Timeline unclear on recycling programs for city and county

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:49 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - As the third-largest city in Kentucky, Bowling Green does not a recycling program in either the city or county.

According to First District Magistrate, Doug Gorman, the solid waste contract was to be put up for bid in the summer of 2020, but that was delayed because of COVID as fewer companies were able to bid on it. With it being a five-year contract with extensions, the county pulled the bidding and is waiting until 2021.

When Southern Recycling ended its contract early with the city and county, some concerned community members have been wondering what the long term goal is.

“And it’s very important to limit waste and keep plastic, paper, cardboard, and glass out of landfills," said Jessica Williams, a WKU student studying environmental science. Williams is also the hub coordinator of the Sunrise Movement in Bowling Green. This is a national youth-led organization that focuses on ending climate change.

The state of Kentucky gave counties authority over solid waste, which includes recycling, back in the 1980′s. The city hasn’t been in the garbage collection or recycling business since then, as it’s all handled by Warren County, confirmed Mayor Bruce Wilkerson.

Therefore, it’s only the county that can submit a solid waste contract to the state, but that timeline for a program is unclear.

“There are also different opportunities for jobs if we create our own recycling plant here in Bowling Green,” expressed Williams.

Stanley Reagan with Warren County Department of Public Works says in order to have its own facility quote, "recycling would have to be carried out on a regional basis, and I don’t think Warren County wants that responsibility and certainly not the financial obligations.”

Below is the full statement from Reagan in regards to the lack of a recycling program:

“We are expecting to issue a new Request For Proposals for both our solid waste and curbside recycling programs. This would lead to franchise agreements that have the potential to last another 20 years with regular updates. Unfortunately, the double downturns in the markets for program recyclables has left us without a recycler.

With China Sword and the Covid-19 Pandemic’s effects both rippling through communities and waste/recycling industries, offering an RFP for recycling is most complicated by the resulting shifts, both recent and expected.

Warren County has never operated any recycling facility, and none exist here now that would do what one should expect. Quite frankly, I’m concerned that the term “throwing good money out” would apply with most of what came from our curbside program still experiencing negative values: Aluminum and steel cans never really constituted much of our collection volumes, but glass and plastics did (unfortunately), along with cardboard, corrugated and old newspaper mix.

There are some resources that we could leverage at the state level in the form of grants and perhaps some economic development opportunities, but under the present situation, it induces another hardship beyond the need to build an entirely new recycling system from the ground up – new collection routes, trucks, facilities, equipment, even before we find companies willing to take these commodities without charging for taking the materials, even after costs are incurred to get them there! For us to do something of this magnitude, recycling would have to be carried out on a regional basis, and I don’t think Warren County wants that responsibility and certainly not the financial obligations.

We do still have a firm constituency that would welcome recycling back, but there are as many - and a whole lot more - who celebrated having the paltry $2.65 per month recycling fee fall off of their utility bills! Obviously, we couldn’t bring back recycling at such a cheap value, nor would even recycling’s most avid fans support paying what we’ve estimated to be a cost of $12 to $18 per month to once again offer curbside recycling under the conditions we once did.

My greater concern is that if there are any potential proposers/bidders out there, they are keenly aware of the circumstances and would hesitate to make less than piecework offering to Warren County at the current time.”

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