The city of Hattiesburg had its annual budget meeting Monday with presentations from each of Hattiesburg’s department heads. One of the more interesting things up for discussion was the new Hattiesburg city recycling program. It turns out the program is costing the city $20,000 per month to run. The program was intended to be cash neutral, but with lower than projected participation, it has left the program struggling for funds, and money has been pulled from the general fund to keep the program going. The caveat to the financial loss is the reduction in the volume of the trash going into landfills; so making a true cost benefit analysis is not that easy.
Councilman Bradley mentioned that some communities in Hattiesburg are participating in the program more than others, and scaling back the program to service the communities that are participating might be a possible solution to lowering costs. Many communities around the country have material recovery facilities or MRFs. These serve as drop off points for those wishing to participate in the recycling programs. While MRFs may be cheaper than door to door pickup, they don’t come cheap and are not always a revenue generator as people wishfully believe. They have high costs related to labor, equipment, construction, electricity, maintenance, transportation, environmental compliance, hazardous waste disposal, insurance, etc., and the revenue from the recycled materials rarely (very rarely) equal the expenses. Other cities such as Seattle utilize Pay as You Throw (PAYT) systems, where trash is weighed by the trucks as they dump the waste and customers pay for what they throw away based on weight. Recycling participation increased over 400% the first year in Seattle and other communities with the PAYT system.
Solid waste haulers for garbage and recycling do not care if more recycling bins are placed at the curb and in fact they like when it is in the 25% to 35% range of participation. The city will, at that participation rate, renew the contract, and the hauler still gets paid for all the drive-byes (those that didn’t participate). They have no incentive to want more households to recycle. Solid waste is a big business, and there are many of technical aspects to take into consideration with municipal recycling programs.
* The Hattiesburg Patriot would like to give credit to Larry Estes, Mississippi’s state recycling coordinator for 10 years (now retired) for his input on this article.