Tag Archives: Recycling

State Capitals Recycling

Alaska – Juneau – Has curbside pickup and multiple dropoff centers

Arizona – Phoenix – multiple kinds of curbside pickup and the city of Phoenix has a goal to divert 40 percent of trash from the landfill by 2020; and to achieve zero waste by the year 2050.

Arkansas – Little Rock – has curbside recycling

California – Sacramento – has curbside recycling

Colorado – Denver – you don’t even have to ask

Connecticut – Hartford – small city, free curbside pickup

Delaware – Dover – website sucks, but they offer recycling

Florida – Tallahassee – Yes. Garbage and recycling containers can be placed at the curb (no earlier than) the day before your scheduled pickup and need to be returned to the storage area near your home no later than the day following your service.

Georgia – Atlanta – curbside in a cart

Hawaii – Honolulu – mobile and permanent dropoff centers

Idaho – Boise – they pick it up, nice “CurbIt” campaign and branding

Illinois – Springfield – Abraham Lincoln does it personally. Just kidding. Curbside, but they charge for it. “Residents living in single family homes of 3 units or less in addition to residents who live in multi-unit buildings may now obtain recycling service on site from their waste hauler at the monthly rate of $3 per unit.”

Indiana – Indianapolis – curbside and drop-off

Iowa – Des Moines – Another “Curb It!” program covering municipal Des Moines and Central Iowa curbside pickup.

Kansas – Topeka – The county does it. Forty tons a day.

Kentucky – Frankfort – Even Franklin. “Franklin County incurs the cost of residential curbside trash and recycling collection. This service is provided by Legacy Carting.”

Louisiana – Baton Rouge – Yes. And it’s surprisingly robust.

Maine – Augusta – Their website is ironically itself rubbish. Appears they stopped curbside recycling pickup on May 1, 2017. But there are still four city-maintained drop-off sites.

Maryland – Annapolis – It is MANDATORY.

Massachusetts – Boston – “You can mix recyclable materials together and place them on the curb outside of your home on your recycling day.” Great website.

Michigan – Lansing – Curbside. Funded by a fee. With virtual tour of their MRF.

Minnesota – St. Paul – Weekly collection. As if you had to ask.

Mississippi – Jackson – Even Jackson has curbside. Mississippi.

Missouri – Jefferson City – Yes.

Montana – Helena – Even Helena.

Nebraska – Lincoln – Seems like the city provides 23 drop-off sites and a bunch of companies offer curbside pickup. Doesn’t seem efficient to have a bunch of companies competing to do the pickup.

Nevada – Carson City – Curbside recycling is available through Waste Management. They can be reached at (775) 882-3380.

New Hampshire – Concord – Live Free or Die … and curbside recycle.

New Jersey – Trenton – Even this place has it.

New Mexico – Santa Fe – This is hilarious and on-point. Of course they have rolling curbside.

New York – Albany – Manages one of the region’s largest single stream recycling programs with a 50.1% diversion rate.

North Carolina – Raleigh – Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services launched its first downtown recycling program in 2006. Today more than 130 downtown businesses recycle materials with Solid Waste Services. The City’s residential curbside recycling program began as a pilot program in 1989.

North Dakota – Bismarck – Even North Dakota. Curbside.

Ohio – Columbus – Yes. RecyColumbus is really cool.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma City – They have Russell Westbrook. And curbside recycling bin pickup.

Oregon – Salem – Duh.

Pennsylvania – Harrisburg – Yes. And they want to do more.

Rhode Island – Providence – Cubrside bins in the capital of the nation’s smallest state.

South Carolina – Columbia – Strange wizard. They have curbside bins.

South Dakota – Pierre – Both Dakotas have curbside recycling in their capital cities.

Tennessee – Nashville – Curbside pickup and a well-designed site.

Texas – Austin – Duh.

Utah – Salt Lake City – Bins and drop-offs and landfill tours.

Vermont – Montpelier – Recycleables have been banned from the landfill in Vermont since July 1, 2015 as part of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law. So … yeah.

Virginia – Richmond – Yes. Curbside covering 13 cities.

Washington – Olympia – Obviously. Curbside carts.

West Virginia – Charleston – Even West Virginia’s capital. Curbside.

Wisconsin – Madison – They publish a “Recyclopedia.” So, obviously.

Wyoming – Cheyenne – curbside recycling program was first implemented as a pilot program in January 2008. Service was first provided to 1500 residents in the Sun Valley area. The results were extremely favorable and city-wide recycling began in August 2010.

