Curbside recycling: boo

Indianapolis is not known for its fabulous recycling programs. There was a push for improvement in the past year but I only know about it since I was looking for the information in the first place. Someone identified that lack of awareness and availability of cheap, accessible, incentived programs were an issue (no kidding), but I can hardly say that anyone not stuck on the government public access TV channels knew any of this. (I prefer to watch the zoning meetings myself.) In fact, the best source of this “relaunching Indy recycling” information now is another local blog and a news article, both over a year old, not the recycling site itself!

I did see increased publicity this year for ToxDrop, the proper disposal of household hazardous waste, which is a relatively comprehensive program with reasonable hours and locations to deposit items. This year they began accepting home electronics as well! Did you know the average CRT computer monitor/TV has four pounds of lead in it? Don’t throw that in the trash! And until ToxDrop provided this service, most homeowners had to pay a private firm to recycle old printers and hard drives and monitors. Even I threw them in the trash when they no longer worked well enough to give them away on Freecycle.

I used to live in the tiny town of Seymour, where curbside recycling was free and each of the 6,000 households had a blue bin. Everyone used it because it was there and easy.

Bloomington, about twice the size of Seymour, does a great job: it’s free, curbside, and they include paperboard and all plastics #1-7, including plastic grocery bags! Even better, it costs $1/bag to put out trash, so there is incentive to reduce the amount of trash by putting more in the recycling bins.

But moving to Indy, the capital of the same state where those little towns excel, and the 13th largest city in the nation, didn’t mean an upgrade in recycling programs. It’s more like a drop off the edge of the Earth. So for five years, I have been saving my Indy-generated recyclables in my blue tote (which I took from Seymour!) and placing them in the various remote recycling sites at Kroger parking lots around town. Okay, it’s free, and I’m cheap, and that’s why I’ve used it. But it’s not convenient to store and haul that quantity of stuff (ToxDrop items don’t accumulate nearly as rapidly, so dropoff is reasonable), and only #1 and #2 plastic, glass, cans, and newspaper can be recycled. Meanwhile the containers are usually overflowing (at least there are other people using them!) so there’s no room to place items without dumping them on the ground. The bins are also in outlots in shady places where it’s not always safe to be by yourself at night.

Now that David and I are sharing a household, and I’m sufficiently tired of hauling both of our recyclables to Kroger parking lots (he may not have always wanted to save and recycle his items, but I give him credit for saving them so that I could haul them!), I’ve signed us up for curbside recycling. For which we have to pay extra. No wonder the participation rate is terrible: 28,000 out of 325,000 households, or less than nine percent.

A few years ago a friend signed up for this service at $5/month. Okay, not so bad, but why would anyone pay for it unless they really believed in it? Except I called today to sign up, and the Mayor’s Action Center helped me find out it’s now $5.75. And they gave me the number of the trash company to which they contract the service, where I really signed up, and found out there’s a 75¢ monthly fuel surcharge. Now we’re talking $78 per year to divert items from the landfill (and I would still have to take all the other numbered plastics and plastic bags to alternate drop sites). How much do you think that weekly pickup cost would drop if the city required residents to recycle, or made it “free” along with the property-tax-billed trash service? Right now the contracted company makes so few stops, not only do we personally pay $78/household to do it, but the city is LOSING MONEY on it!

So few participate that instead of breaking even, the city’s losing money on the program to the tune of more than $1 million a year.

“We currently charge $4 to $5.25 a month for curbside recycling. However, our costs are more like $8.57 per week,” said Margie Smith-Simmons, Department of Public Works.

(from WTHR article mentioned above)

Would the $78 be better spent as a donation to an environmental organization, to buy carbon credits, or in some other use? I’m sure it’s lost in administrative fees (you know the trash company is selling the collected recyclables anyway). Or is it better to show my support for city recycling by being the only blue bin on my block on trash day, hopefully encouraging others to participate, until we finally have a good system? (Let’s hope the new mayor’s administration fixes the program rather than scraps it.) Could I at least get a tax deduction or something?

I’ve opted for the curbside blue bin for now. But Indy, you get a D- for recycling.

You can make your voice heard! Fill out this easy survey on the kind of recycling you want in Indianapolis! Survey

3 thoughts on “Curbside recycling: boo

  1. I took the survey. I wish everything could be taken via curbside! Do what Bloomington does! And I don’t think it should be separated from other tax bills. Having a separate monthly/quarterly bill seems to invite lots of folks to find excuses not to pay on time.

    When I signed up for the curbside, there was a banner on the recycling page. In fact, that’s how I learned of the revitalized program. Weird that the banner’s gone.

    Also: give us a huge recycling bin and a trash can the size of the current bin. That should help curb the amount of trash.

    He he, I said “curb.” Oh the laughter!

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