Recycling claims made by Fort Smith officials different from recycling company info

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 4,282 views 

Key claims about stoppage of the city’s recycling efforts made by Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken and supported by Mayor Sandy Sanders are in conflict with information from the company that once processed the city’s recyclables.

Justin Sparrow, director of Green Source Recycling Center in Clarksville, told Talk Business & Politics on Wednesday (May 3) his facility had stopped taking recyclables from the city of Fort Smith earlier than the November 2016 date given by the city in a Monday (May 1) press release.

That means the city could have been sending recyclables to the landfill several months earlier than Geffken has claimed.

On Monday, the city issued a statement detailing its decision to landfill recyclables. The part pertinent to Green Source read as follows: “The City of Fort Smith’s most recent contract for taking its recyclables expired in September of 2014, when local vendor Smurfit KAPPA closed its single-stream processing and accepted only pre-sorted paper and cardboard. As no local vendors were available to offer single-stream processing services at that time, the materials were transported to Green Source Recycling Center in Clarksville for disposal. The Clarksville facility accepted the materials at no cost to the City, other than the city’s cost to transport the material. Over time, Green Source reduced the amount of material it could take from Fort Smith, due in part to limits on the amount of material they could process according to their permit from ADEQ. Mark Schlievert, Director of Sanitation since April of 2016, developed a Request For Proposals for single-stream recycling services in October, 2016, due by the end of the year. By early November, Green Source closed its single-stream processing line. With no vendor accepting recyclables, the city chose to dispose of such material in the landfill until the city could secure a recycling processing contract.”

The city statement defines Green Source as the city’s partner from September 2014 to November 2016, but Sparrow said he took the director role at Green Source in July of 2016 and from his first day until the time the city called in “late October or early November” to discuss taking more recyclables, “we didn’t receive anything from them,” leaving questions from at least July-November of 2016 regarding where recyclables were being sent. Sparrow also took issue with the release’s statement that “By early November, Green Source closed its single-stream processing line.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken

“That is inaccurate,” Sparrow said. “That was my biggest concern. We never did close. We still run single-stream processing.”

Sparrow said Green Source is part of the West River Valley Regional Solid Waste Management District, a body that covers nine counties including Perry and Conway counties to the east and Crawford County to the west, adding that Green Source has recycling agreements with the city of Van Buren and the Van Buren School District.

As far as why the center halted its relationship to Fort Smith, “We felt like we did not want to have that extra volume from the city of Fort Smith with Russellville being in our waste district.” Fort Smith also pushed a substantial volume relative to Green Source’s overall number. To illustrate Sparrow’s point, Green Source accepted 3,887 tons of recyclables in 2016. During the almost six-month period the city claims to have landfilled recyclables, it pushed 1,478 tons, or around 246 tons per month (or 76% of Green Source’s annual volume).

That said, Sparrow also called out the statement that it reduced the amount of recyclables it could take from Fort Smith “due in part to limits on the amount of material they could process according to their permit from ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality).”

“This is kind of a minor issue, but that is not correct,” Sparrow said. “ADEQ does not permit the types of facilities we have here for recycling. Technically, that’s not right. You don’t have to have a permit to sort recyclables, as long as it’s the kind coming from households.”

Instead of taking on the extra volume, Green Source increased the amount it was taking from Russellville, but that wasn’t the only factor in its decision to end the relationship.

“The other thing, being with the city of Russellville, we felt like we were getting a higher quality of material – more cardboard, more paper,” he said. “What the city of Fort Smith was bringing, was compacted and bailed up, which makes processing more difficult, and I know they brought it over that way for efficiency, but a lot of it was compacted, and we just couldn’t get it as easily as we could with the city of Russellville.”

When asked about other potential third-party options the city might have for processing its recyclables, Sparrow said that since the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas do not have public material recycling facilities (MRFs), “I don’t know what other option they have at this point than to go with a private company like MARCK industries and Smurfit KAPPA – the ones they were using.”

Whether July 2016-Present or November 2016-Present, the city continued running recycling routes despite its decision to intermingle recyclables with refuse and store at the Fort Smith Landfill. On Tuesday (May 2) and Wednesday (May 3), Talk Business & Politics reached out to City Administrator Carl Geffken and Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman to ask why those routes continued to run if recyclables were handled the same as refuse. TB&P also asked Geffken and Dingman for what it cost the city to run those routes, but has not received a response as of late Wednesday afternoon.

The city continues to promote the recycling program on its website.

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