That means that we are the only state capital with no program. This is the link on the city-run site, that says that you can drive to one of two sites in the city to leave your recyclable materials with one of two private for-profit entities. So, just let those jugs and bottles pile up in your house for the weeks at a time that it will take you to have the time to drive to one of the two locations in this city that can recycle. We are the only state capital in this entire nation that is this pathetic at recycling. The only one. Every single other capital city has figured something out, whether they are larger than us, smaller than us, richer than us, or poorer than us. Everybody has figured it out except for us, and we have a giant empty shuttered recycling plant that was a bad idea before it was ever built and we just keep pumping our landfills more and more full every single day that goes by. All links current as of early May 2017.

You Stink

Longtime Lost in Montgomery readers will know how closely we’ve followed Lebanese domestic politics over the years, so it’ll come as no surprise that we’ve been fascinated by the unfolding protests over trash in Beirut. That’s right. It seems that the failing government there has neglected to pick up solid waste for a month, leaving piles of smelly waste all over the city in summer. Locals have mounted a protest campaign cleverly titled “You Stink!”

Montgomery has a lot in common with Beirut, but there’s a key difference here. The Lebanese get to see where their trash goes. We don’t.

A little history for those new to the saga (a longer version of the tale is in our Recycling FAQ):

Montgomery used to have curbside recycling. But very few people participated and it was very expensive. Mayor Strange cut the program. There was talk of a magic fairy technology that would solve our waste problem. A very expensive feasibility study showed that this plasma fantasy was not feasible. Then we were told that Montgomery was going to be “first in the nation” with a new kind of mixed-waste disposal plant that would take recyclables out of our trash and sell them. This plant would be operated by totally-not-a-James-Bond-supervillain “Infinitus Energy.” Once the (very expensive) factory was operational, we were told to leave our diapers, dead animals and pet waste on the curb (instead of in our trash cans) lest they jam up the cutting-edge plant. Nobody in their right minds did this. Time passed.

Some people from Zero Waste Houston contacted us. They wanted to know more about Montgomery’s waste disposal system. This was because they were fighting against the building of a similar system in their town. We learned a new vocabulary word: Dirty MRF. It sounds like a sex thing, but it’s actually short for “dirty materials recovery facility,” which also (if you say it in the right tone of voice) also sounds like a sex thing.

We read all about these Dirty MRFs and were shocked by how much we simply never knew about Montgomery’s sparkling new plant. We love recycling as an idea, but we were disappointed in Grandma Advertiser. A little bit of investigation would have revealed that major recycling industry groups actually oppose facilities like ours because they need usable diverted waste to make money, and dirty MRFs don’t create usable diverted waste.

It turns out that our professed “first in the nation” designation wasn’t even close to true. Facilities very similar to ours had been failing to meet recycling targets and losing money for years. One in Chicago failed to meet even a 10% recycling target. Another in California claims 50% diversion, but half of that is what they spread on top of the landfill to cover up what’s underneath. One in Illinois went bankrupt. One in Ohio doesn’t even meet a 20% target. You can read all about these plants and more in this report.

And yet, to be clear, we (the City of Montgomery) were sold a plant that promised 60% diversion. As fans of The Simpsons, we are compelled to imagine that the exchange went a little something like this (this clip will help you sing it in key):

Setting: Montgomery City Hall. A well-dressed representative of Infinitus Energy is speaking to city leaders.

Infinitus Energy: “You know, a town with money is a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. Nobody knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it. Name’s Energy. Infinitus Energy. And we come before you today with an idea. Probably the greatest idea … never mind. It’s more of a Wetumpka idea.”

Mayor Strange: “Now wait just a minute! We’re twice as smart as the people of Wetumpka. Just tell us your idea and we’ll bankroll it.”

Infinitus Energy (pulling a sheet off of a scale model of a tiny recycling plant made from a shoebox): “We give you … The Montgomery IREP Plant! We’ve sold dirty MRFs to Rockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and by gum it put them on the map!”

Infinitus Energy (breaking into song): “Well, sir, there’s nothing on Earth
Like a genuine, bona fide
Electrified, trash-eatin’ dirty MRF”

Mayor Strange: “I hear those things lose lots of money.”
Infinitus Energy: “It turns your waste to milk and honey.”
Mayor Strange: “Is there a chance the trash could spill?”
Infinitus Energy: “Not on your life, my mayoral shill!”

Citizens: “What about us brain-dead slobs?”
Infinitus Energy: “You’ll be given cushy jobs.”
Local Clergy: “Were you sent here by the Devil?”
Infinitus Energy: “No, good sir, we’re on the level.”

Mayor Strange: “The ring came off my pudding can.”
Infinitus Energy: “We’ll make it diamonds, my good man.”
Mayor Strange: “I swear it’s Montgomery’s only choice. Throw up your hands and raise your voice!”

