Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 29, 2013

The road back to recycling (Part 1)

Kokomo looks to the future with return of curbside recycling program in April

By Martin Slagter
Tribune staff writer

[Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories focusing on the city of Kokomo’s upcoming curbside recycling program and the state of recycling within the city and Indiana. Make sure to check out next Sunday’s edition of the Kokomo Tribune for the conclusion of this series.]

Imagine tossing a cup of yogurt into a bin that will be collected and taken to a recycling center. How, theoretically, would that same cup of yogurt return to you for a second round of consumption after undergoing the entire recycling process?

That is the task local recycling centers like Kokomo Recycling LLC will play a major role in for the citizens of Kokomo beginning in April with the rollout of a new curbside recycling program.

That yogurt cup would be picked up from a recycling bins on a bi-weekly basis and delivered to Kokomo Recycle, where employees would receive anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 tons per day of recyclable materials like tin cans, cardboard, paper and glass.

After trucks dump those materials into an infeed conveyor that carries it to a pre-sort deck, workers separate materials that can be recycled from what can’t, including contaminated products, electronics and things like wire that might clog the intake of sorting machines.

The yogurt cup and all other recyclable materials continue to a screen where cardboard is sorted out into a conveyor, while smaller materials fall down to another conveyor. Along the way, glass bottles are separated, broken up and moved out of the stream of remaining recyclables.

At the end of the conveyor, there are a number of containers that are able to separate paper into different grades like office and newsprint, while other “bunkers” sort the remaining materials, including tin cans and that yogurt cup, along with seven different grades of plastic. The materials are pushed through onto a belt that carries it to a baler that will compress bales that weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 pounds each, depending on the grade or material.

Those bales of raw materials are sold to manufacturing companies and sent to a reclaiming facility. At the facility, any trash or dirt is sorted out. Then, the plastic from the yogurt cup is washed and ground into small flakes. A flotation tank then further separates contaminants, based on their different densities. Flakes are then dried, melted, filtered and formed into pellets. The pellets are shipped to product manufacturing plants, where they are made into new plastic products.

Manufacturers will then use those materials to make products like that yogurt cup all over again.

It’s a far cry from the days of citizens separating all of their recyclables themselves and transporting it to area bins, making the process much easier for anyone to pick up on recycling.

The ease of that process, along with the continually growing cost of tipping fees incurred by cities for the use of landfills has made curbside recycling a no-brainer for the future of waste management in the city of Kokomo.

Will the city make money or recover all of its expenses initially? No. The point, however, is that the old model of dumping those recyclable material in a landfill is no longer viable, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said.

“About a year and a half ago, the argument asked ‘does recycling allow you to break even, or does it pay for itself?’ Goodnight said. “I can guarantee you wholeheartedly that picking up trash doesn’t pay for itself.”

Does it pay to recycle?

Picking up the trash, in fact, costs the city around $1 million per year in landfill tipping fees, Goodnight said.

Goodnight hopes making the switch to a curbside recycling program in April will divert between 35 percent and 40 percent of the materials sent to landfills in its first year.

The city expects to dispose of 25,500 tons of trash by the end of 2013, Goodnight said, costing about $1 million in landfill tipping fees.

Kokomo currently pays $38.50 per ton to dispose of trash, costing $981,750. Should the city divert 35 percent of those materials to recycling center, it would decrease those tipping fees by $343,612.

“Every ton that we recycle, it saves $38.50 in landfill tipping fees and it also extends the life of the landfills,” Goodnight said. “Those costs are going to continue to go up.”

That’s why the Kokomo Board of Public Works voted to approve a contract with Kokomo Recycle that calls for a floating rate for recycling materials. The rate for the first 5,124 tons is $35 per ton and will decrease to $31 per ton once 15,370 tons is reached.

Earlier in the year, the Howard County Recycling District voted to provide the city $200,000 out of its $850,000 reserve for the purchase of equipment in its first year. The district will also pay Kokomo $50,000 per year over the next four years to operate the recycling program.

The city would use the funds from the recycling district to cover a portion of the start-up costs of the curbside recycling program. It also will purchase 96-gallon recycling totes at an estimated cost of $800,000 to $1 million.

The totes, which will provide residents with information on which items can be recycled, will be picked up every other week on the city’s regularly scheduled trash pickup day. Goodnight said Kokomo will likely use city personnel to pick up the recycled materials, but it could use a private contractor.

Providing the totes, which will include tips on what items can be recycled should allow residents to transition into the curbside program without much of a learning curve, said Kokomo Parks Superintendent Randy Morris, who has played a major part in the organization of the curbside program.

“The totes will include general items so that we capture as many of the items as possible to recycle,” he said. “The education piece is extremely important because there are a lot of items that are recyclable that people just don’t realize.”

The city’s commitment will result in significant upgrades to Kokomo Recycle, which will construct a $2.5 million upgrade to the facility, contingent on a 10-year commitment and a five-year contract with the recycling district.

The upgrades to the facility could allow Kokomo Recycle to become a regional recycling hub for surrounding communities on two separate shifts during the day, President JD Mohr said.

Currently, Kokomo Recycle processes between 1,500 and 2,000 tons of recyclable materials per day. Mohr, who started the business as part of Apex Group Inc., a Kokomo recycling and roll-off container firm, sold it and was partnered with another company that performed the transporting of recyclable materials.

Because Kokomo Recycling’s volume continued to grow, Mohr said he engaged the city and the county’s recycling district about partnering.

“The timing just kind of worked out,” he said. “[The city was] ready to go with the curbside and we were looking to do something like this.”

Curbside recycling fast facts When does the program start?: The curbside program is scheduled to begin in April. How will it work?: The city will pick up recyclable materials from residents on their normally scheduled trash day, every other week. How do I recycle: The city will be providing a 96-gallon tote that will contain all of your recyclable materials in a single stream collection. Details about what materials can be recycled will be included on the tote. Where will the materials go?: Kokomo Recycle, located at 1701 N. Market St., where paper, plastic, metal and other recyclable materials will be diverted from landfills, baled and sent to manufacturers for reuse. How much will it cost me?: Nothing, in terms of annual or monthly fees. The program is paid for out of the city's municipal waste budget, which is funded by property taxes.