist country. Not a Socialist one. That said, diverting waste away from the landfill is a great step in maintaining a healthier environment. You can only do that if you spend money to build complex systems like what you have in Montgomery. But yes, when you recycle commodities (PET, HDPE, Aluminum, Metal, etc) there is value as secondary processors who make new things with this material buy it. If these items where not recycled, guess what, your Walmart prices would go up higher.
    Instead of bickering, why not see how you can help make the City of Montgomery an example of how to do things right, and be a positive example for future generations. Otherwise, I am sure they city is happy to build there next landfill in your neighborhood. Oh, wait, no one wants that. Well maybe you do. That would explain a lot. But in most cases, that is not the case, and landfills have a limited life cycle. So if you do not recycle in this manner, where will the waste go? In Montgomery, I understand you will be producing CNG via an Anaerobic Digestion processing system as well. Great way to not only divert organics away from landfills, but generate fuel to fuel truck in your city. Lower emissions and lower fuel costs. Understandably, things are not perfect, but what you have in place and the plans laid out are something you should embrace. Not complain because your city would appreciate it if you would put your cat litter and diapers elsewhere. Either you are part of the problem or become part of a sustainable solution.

    • YES, Jake…we DO understand waste and the waste stream. That is exactly the reason we are asking SOMEBODY to be clear about what is going to happen to the recyclables we put in our curbside garbage bins. Most of us are used to making sure cans, plastics and glass are clean and -along with paper – are separated from food waste. Now there is some vague directive to throw it all in the bin. I personally have very little confidence that most of it will actually be recycled. Is it too much to ask the city to include specific directions on their water/sewer/garbage bills? Apparently so. In the meantime, I continue to tote all of my Mom’s recyclables to Pelham and put them in my curbside recycle bin (which is separate from my curbside garbage bin). IMHO, a ridiculous situation.

  11. Hi folks…I just moved here from SF and am accustomed to recycling pretty much everything that is recyclable. I’ve read this post, the previous post (prior to the opening of the new facility) and some articles on the new trash/recycling facility, and I am utterly confused as to what to do with my recycling. My only goal is to recycle as much as I can at a place where I can reasonably be sure it will actually be recycled.

    I understand that the best option may be to take it somewhere–and I am up for making that effort, if need be—but I have no idea whether that is, in fact, the most viable way to ensure my recyclables are actually recycled. I went on the AL Environmental Council’s website and found a number of Montgomery locations that ostensibly offer recycling services…including a few schools, like Capitol Heights Jr. High School, which purportedly accepts a number of materials, including some plastics.

    Can anyone boil all this information down to a very simple directive on what a well-meaning person should do with her recyclables? (Note: I don’t have a pet or a baby).

    Many thanks in advanced from this new, befuddled Montgomery resident!

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