Lone Citizen: “But the west side’s still all cracked and broken”
Mayor Strange: “Too late now – the mob has spoken.”

All together: “Dirty MRF, Dirty MRF, Dirty MRF!”

Evidently the folks in Houston and elsewhere fighting these plants had been trying and failing to get a copy of Infinitus’ contract with the city. So we went down to the city and got our own copy. Which we uploaded – you can read it here (Warning: it is very long and super boring). Based on this, the Houston folks produced a fact sheet about the Montgomery facility to use in their fight. That’s a PDF, and you can read it here. Here’s something shocking about the contract. Buried deep within is the possibility of, essentially, an incinerator. Even though we were told there would be no incinerator.

Then we were tipped off to a brewing controversy in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Seems that our little plant is being used to sell other monorails dirty MRFs. And some people there have been doing their homework. Reading their website, we’ve learned a number of shocking facts about our own facility – facts that we haven’t seen in any Alabama media outlet. The chart below is from the folks in Moncks Corner – you can see it as well as the original documents on their website (click to make the image larger):

Those numbers are astonishing. That’s a $12 million “miss” on their overall financials and a $6.5 million shortfall just this year. They seem to have actually recycled a pathetically small amount of material – less than 10% diversion, far short of the 85% they are claiming elsewhere. And the company hasn’t even made their first of 25 bond payments yet. Will they go bankrupt and stick the city with a giant pile of trash and hundreds of millions of dollars of our hard-earned money?

Why is nobody talking about this?

We hear rumors. We hear that the facility won’t let outside reviewers in. We hear that folks at ADEM won’t go on the record with their criticisms of the facility. We’ve certainly never been in there to look around. All we know is that people used to come and take the recycling from our curbs, and now we just throw everything away in one trash can and trust that our invisible trash overlords are turning garbage into money.

And all the while, a pack of slick hucksters go around the country showcasing the plant they suckered us into buying.

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.

Montgomery Alabama Recycling 2014

We moved to Montgomery in 2008. Our then-mayor, Bobby Bright, was immediately elected to represent our district in Congress and he was replaced by Todd Strange. Mayor Strange took office in 2009 and took only a few months to cancel our curbside recycling program.

Under Mayor Bright, we’d separate recyclable household materials from our solid waste. Trash went in the familiar wheeled green plastic cans (like we use now), and recycling went in a special orange bag that you’d set out on the curb. When you were running out of orange bags, you’d tie one to the handle of your trash bin, a special silent communication between you and the sanitation workers. They’d see your gesture and leave you a new roll of bags. The cycle would begin anew.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Strange had some good arguments for ending the curbside pickup. Public education and enthusiasm levels were low, so not enough Montgomery households were separating their trash and using the system. Also, gas prices make it expensive to run a citywide network of curbside pickup service. Worse, despite low participation, they were still picking up more recyclable materials than they could handle. For whatever reason, the recyclables were being taken to mentally-challenged workers who could only handle a fraction of what they were getting. What couldn’t be sorted was sent to the landfill.

Rather than fix this idiotic system, Strange cancelled the whole thing and started talking about a special magical plasma facility that would burn all solid waste, regardless of whether it could be recycled. No more time-consuming sorting. No more environmental consciousness by consumers and households. Just throw it all in the green bin, Strange told us, and this amazing new technology would “gasify” everything and turn it into electricity and the city could sell the electricity back to the power grid and we’d all get free jetpacks and hoverboots.

We were skeptical.

We wrote about the end of curbside recycling. We looked into why we could only recycle certain kinds of plastic, never glass, and complained about the new “dropoff” system. We wrote about what’s involved with driving recyclables to Birmingham. We made fun of fake civic environmentalism efforts. We hoped that City Councilor Arch Lee would continue to carry the recycling policy torch of Martha Roby after she went to Congress. We continued to look at landfill policies.

The plasma plant fell through. The city’s money spent to study the project only confirmed what we knew. It wasn’t feasible.

Then, another ray of sunlight. We were told in July of last year that a “revolutionary” new facility was coming to Montgomery (1551 Louisville St). The company’s press release said we were looking at a $35 million new facility to be open about four months from now. 110 jobs. 85 percent of the stuff headed to the landfill will go to this factory. 95 percent of recyclables will be recovered.

We are told that our trash:

will be separated using the latest in screening, air and optical separation technologies.  The system sorts and recovers commodities such as cardboard, mixed paper, metals, aluminum cans, plastics and wood based on density, size, shape and material composition.  Additional sorting will be done by hand at the site.

Organic waste will allegedly be turned into compressed natural gas. The company’s materials about the project can be found here. Another press release (with video from an unfathomably smarmy-looking corporate exec!) can be consumed here.

