As part of The Register’s Ask It Madison County series, a Madison County resident submitted a question regarding the differences between the cities’ and county’s recycling programs and if there was a possibility they could ever be merged for less confusion.
Like most things between the two cities and county, their operations, programs and departments are run separately and managed differently to most benefit their individual entity — to which recycling is no exception.
In Richmond, the recycling department is its own department of city government, and the city has trash collected through a franchise agreement with Advanced Disposal, according to City Manager Rob Minerich.
City recycling trucks run on weekly routes in certain areas to pick up bins that are then taken to the Richmond/Madison Recycling Center located on Recycle Drive in Richmond, where everything is sorted and sold, he said.
Richmond has three recycling programs, the free curbside pick-up for residents and businesses, the free cardboard pick-up for businesses and the 24-hour drop off program for all Madison County residents.
Similar to Richmond, Berea is in a franchise agreement, with a disposal company called Waste Connections. However, unlike Richmond, Berea offers a bundled agreement with both recycling and trash disposal in which Berea residents pay for both services with one fee, according to Scott Tussey, director of Madison County Environment and Animal Care Department.
Unlike the cities, the county does not offer any trash pick-up, but does offer recycling to 60 subdivisions in the county, which were pre-determined by a county recycling pilot program that began in March of 2009. Trash disposal is done through individual private firms.
Madison County also has a different recycling methodology than the other two cities as they do what is called single stream recycling, where everything collected is compacted in a truck and is dropped off at a recycling center in Lexington.
Tussey said it is the most efficient way to increase the volume of items that are picked up to be recycled.
Deputy Judge/Executive Colleen Chaney said that the county has only ever had the pilot program, and it has stayed that way since before Judge/Executive Reagan Taylor’s administration began four years ago.
“Only under Reagan’s administration was it that we have started to think, ‘Okay it was a pilot, it was a few select subdivisions,’ and now we need to make the decision of is this something the county wants to provide as a service?” Chaney said.
Chaney said that in observing the data on recycling numbers from the pilot program, recycling is a service that the county discusses frequently due to the fact that it is no longer net neutral and that the service runs in the red financially every year — something the county and both cities agree with.
Minerich said when the Richmond recycling center opened in the 1990s, there was a much bigger market for all recyclable materials, and each material was marketed at a higher price than they are now.
“We do lucky to break even on the price of cardboard,” Minerich said. “There is no market anymore, and it loses money. It is a beneficial service to the community for people who want to recycle and keep Earth green, but since its inception, the cost has gone down for what is recouped.”
Chaney had similar statements, noting that when they started the pilot program in 2009, recycling was a significant money maker, but that now, the county continuously loses money on the program.
“All communities have this problem, we aren’t the only ones,” she said. “There is a huge nationwide discussion about recycling, altruistically do we recycle just because it’s good for us? Should individuals take more responsibility with recycling? There’s a high supply of recycled products, so there is a low payout for that. When there is a shortage of plastics, then the demand goes up.”
Tussey added, “We went from a small revenue check to a fee or a bill from the city of Lexington every month.”
Chaney and Tussey explained that the county couldn't offer services across the entire county due to the cost of what they are currently paying with 60 subdivisions.
“Just the cost of the infrastructure is pretty, financially, a good number,” Tussey said. “Because the most expensive part is the cans, because when you go to purchase the 90 gallon containers themselves, the state contract price is about $70 a piece, if you do that by 10,000-15,000. Then there would be the added cost of more vehicles, trucks and staff as well to accommodate every home.”
Chaney said that she hears a lot of people pushing for privatization, but in order to do that, the county would need to make money. She noted that the only way they could look at a contract option would be to follow the method of Berea, offering trash and recycling together and franchising to an individual company.
“There are a lot of mixed feelings about franchising, but the consensus at the time it was discussed, which has been a few years, was that our citizens weren’t interested in being forced to use a particular company,” Chaney said. “They want the flexibility to call the guy they know in Waco, or the family that has always done it in northern Madison County.”
In regards to a merger of the three individual programs, the entities agree that while they weren’t opposed to the idea, they noted it would be rather difficult to implement and execute.
“That is a question that we could probably have about 90 percent of the things that we do,” Chaney said.
Minerich said with as big as Madison county is, it would be hard to combine the service in one warehouse, where the materials could be dropped off.
“People aren’t going to drive to Richmond from Berea and vice versa to drop off their recyclables,” he said. “To get people to recycle, you have to make it convenient, and I am not sure how to do that …”
To submit something you want investigated by The Register, email firstname.lastname@example.org and send your questions with your name, city, zip code, email and phone number. Questions can also be mailed in. Send your question with your name, city, zip, email and phone number to Richmond Register c/o Ask It Madison County, PO Box 99, Richmond, KY, 40475.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.