BR's curbside program recycles tons of trash

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Pernell Johnson removes cardboard and plastic bags to isolate containers on a moving conveyer belt Thursday at Progressive Waste Solutions' material recovery facility in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Pernell Johnson removes cardboard and plastic bags to isolate containers on a moving conveyer belt Thursday at Progressive Waste Solutions' material recovery facility in Baton Rouge.

Once a week, a truck rolls along Baton Rouge streets and stops at residential curbsides to pick up and dump recycling material from 64-gallon rolling carts.

The carts are filled with items such as soft drink bottles, newspapers, junk mail, cereal boxes, metal lids and aluminum foil.

The trucks take the material to a sorting and bailing facility to be resold and shipped off.

The process is the result of the city-parish’s curbside recycling program, which has been in place for more than 20 years.

The department has collected about 15,000 tons of curbside recycling material each year since 2005, department director Susan Hamilton said.

“The curbside program has always been important because it educates folks and serves as an impetus for getting people involved in the recycling process,” she said.

Hamilton said the driving factor in how much material gets recycled each year is the economy.

Although the average tonnage picked up each year has remained the same, the amount has dropped slightly over the past few years, a drop Hamilton attributes to the economy.

When businesses and residents spend less money and buy fewer items, there is less material to put out in the recycling carts.

Newspapers in particular, Hamilton said, play a strong role in the amount of material picked up from curbsides.

“Newspapers are now printed on smaller, thinner paper, and newspapers are generally smaller these days,” Hamilton said.

The economy also comes into play with the private firm that contracts with the city-parish to pick up the material from the curbside bins.

Progressive Waste Solutions takes each weekly haul to the company’s Material Recovery Facility on Tom Drive, where the recyclable waste is sorted and bailed before it’s sold.

The city-parish entered into a 10-year contract with Progressive Waste Solutions in November 2005, Hamilton said. That was the year the city-parish switched from 18-gallon green bins to the 64-gallon rolling carts residents have now.

Progressive is paid $1.74 per household per month to collect the recyclable material. The city-parish currently bills 126,589 households.

Hamilton said the city-parish decided to negotiate a lower cost per household as opposed to sharing revenue with Progressive.

“Progressive markets the material they collect since they are a valuable commodity. A revenue share could have resulted in the city-parish paying the contractor should market prices drop below a certain threshold,” Hamilton said.

Steven Cheatham, division manager of Progressive Waste Solutions, said the market price for recyclable items fluctuates monthly and sometimes weekly and varies among materials.

For instance, Cheatham said, the price of newspaper is $55 a ton while the price of aluminum is 55 cents per pound.