Other than driving plastic (and glass, and newspaper, and cardboard, etc.) to Birmingham or Auburn, what have the people of Montgomery been doing? Some have been taking things to Target, out in the Hellscape. This is not really an option. The Target has tiny little bins at the front of the store, the kind that someone might put a single Coke bottle in after shopping. This is not designed for a carload of materials. We subscribe to newspapers, the actual printed kind. We order things from Amazon that come in recyclable cardboard boxes. We generate large volumes of recyclable waste — and we don’t even have any kids. Taking stuff to Target is not an option.

Stuff that doesn't have to go to the landfill.

Stuff that doesn’t have to go to the landfill. We generate this volume regularly.

Some people take stuff to Mt. Scrap (824 N. Decatur St). This is something of an option, especially if you’re into helping a private company generate materials it can sell for profit — with no oversight as to whether they do or don’t just dump everything into the landfill.

We have been taking stuff out to McInnis Recycling Center (4341 Norman Bridge Rd.), which is one of the city’s official “drop off locations.” This isn’t ideal. On Sundays, you have to compete with the traffic from the Fresh Anointing International Church, which sounds like a pretty fresh location that is full of anointed folks and one rented cop trying to direct an armada of cars spilling out onto Norman Bridge Road. Also, bin size is relatively small.

McInnis Recycling.

McInnis Recycling

These are your only two options. For whatever reason, the place at Huntingdon we once used has closed up shop. We don’t know why. In Montgomery, information about recycling is hard to come by — just fragments from rumors and dreams. Maybe that’s why we blog about it all the time. We’re just citizens grasping at straws, wishing our city could help us to minimize our impact on the environment.

Look, we accept the fact that a lot of people in Montgomery probably think of recycling as some kind of Maoist lifestyle plot that goes hand-in-hand with yoga, vegetarian cults and Obama’s “War on Coal.” But conservation has a long tradition and ought to make sense when resources are finite.

Maybe one day we will get a tour of the Infinitus Renewable Energy Park at Montgomery (also known to insiders as IREP at Montgomery). And maybe there’ll be some kind of oversight to ensure that the landfill-bound materials end up where Infinitus says they will. We don’t need to invoke the specter of the Downtown Plume to underscore the importance of not letting companies (and state agencies) have a free hand when it comes to discharging toxins.

We’ll check back on this issue in June, which is the date that the new plant is scheduled to open. Surely the company will issue some sort of press release and the city will have some sort of ceremony. A ribbon may be cut and the Montgomery Advertiser will republish some magniloquent press release. And people will keep filling their trash cans just like nothing ever happened. No sorting, no thinking.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Color me eco

Let’s say that you’re the mayor of a city with big ambitions, a rich history, and basically no money. You take over from the previous mayor, whose big ambitions took him to Congress where, after taking advantage of duping a bunch of starry-eyed lefties and the much less naive corporate lickspittles political strategists up at Democratic Party HQ, proceeded to vote against every piece of legislation that someone elected as a Democrat might reasonably have been expected to support. Also, you have this monkey on your back. Since the nation’s experiencing a major economic trauma and your city (also state) has a tax system structured to keep the rich rich, the poor poor, and everyone dependent on public services largely SOL, you’ve got to find some way to balance the budget.

One of your strategies is to eliminate the city’s totally inefficient curbside recycling program. This program was a big failure whose meager successes may have included appeasing some lefty types into believing they were Saving The Earth One Cardboard Tofurky Lunch Slices Box At A Time and providing jobs for a few of the city’s developmentally disabled. So you cut it. While saying you’re doing this because you’re actually for recycling in the form of a massively expensive and virtually untested boondoggle plasma plant.

You are a pragmatist. Can’t sell cars if you’re not. You don’t want to seem like you hate the earth (especially not with this monkey on you), and you don’t want to alienate the ten voters or so who really cared about the city’s moribund curbside recycling program, and all of this especially not on EARTH DAY.

Solution? A coloring book, of course. With a temporary tattoo! Distributed to elementary school students all over the city! To show that the city cares! While it continues to fall behind nearby Troy in its environmental policies. Good work, Mr. Mayor! And thanks to regular reader Kathleen for the tip!

Recycling: Home and Away

We know that we can suffer from broken record-ism here at Lost in Montgomery. On occasion we find topics like recycling and just keep going on and on about them to the chagrin of our loyal corps of readers who tune in, not for leftist tree-hugging political harangue, but for updates on the latest issue of Dixie Living or Montgomery Parents. Well, so be it. If you’re looking for inspirational craft tips or ways to combine your loves of scrapbooking, coupon-cutting, and Jesus, there’s plenty to be had on the rest of the Alabama Internets.

