Pensacola, Florida
Saturday August 24th 2019

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Trash Talk

By Rick Outzen

The Pensacola City Council last week learned the city had stopped recycling its trash months ago, even though residents have been faithfully sorting their trash and putting the recyclables on the curb every week. City Administrator Eric Olson was forced to tell the council after Councilwoman Sherri Myers placed an item on the agenda for the council to discuss the city’s program.

In a memorandum to the council, Olson explained Tarpon Paper, the city’s recycling vendor based in Loxley, Ala., had stopped taking recyclables because China last year made the decision to reduce its imports of contaminated recyclables.

Olson wrote, “While recycling is a service that the city is committed to, given the clouded outlook for Tarpon Paper, I determined it was not in the city’s best interest to seek a renewal of our contract with Tarpon Paper when it expired in March.”

The administrator didn’t mention when Tarpon Paper stopped taking recyclables. City Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart told the paper the last load delivered to the Loxley facility was seven months ago.

“The city’s last load to Tarpon was Sept. 30, 2017, and the last month of service from Tarpon (September 2017) amounted to $3,853.05 in services,” said Stewart. “There have been no further loads to Tarpon due to the market conditions.”

Olson did tell the council that Jerry Moore, the director of Sanitation Services and Fleet Management, had negotiated a contract with Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA) that he planned to bring before the body in June. Based on that timetable, the recycling could start as early as July.

Bad Decision
The suspension of recycling could have been avoided had Mayor Ashton Hayward and his leadership team made the decision to move the program to ECUA in November 2016 when the original contract with Tarpon Paper had expired.

The decision to stay with Tarpon Paper was made despite Moore’s admission to the council during its 2016 budget workshops that the vendor couldn’t handle all of the recyclables. On occasion, recycling materials had been dumped.

ECUA would have been an upgrade for the city. The utility had opened its state-of-the-art Interim Materials Recycling at the Perdido Landfill in August 2016. The facility had begun accepting the recyclables from Santa Rosa County, Okaloosa County, Fort Walton Beach, Valparaiso and several Alabama cities, including Mobile, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, Andalusia and Atmore. Pensacola was an outlier in not using the local recycling facility.
Moore appeared before the council to ask for a sanitation fee increase in March 2017. He said negotiations with ECUA had fallen apart because a material composition study was required. Moore incorrectly claimed that Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties had not been required to do so. ECUA officials later told Inweekly both counties had provided composition studies.

Moreover, Tarpon Paper had stopped accepting glass while the ECUA MRF was specifically designed to sort and recycle glass and was successfully processing these materials and marketing the recycled paper and glass with no contaminated paper issues.

Mayor Hayward and Olson chose to stay with Tarpon Paper, only to see the company stop taking recyclables six months later.

Hard-Fought Service
A decade ago, curbside recycling was not available inside the city limits or in Escambia County. The Leadership Pensacola Class of 2008, Pensacola Young Professionals and Inweekly pushed hard for ECUA and the city of Pensacola to pass mandatory curbside recycling programs.

Under its “Live Green Escambia” initiative, the LeaP class distributed thousands of free recycling bin toolkits to area residents. The toolkit included a recycling bin with an energy-efficient light bulb, a reusable shopping bag, a list of recycling drop-off locations and an easy guide on how to live green Escambia.

“LeaP knows Escambia County cannot change overnight,” the materials said. “The idea is to start small and have the movement grow.”

By the summer of 2009, both ECUA and the city had mandatory recycling programs in effect.

The city’s program has close to a 75 percent participation rate in most neighborhoods.

Moore told Inweekly that during the program’s first 77 days, 866 tons of recyclables were collected. The recovered recyclables equaled about 40 percent of the normal garbage waste stream.

In December 2009, when Councilman Larry Johnson announced he would seek a second term, he touted the success of the recycling program.

“In the 10 months I’ve been in office, the council has been able to enhance our tree ordinance and approve curbside recycling—two things I believe are major successes,” said Johnson in a press release.

The city’s recycling program took a blow in April 2014 when West Florida Recycling ceased operating. Three months later, Mayor Hayward and Councilman Johnson toured the Infinitus Renewable Energy Park (IREP) recycling facility in Montgomery, Ala. Infinitus became the city’s new recycling processor, but only for a short while. The company abruptly shut down its Mixed Materials Recovery Facility in October 2014, which prompted the switch to Tarpon Paper.

Secrecy
In his memorandum, Olson didn’t explain why he kept the news of the recycling issues from the public, but he appeared to be worried that not having a recycling processor might impact whether citizens use their recycling carts.

“We need to work together so that customers remain diligent in their recycling habits during this temporary interruption in recycling service,” wrote Olson.

Moore admitted to News Journal reporter Jim Little that city officials didn’t tell the public about the service suspension because they didn’t want residents to start using their recycling containers for regular trash.

Mayoral candidate Drew Buchanan was quick to issue a statement. He called for a swift resolution of the matter.

“Citizens deserve more than excuses,” he wrote in an email sent to Inweekly last week. “It is embarrassing that we’re dumping thousands of tons of recyclables in a landfill when there is a recycling facility right next door.”

Councilwoman Myers is furious over the administration’s lack of transparency.

“They flat out lied to Jim Little and led him to believe the service had stopped in March,” she told Inweekly in a telephone interview. “You just can’t believe anything they say.”

Myers said had the city told the public about the issue with Tarpon Paper, then the administration would have acted to negotiate a contract with ECUA sooner. She found it unconscionable that Olson did not inform the city council, the city’s governing body, that recyclables were being dumped at the landfill instead of being processed.

She speculated that the Hayward administration didn’t want to do business with the ECUA because of the city’s dispute over the wells at the airport, and possibly some might be worried ECUA would eventually take over the city’s sanitation services.

Myers said, “After all, it’s the city of grudges.”