Monday, February 26, 2007

Column 94 - Let's Talk Trash

Let’s Talk Trash

Overall, “trash” is a profit center for IVGID; if you include the franchise fee paid by Waste Management to IVGID. Within that profit center; recycling loses money, more than one half of which is offset by the recycling fee paid by each property of $1.25 a month. That’s right, each homeowner and homeowners association pays a whopping $15 a year for this service. Seems like a bargain to me.

No one I’ve talked to or heard from is against the recycling program, but according to figures given to IVGID by Waste Management, only about 40% of the properties that put out garbage also put out recycling – not a great showing, but better than nothing. Waste Management recycling has been called limited when compared, say to California, where state law requires a much broader scope of recyclables be picked up and processed. WM takes all kinds of glass (except blue – sorry Skyy drinkers), most metal containers, and plastic bottles with a number 1 or 2 recycling classification. They also take newspaper and other kinds of paper. You can recycle corrugated cardboard, but only if you bring it to the WM facility on Sweetwater, which is open normal business hours during the week and until noon on weekends.

Recycling is one of the few things around that has almost no downside. The more products we recycle and reuse, the less energy is needed to manufacture new products, the fewer trees are cut down to make new paper, the more money the recycling companies make and the more money comes back to IVGID under the contract with WM. The 40% rate of recycling participation here may be due to lots of part-time residents or to a need for education. Making recycling easier and recycling more materials may also help increase participation.

The argument has been advanced that expanding the recycling program might increase the cost to homeowners. Okay, but even if it were to increase by a factor of 5, that means we’d go to $6.25 a month or $75 a year, a figure that’s not going to break or even be noticed by anyone. I spend more than $6.25 a month at Starbuck’s. Right now we recover about 3.25% recyclables from the total volume of trash collected. Estimates are that expanding to other plastics, picking up cardboard at curbside, etc. could increase that recovery rate into the teens.

The one troubling thing in all this is a question that no one I’ve asked has answered to any degree of satisfaction, namely why the contract for trash/recycling pickup is not put out for competitive bid. I’ve heard explanations ranging from “all the potential bidders subcontract to WM (true) and won’t bid against them (maybe)” to “WM is mob-connected and bad things would happen (patently ridiculous). But we won’t know if competitive bidding will make a difference if IVGID doesn’t put out a request for bids and see if they get any.

While I know that there is such a thing as no-bid (also known as sole source) contracts, these are generally used only in unusual situations. Such as when only one firm has a product that will meet the government's needs or only one firm can do the work, or when national security is involved. I see no compelling reason for IVGID to sole source contract for trash and recycling.

There is still time to make your thoughts known to the Board. I for one would like to see (a) recycling expanded to include a wider range of plastics and curbside pickup for corrugated cardboard, and (b) Requests for bids to go out to other providers in the area – if no one bids, fine, but let’s give the little guys a chance against WM, the thousand pound gorilla of the industry. What do you think?

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