We’ve said it before: Montgomery’s “recycling program” is a joke. We used to have curbside pickup, but nobody used it and very little of it was actually recycled. So instead, the Mayor proposed that the city adopt a long-term strategy where its waste products would be dealt with by a bouncy castle made of Moon Pies, half a dozen used Slinkys attached to industrial strength flame throwers, and the original Broadway cast of Phantom of the Opera a “plasma plant.”

While we’re busy holding our breath(s) for the end of the one year “feasibility study” that may or may not result in a multi-year program to build this facility that may or may not work, we still have stuff to recycle. We have put off (until now) a trip to the city’s recycling drop-off points for a few reasons. First, we are fortunate that a good fairy takes some of our recycling to Troy — a nearby city much smaller than ours which still manages to have a curbside recycling program without going broke. Second, we were pretty mad that the city now only takes cardboard and paper – no more plastic recycling at city facilities. Also, we have a storage shed.

However, with a whole spate of unexpected home repair involving things arriving at our house in preposterously large boxes, we decided to hit our local city drop-off point. It is at Bellingrath Junior High. Here is what it looks like.

Seriously. It’s an open air bin. Unclear on why this requires special “recycling hours” only available certain times of the week for a few weeks out of the month. And in the middle of the day, it was still a little sketchy, what with tons of broken windows, litter, and gang graffiti nearby.

On Sunday we had to make a trip to Birmingham. We loaded the trunk of the car with glass (marginally reducing our storage room) and went by the Alabama Environmental Council recycling facility. AEC are good people doing good work in a state where caring about the environment is usually seen as a character failing or a pastime for the rich, white, and indolent. Also, the AEC recycling facility is awesome. Also it takes glass – one of only two places in the state we’re aware of (and we have not yet visited the place in Auburn we’ve been told about).

It’s easy to look at these pictures and do the usual Montgomery-bashing thing. Like the waitress who served us our lunch recently – when we told her we were from Montgomery, her reaction was basically the same as if we had told her that we’d just finished eating our own poop. We are unwilling to join the fatalists murmuring, “oh, that’s just so Montgomery” after every municipal face-plant and absurd crime spree. Hell, at least we didn’t lose our shirt playing roulette getting a sewage treatment plant. And the “That’s so Montgomery” strategy is too often deployed as a way to forgive any number of municipal failings and mishaps (not to mention racism).

But seriously. Why can’t we just have a recycling program that works like other cities? Why do we have to go to Birmingham to recycle our glass? And why, if our current strategy is “do it yourself because we aren’t going to pick it up from your curb,” can’t we figure out something better than the arbitrarily time-limited set of drop-off locations scattered across the city?

Plastic: A primer

When the City of Montgomery terminated its curbside recycling program, as an added “screw the Earth” bonus, it also slipped in the end of plastics recycling. As we noted a few months ago, the new inconvenient drop-off sites only accept cardboard and paper. If you’ve got glass, you’ll need to go to the Alabama Environmental Council facility up in Birmingham (although we’ve heard about some glass recycling in Auburn, but have yet to verify that – appreciate a lead from any of our readers).

If you want to recycle plastic, there’s always the AEC option. But driving to Birmingham makes a big old carbon footprint to recycle a few bottles. Other cities manage to recycle plastic just fine – ie, the surprisingly effective and progressive recycling program run by the nearby city of Troy (although they don’t do glass either).

There is, of course, a catch. The AEC and City of Troy don’t accept all plastics – just the ones with numbers 1 and 2 on the bottom. I was curious about what these numbers meant, and why the other numbers weren’t being accepted by Alabama’s pathetic meager recycling efforts.

Thanks to the Internets, I was able to figure out what the symbols mean (sort of – chemistry is not my strong suit by any means). I learned that all plastics are not the same (which I knew, but it was good to be reminded of why) and thus cannot in fact just be dumped into a big Recycl-o-Matic (such is my understanding of how this process works) to be remade into new plastic things. For those who are interested, here’s how the plastic numbers break down:

