At its work session Friday afternoon, the Starkville Board of Aldermen received an update on the progress of the city’s ad hoc recycling committee.
The committee was formed earlier this year to look at the city’s recycling programs and make recommendations for changes for improvements to the system. The board will vote on a resolution acknowledging the receipt of the recommendations at its upcoming meeting Tuesday.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk discussed some of the committee’s findings, and the state of the recycling industry.
“The truth of the matter is we are not recyclers, we are collectors,” Sistrunk said. “We collect the material. We don’t sort it. We don’t bale it. We don’t process it in any way and then it’s hauled on to the next step in the recycling process.”
She said materials from Starkville are sent first to Tupelo and then on to Chattanooga.
The committee consists of one member from each ward, and looked at several aspects of Starkville’s recycling program prior to making its recommendations.
Sistrunk said the committee found that Starkville’s recycling participation was low when compared with similar communities, with less than 10% participation.
The committee also looked into whether recycling goods leaving Starkville were contaminated.
“Contamination can be anything from a dirty pizza box to rubber tires that somebody has thrown in the recycling in the past when we had open containers, little bags from the grocery store,” Sistrunk said. “While they may be recyclable in some formats, they’re not recyclable in what we do because they jam up the machines.”
She said the recycling industry as a whole was experiencing difficulties right now, with costs at a low point.
“These days, if you weren’t already in the business, then you’re not getting into the business, and I think the mode in continually rural less dense areas like Starkville, the idea is to survive and to move forward,” Sistrunk said.
She said the current recyclable material market was historically low, with paper that used to cost between $90 and $100 a ton now selling for $35 a ton.
She said other products, including plastic water bottles had little to no value, going for as low as a penny a pound.
She also said some communities subsidized their recycling programs from their general funds, while others have strictly limited the materials they take to those that are marketable.
“Some are returning to a drop-off program, which is what Starkville started out with,” Sistrunk said. “They had a drop-off program with open containers, unmonitored, and as a result messy and unattractive, but some are going back to that.”
However, she said the more recent drop-off programs were manned by an attendant, and were more strict about what could be left and what couldn’t.
She said some communities were also completely getting out of recycling.
The city’s current recycling fee is $2 a month for curbside pickup. Pickup is along four routes.
“Our hauling fees are more than our revenue, and that’s just the hauling fees to get it from here to Tupelo,” Sistrunk said.
She said it was not sustainable, but that she understood the value.
“There is a value to recycling,” Sisturnk said. “A lot of it is intangible, and difficult to quantify, but there is a value to recycling, and what we have to figure out is where we draw the line on what that means for us.”
“There is a demand for these services, albeit somewhat low in my mind,” Sistrunk added.