The city of Fort Smith has sent almost 1,500 tons of recyclables to landfill

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 547 views 

Arkansas’ second-largest city has sent approximately 1,484 tons of recycling collections to the landfill since November 2016, according to Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman – an average of 247.4 tons per month.

Dingman told Talk Business & Politics on Tuesday (May 2) that the redirection of recycling collections will not affect the lifespan of the city’s landfill, but could not rule it out if no long term solution was found. Dingman called such a solution a “top priority” for the city, echoing the urgency of City Administrator Carl Geffken, who issued a press release late Monday afternoon (May 1) confirming that the city had been taking recyclables to the landfill for a period of approximately five months.

The city’s department of sanitation has operated curbside recycling services since 1995. Since inception, the service has offered single-stream recycling that is sorted post-collection at a Material Recycling Facility (MRF) as part of the monthly solid waste disposal rate ($13.28). The city does not own or operate the MRF, instead contracting with a third party to take the collected recyclables, sort them, and process them for re-use by industry.

“As the cost of raw materials for industry have decreased and remain low, the demand for recycled paper, plastics, metals and glass subsided, resulting in fewer vendors willing to invest in the overhead necessary to take and sort recycled materials from municipal or commercial haulers,” Geffken explained.

The city’s most recent contract for taking recyclables expired in September 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 materials.

“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 (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality),” Geffken said.

Fort Smith Sanitation Director Mark Schlievert, who took over the department in April of 2016, developed a request for proposals (RFP) 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,” Geffken said.

The city received two responses to the RFP from Smurfit KAPPA and from MARCK Industries, Inc. Geffken said the proposals “would take paper and cardboard at a local facility, but only MARCK proposed a rate for accepting comingled materials, which is significantly higher than the cost of landfill disposal.”

Since the current residential rate does not contain a specific component for recycling services, an additional fee is possible though not something the city is hoping for.

“Based on the best proposal for single-stream recycling, the Department of Sanitation estimates that its costs for recycling services would result in a net operating loss … of $230,000 or more,” Geffken said, adding the city “continues to negotiate with MARCK Industries for a recycling services contract suitable to its needs, preferably without a need to charge users an additional fee.”

MARCK Industries has expanded its facility in Fort Smith, including the purchase of the former Fort Smith Waste Paper facility. Geffken said the company may be able to assist with recycling in the future.

“Many cities across the country recognize that the current markets for recycled materials do not make accepting comingled materials an attractive business model. While continuing to negotiate a short-term solution, the City is also exploring the idea of building a MRF, perhaps at the Fort Smith Landfill or some other location, that is suitable for collecting and sorting comingled, single-stream recyclable material. Such a facility would need to be a cooperative arrangement among the cities and counties that utilize the Fort Smith Landfill, along with the Sebastian County Regional Solid Waste Management District and perhaps cities in Northwest Arkansas in order to be economically feasible. Whether the facility is operated by the City, a contracted third-party, or some other entity is all part of that discussion, with the goal being to determine a cost-effective long-term solution for handling recyclable materials,” Geffken said.

In the meantime, Geffken encouraged residents to continue recycling appropriate household items in the separate recycling carts provided by the city.

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