  • 1 – PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate). Seems like this is the most common, especially for water and soda bottles, because it’s cheap. Evidently it is also easy to recycle – here’s a video of a plant if you’re interested in learning more (as I was … dig that crazy pan flute music!). These bottles get shredded and recycled into things like fabric and carpet. Generally, American consumers recycle somewhere between 12 and 20% of PET bottles.
  • 2 – HDPE (high density polyethylene). Milk jugs, trash bags, detergent bottles, cereal box liners, and so forth. Evidently it can be recycled into a bunch of stuff and is very durable. Seems like it’s tougher and longer-lasting than PET.
  • 3 – Vinyl or PVC. Evidently can be recycled into useful products like speed bumps. If it were recycled. Which it rarely is. Do not burn or use to prepare food unless you really like the taste of chlorine.
  • 4 – LDPE (low density polyethylene). Plastic shopping bags and those awful dry cleaning bags (although if you’re dry cleaning, you’re already willing to accept some level of enviro-poisoning). It’s also in carpet, some squeeze bottles, etc. Can be recycled into other plastic stuff like shipping envelopes.
  • 5 – PP (polypropylene). Evidently this stuff can stand high heat, so it is often used by people who need to pour hot contents into plastic. Also evidently it’s used in a lot of yogurt containers. You know, the little individual ones that animals get their heads stuck in and then die. The Internets inform me that this kind of plastic can be recycled into ice scrapers and brooms, among other useful products.
  • 6 – PS (polystyrene). Styrofoam is one kind of this. Also egg cartons and CD cases. In the 1980s, there was a huge battle over styrofoam use by companies like McDonald’s. Of course, lots of that had to do with CFCs and the ozone layer. And look how well all that turned out. Regardless, you’ll be lucky to find any place to recycle this stuff even if you’re living outside of the Southeast (and if you are, why the heck are you reading this blog?), and even if you get it recycled it’ll only be good for filling other plastic devices.
  • 7 – Other. This category includes everything else, including hard plastics with BPA – something that the FDA has recently said it’s going to take another look at despite previous assurances that it was perfectly safe.

All of which is more in the way of a for-your-information, since there’s really no way to recycle your numbers 1 and 2 plastic here in Montgomery anyway, unless you bundle them for business/recreational trips up to Birmingham (which is what we try to do, although that is more aspiration than reality right now – fortunately, we’ve got a great big shed out back to store stuff in).

Your waste plastic is your inter-generational legacy gift to the Earth if you don’t recycle them (or maybe even if you do, especially if other folks are using the old Montgomery collect-and-dump strategy). And that’s if you’re lucky. If not, your stupid little bottles and sheets and giblets may go straight to the Pacific Gyre. And then maybe one day dissolve, messing with the endocrine systems of our friends in the sea.

There is, of course, some debate about whether it’s a good idea to recycle at all. The most famous example of this argument was made by John Tierney a while ago. You can read his article here, and then consider one of the many critiques of his piece here. There are so many alternatives to buying plastic, but it would be nice to at least have the option to recycle here in the Capitol City. The city needs to figure out how to budget for more progressive trash policies rather than following the horrifying national trend of seeing Alabama as a trash dump.


IMPORTANT NOTE: After this post was put up, alert pro-Earth commenter John P. pointed me to Mt. Scrap, which does take plastics #1 and 2. Thanks!

Montgomery: Recycling disaster

It’s been about six weeks since Mayor Todd Strange, ever mindful of ecomomics, stopped the city’s curbside recycling program. We (and our large group of friends) were quite saddened by this news. Even though we had our share of issues getting our hands on the official municipal orange recycling bags, we do recycle a lot, even collecting glass (which Montgomery never recycled … at least as long as we’ve lived here) and sending it to another nearby (more progressive) city for reprocessing.

So, we were prepared to be vehemently opposed to the end of curbside recycling, but instead were surprised to find ourselves somewhat lukewarm on the issue. Only a third of Montgomery households participated in the program. And we can vouch for the flexible definition of “participate” – while we regularly put out at least one full orange bag every week, other houses appeared to put out a bag with a few items in it every two weeks. Even if you are a strong believer in recycling, it’s hard to justify the fossil fuel use for trucks cruising up and down streets for the weekly recycling pickup when results are so meager.

It gets worse – turned out that city was using the McInnis Recycling Center (a business effort of the Montgomery Association for Retarded Citizens) to process the materials. That facility could only handle about a quarter of what it got through curbside pickup. The remainder was either sent to the Elmore County recycling program or to the landfill. Only 1% of the city’s waste was getting recycled.

Eliminating this massively ineffective recycling program saved the city $400,000 per year (so we were told by the local newspaper). The City was bleeding money, facing an $8 million budget shortfall and burning through the entirety of municipal reserves. In this fiscal crisis, with the city taking a bath on any number of budget items including the terrible Bobby Bright legacy lunch trolley (which was losing $75,000 per year), we found ourselves agreeing with reduced pickup. Or even eliminated pickup. The Mayor said that the city was moving toward drop-off sites that would be open twice a month on Saturday. Probably this reduced recycling input (conceding that ending curbside pickup would lead to decreased participation) would mean that all the recycling at least, you know, got recycled. Maybe the city should have thought about the capacity limitations of Montgomery’s retarded people before they set up the recycling program. We’re not saying those people shouldn’t have jobs (obviously), but if the McInnis facility can’t handle being the sole site of Montgomery’s recycling program, they shouldn’t be handed a job bigger than they can do.

