Mitchell leaders seek expanded recycling options
A soon-to-expire contract has city officials pondering changes to Mitchell’s curbside recycling program.
The city’s five-year agreement with its current recycling contractor expires at the end of the year. At a City Council meeting earlier this month, Street and Sanitation Superintendent Ron Olson gave council members the chance to examine a revised contract that would make several changes to the recycling program.
The types of recyclable materials that would be accepted are expanded in the revised contract to include two additional types of plastic — No. 3 and No. 7 — as well as an additional type of cardboard known as chipboard, which includes cereal boxes. Those would be added to materials accepted under the current contract, including aluminum; steel and bi-metal cans; No. 1 and No. 2 plastics; newspapers, magazines and catalogs; clear and brown glass containers; corrugated cardboard; mixed-residential mail; and phone books.
The revised contract also allows for bids from contractors that can offer single-stream recycling, which allows all recyclable items to be placed in a single collection bin for later separation at a recycling center. Under the current system, recyclables are sorted as they’re picked up from the curb. In a singlestream system, recyclables are picked up and transported together to a sorting facility to be separated.
“If there is something in there that they can’t recycle, they throw it away for the customer,” Olson said, referring to the way single-stream recycling would operate.
In the revised contract, recycling services would be offered to large institutions, such as Dakota Wesleyan University or Avera OLSON Queen of Peace Hospital, which could fill a large container to be collected on a weekly basis. The current contract only covers residential collection.
What, if any, of the changes will remain once the bidding process concludes remains to be seen, Olson said in an interview this month with The Daily Republic. Bids will be opened Dec. 13.
“We’ll just get this to a bid letting and see where the numbers fall and what the council wants to do,” he said.
In 2008, the last time the city received bids for recycling services, the annual fee paid to Dependable Recycling, the city’s current recycling contractor, increased from $165,200 to $204,996.
As a result, the city increased residents’ monthly recycling fee from $2 to $3 to cover the cost of the recycling program. The fee is paid by residents who receive a monthly utility bill from the city, whether they recycle or not. The revenue generated by the fee covers the entire cost of the recycling program.
According to the city budget documents, the amount collected from the recycling fee has increased in recent years as more utility customers are added to the city system. The fee generated $214,922 in 2010, $217,194 in 2011 and $218,169 in 2012. Any money collected above the contracted amount stays in the city’s sanitation fund, Olson said.
City Council President Jeff Smith said recently that the possible changes could mean an increase in the cost of the program, which could also mean an increase in the recycling fee paid by residents.
“I would be rather surprised if the fees aren’t increased at least some,” Smith said. “We all know that expenses increase on an annual basis.”
Smith was a council member in 2008, the last time the city received bids for recycling services.
“If we want additional recycling to happen in the city, then the citizens are going to be passed on those additional costs,” he said.
Dependable Recycling, owned by Dependable Sanitation Inc., of Aberdeen, has been the city’s recycling contractor since Mitchell became the first city in South Dakota to offer a curbside recycling program in 1996. Under the current contract, the city pays Dependable Recycling to perform curbside pickup of recyclables.
“Have there been complaints over the years? Of course,” Olson said, referring to Dependable Recycling. “They’ve been doing it for a long time.”
The most common complaint, Olson said, occurs when residents place nonrecyclable materials in their bins and then find those materials are left after pickup.
“People see that as an inconvenience,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned about garbage — they just want it gone.”
Dependable Recycling was required by the current contract to participate in a public awareness program, and has been required to spend an average of at least $300 per month for that purpose.
Since 2008, Dependable Recycling has spent $10,607.55 on advertising with The Daily Republic, according to records provided by Dependable Recycling and confirmed by the newspaper. That’s about $150 per month. The remainder has been spent largely on radio advertising, and some television advertising, according to Mike Erickson, the company’s president.
“I think we spent well into that amount,” Erickson said.
The city does not require proof that the money is spent, and Olson admitted he does not know if that portion of the contract is actually fulfilled.
Dependable Recycling is also required to supply recycling bins to residents and submit monthly and annual reports to the city regarding the amounts and types of materials recycled.
Olson said Dependable Recycling has consistently fulfilled both of those requirements.
Erickson said Dependable Recycling plans to submit a bid to remain Mitchell’s recycling contractor.
Dependable Recycling makes money by selling the recyclables it collects, Erickson said. In recent years, he said, the prices for materials have declined and cut into profits.
Whether that will increase the cost of the recycling program to the city, Erickson couldn’t say with certainty.
“We’ve got to keep the cost as tight as we can if we want to get the contract back,” he said.
From 2000 to 2012, the amount of recyclable material collected in the city stayed relatively consistent. In 2012, 1,056 tons of recyclables were collected in the city, an increase from 2011, when 1,042 tons were collected.
“Recycling really hasn’t changed much over the years,” Olson said. “You get about half the population active in doing it week in, week out.”