In any case, we were less motivated to show up and complain about the end of curbside recycling once we found out how wretched the existing program was. That’s when Mayor Strange hit us with the one-two punch of his proposed alternatives.

  • Option One: Sort All The Trash. The Mayor was talking for a while about a program like the one being set up in Baldwin County by Team Green Recycling. TGR is a private company building a plant to take in all of Baldwin County’s trash, unsorted, and sort it before it goes to the landfill. They make money by selling the recyclables, and the city makes money by reducing landfill costs. Turns out it’s not cheap for cities to handle solid waste, and it makes financial sense for cities to reduce their trash output (though landfill fees are still inordinately cheap, especially in communities without an interest in forcing “true pricing,” taking pay-later externalities into account). In any case, this approach seemed credible and reasonable, having been tried before in other similar communities. But we haven’t heard much about it since October, and maybe that’s because TGR’s money is all tied up getting the Baldwin County project off the ground, so they’re not ready to invest up here.
  • Option Two: The Plasma Plant. A “plasma plant?” Sounds like some of that geoengineering crap that people float to avoid having to deal with the pressing need to actually reduce consumption and carbon emissions. Without knowing anything at all about how this works, we can only say for sure that the city’s has recently agreed to do a one-year “feasibility study,” after which we may build a plant which may be ready in three years.The idea of these things is that they use very high temperatures on the solid waste, recyclables and all. No special curbside pickup. No sorting. No consumer effort at all. Organic stuff vaporizes and makes steam to run a turbine, so gasification plants are supposed to generate power to sell back to the grid. Other stuff that doesn’t “gasify” ends up being reduced into “slag,” which industry sites assure us can be used for many purposes, including building blocks and roads. The plants don’t produce ash. One of the major problems is that no municipality in the US has a running plasma plant now. The first one, in Florida, is expected to be running by 2011. There is a plant in Huntsville that uses plasma technology, but it’s basically just an incinerator and produces ash. And we have no information on what this means as far as air emissions when you go around and burn up an entire city’s worth of milk jugs and disposable diapers and glass jars and old cell phones and batteries and all the other shit that people put into their trash cans.

The Mayor said he’d get back to us on these options. The City Council said fine. Then we received Picture 1this flyer in the mail informing us of the recycling drop-off locations, and including the fine print that plastic would no longer be recycled by the city. Only paper and cardboard and aluminum. This seemed like some kind of sick joke. Recycle two days a month, paper and cardboard and aluminum only. Plus, it turned out that at least one of the schools had Saturday school, causing some unpleasantness (or at least jockeying for parking) between the school attendees’ parents and local recycling aficionados.

All of which has left us with a number of questions. Such as:

1. If the city is so super broke, how are we going to afford cutting-edge plasma technology that NO OTHER CITY IN THE UNITED STATES HAS?

2. What are we going to do if the feasibility study comes back in one year and indicates that a plasma plant isn’t an ideal solution? What if they cost more than we expect, or don’t work? Or they leave poison in the ground where they are built? Or emit lots of air pollution? Or blow up regularly, killing all the workers who work there?

3. What are we going to do in the meantime? Fill our landfills with glass and plastic simply because the City of Montgomery can’t seem to set up a recycling system like the one in Troy, Alabama, population 12,000 or so? A tiny town 45 minutes to the south of us has figured out how to do curbside recycling of glass, metal, paper, cardboard, and plastic, and not bleed money and go bankrupt? What’s our problem up here?

4. Can’t we just stop our absurd twice-a-week trash pickup and do a single day of the week to pick up trash and a single day of the week to pick up recycling? And start doing glass? And plastic? And somehow not exclusively rely on McInnis to sort it all? And maybe even find a way to sell the recycled goods on the private market and make it into a revenue stream for the city? Or if not, just declare that this is a service (like free parks, for example) that makes our city worth living in and it’s worth it to lose money on since it makes our city a more attractive place to live?

Recycling, part 2

Late at night, after an alien movie at the Capri, I decided that our broken recycling bag wasn’t going to go to waste. Especially since the bags I’d ordered from the city have STILL not arrived after two weeks. Thankfully Stephen took the following pictures which clearly communicate what a nut I actually am. The good news is that they DID pick up the patched-up bag, and it DIDN’T break open on the way to the curb (that’s why I’m doing my best Lynndie England pose there at the end). Vindication! Recycling!

Recycling – low and high technology

345897594_272bf58cc9Montgomery’s curbside recycling program is something to be proud of. Sure, they don’t take glass (and the closest place to drop your glass seems to be in Prattville? Anyone got a tip on in-city glass recycling?). But compared to Tuscaloosa, where you had to tote your recycling to the ONE sorting trailer in town that took recycling and was invariably overflowing with phone books, soda bottles, and tattered copies of Sports Illustrated, and still didn’t take glass (for THAT, you had to drive to Birmingham), Montgomery’s program is top-notch.

Basically, you get orange bags tied to your city-issued trash can. These bags can be filled with mixed recycling (steel cans, plastic, paper, cardboard boxes cut to lay flat, etc.), and the city won’t pick up any recycling that is not in one of these orange bags. Which are surprisingly flimsy. Like rip, basically, upon contact with cardboard. Fortunately they can be reinforced with duct tape, if need be. Your trash gets picked up twice a week, and only one of those days is your recycling pick-up day.

So far so good. Except that if you’re like us, you recycle a lot, and some weeks more than others. But it’s surprisingly hard to get more bags from the city. We recently had a major influx of cardboard into the house (the Amazon wedding registry, it turns out, involves a lot of giant boxes containing other boxes containing single items packed with unnecessary air bags), and needed to get rid of it. So I called the city sanitation department to see if I could swing by there for more orange bags. No such luck. They do not allow you to come by the office to get more bags, despite obviously having bags in the office. They said they would mail them to me. This was a week ago. Today I logged on to their website to try again, and was surprised to find a technological upgrade! You can now click on a button to order more bags! This button generates an email you can fill out and send including your address and preferred number of extra bags. Great. Except that the email gets promptly bounced back as undeliverable. Ah, Montgomery.

One thing coming up in the city is the annual Electronics Recycling Event, where folks can bring in all their old keyboards, copy machines, etc. (and TVs, for an extra $10 per television) to be recycled. I was happy, because I have a few non-functional electronic items here in the office to get rid of, but suspicious, because like many people I saw this horrifying 60 Minutes episode about the secret, evil work of many electronics recycling companies.

The company Montgomery is contracting with to haul the waste away is Ecovery LLC. They have a nice website, but I was concerned because they do not appear on the list of electronics recycling companies that have taken the Basel Action Network pledge. BAN’s E-Stewards Initiative is an attempt to get electronics recyclers to adhere to tough standards regarding the treatment and disposal of toxic waste. It doesn’t have any teeth, though – so far all you have to do to get on BAN’s E-Steward list is to take the pledge. There’s no certification program or auditing associated with the program, although BAN says that by 2010 all of that will be put into place.

There is only one E-Steward company in Alabama, and it isn’t Ecovery LLC. It’s Huntsville-based MARS LLC. I called over to Ecovery to find out why weren’t on the E-Steward list, and had a nice conversation with their CEO, Brock Norris. Brock was somewhat critical of the BAN program because of its lack of teeth. He was proud to say that Ecovery is certified through the RIOS program (Recycling Industry Operating Standard – a certification program of the industry association, ISRI), which he described as a comprehensive and auditable program, unlike the E-Steward initiative. He did say that once BAN’s program evolved into an audited certification program, Ecovery would try to get that certification as well.

On the one hand, I was impressed by talking to Brock about his company. Only a year old, Ecovery does all of its processing in Loxley, AL. Even the cathode ray tubes are processed there, and only the glass is sent out for cleaning at a separate facility. This seems promising. I like the idea of electronics recycling being done locally rather than shipped off to some poor country so child and imprisoned workers can die of cancers after stripping down our electronics so we can feel marginally better about the new computer we just HAD to have.

But I’m still a little wary of Brock’s argument, for two reasons. First, it turns out that the RIOS standards are MUCH lower and less stringent than the E-Steward standards. It’s also lower than the EPA’s R2 standards (which seem to be basically the same as RIOS). Check out this BAN brochure (it’s a PDF) for a side-by-side comparison. So compliance with RIOS is a far cry from complicance with what BAN is suggesting.This strikes me as pretty par for the course for industry “self-regulation.” There are a million examples of industries that take pre-emptive action to stall momentum for strict regulation, and their regulations are always weaker than what is being suggested by outside parties. I looked on the ISRI site for reactions to the BAN standards and found this letter (PDF) from former ISRI President Robin Weiner sent to 60 Minutes after the recycling story aired. It criticizes the segment for, basically, spotlighting the work of a few bad apples. Other than that there don’t seem to be any official ISRI documents (on the site at least) responding to the BAN standards.

The second problem I had with Brock’s argument was that it seemed a bit hollow. Recall that he said the problem with the BAN pledge is that it lacks enforcement. But if you agree that these standards are good, what would you have to lose by taking the pledge? Seems like getting on the E-Steward list couldn’t be anything but good for business. Especially when nosy hippies like me call you up to demand information about your Basel Convention compliance before they will give you an old crappy photocopier.