GREEN-Recycle 9-2-08 What a Waste Three years after the storm, and New Orleans still can't get a grip on recycling. By Allison Good Photo by Cheryl Gerber The Green Project has recycled products for sale ranging from paint and wood to light fixtures, doors and more. For New Orleanians looking to make the world a little greener, Angie Green has become an invaluable resource. 'I would guess we probably get three or four phone calls a day asking about our recycling program and what we recycle. We go through about two or three cardboard dumpsters a week," says Green, the aptly-named recycling guru and executive director of The Green Project, a local nonprofit.
Demand for recycling services has certainly increased with the rise of environmental awareness, and the absence of a comprehensive citywide program has given rise to a slew of alternatives as well as some cries of outrage.
A combination warehouse, store and recycling center since 1994, The Green Project's primary focus is salvaging and reselling materials that are generally not recycled, such as building supplies and paint. When citywide curbside recycling was suspended immediately after Katrina, The Green Project stepped in to fill the void, and those yearning for the return of the blue bins have been bringing their household recyclables there ever since. One barrier that The Green Project faces, however, is money. 'We offer recycling as a service to the people of New Orleans, but it costs us an incredible amount of money to operate it," Green says.
The Green Project is just one of the emerging solutions to this issue, but it is clear that New Orleans residents desire a comprehensive city-wide program. The parish currently hosts monthly recycling drop-off dates at two locations, but a recent Times-Picayune poll suggested that 90 percent of New Orleans residents would participate if the city resumed curbside recycling, with most willing to pay for the service.
Wendy King, the New Orleans Sierra Club's Recycling Committee chair, is disappointed. 'The drop off dates are extremely inconvenient, and once a month isn't enough," she says. The City Council did include a $500,000 pilot recycling program in its 2008 budget after Mayor Ray Nagin left it out of his proposed budget, and King is adamant that the city sticks to its original plan: 'We've been contacting the New Orleans City Council members because we want them to follow up on that allocation, and we've gotten very good responses from Arnie Fielkow and Shelley Midura so far."
Even though Phoenix Recycling has been locally owned and operated since 1991, it recently has become a major player on the recycling scene as the only fee-based service doing residential pickup. For $15 a month Phoenix picks up household recyclables every other week, but it hopes to reduce the price as more people sign up. Co-owner Steven O'Connor has plans for expansion. 'We want to start doing the Northshore as soon as we can, and we want to expand our commercial service as soon as we can," O'Connor says. The company resumed its post-Katrina services in August 2007, but O'Connor realizes the need for mainstream recycling reform. 'We've been advocating all along for a waste management program. Recycling contracts and garbage contracts where people have to pay for the services are not comprehensive waste management programs."
Sanitation Department Director Veronica White says she's all for the return of recycling " but the decision is out of her hands. 'As the citizens return to the neighborhoods, it has been increasingly vital that the city provide mainstream recycling services," says White, who has held the position since August 2003. 'The sanitation department does not have power to reinstate curbside recycling. All I can do is make requests in my budget for funding. We will re-establish residential recycling if that is approved." White is hopeful that curbside recycling will be back by 2009, but in the meantime, the monthly dropoffs, which are done pro bono by the Recycling Foundation of Baton Rouge, will continue.
Another resource that the city has made available is the New Orleans Area Recycling Guide, revised in January. A collaboration of The Green Project, Tulane University, MWH and the City of New Orleans Department of Sanitation, the electronic volume is a comprehensive how-to for recycling in the Greater New Orleans area. It lists the locations of all recycling facilities and the materials that each accepts. The guide is not available as a pamphlet, but a PDF download is available online through the Sierra Club and the Sanitation portal on the City of New Orleans Web site (see 'Recycling 411").
Garbage companies that currently have contracts with the city also are getting in on the game. Sidney Torres IV says he created SDT Waste and Debris Services after Katrina because New Orleans was not providing waste management services, and the prices that people wanted to charge were 'out of this world." Business is booming for SDT, which serves the Central Business District and French Quarter, and Torres says plans to begin recycling are in the works, with sign-up beginning in January. 'We do get a lot of requests for it," he says. 'We're going to start with our immediate customers, and bring it to anyone else who wants to do it." One hurdle is a lack of equipment. 'We're going to be adding some trucks specifically built for recyclables to separate plastics from aluminums, and it's probably going to take a half-million-dollar investment to do that," Torres says. He expects to have recycling contracts with the city in the future.
The situation is similar in Jefferson Parish. Waste Management reported that 33 percent of households recycled before Katrina, but Marni Winter, the parish's director of environmental affairs, does not think that curbside recycling can get back on track in the immediate future.
'If the resolution is adopted (by the Jefferson Parish Council), it would take nine months to a year to get the trucks rolling," she says. One such resolution was made last year and did not pass, but the parish council has not closed the book on recycling. 'I think the entire council is open to it," she says. 'I think they're hearing from their constituents that they want the service back, but at the same time, they are aware that cost is going to be a factor."
Whatever the reasons, the City of New Orleans has failed to reinstate curbside recycling despite public demand for the service. Recycling in whatever form it takes must be affordable and convenient for residents, and the city has yet to decide on a program.
Wendy King, for one, yearns for the days of the BFI blue bins. 'To me, what we had pre-Katrina, that was the best arrangement of all." Recycling 411 The Green Project
Delta Chapter Sierra Club New Orleans Group
New Orleans Area Recycling Guide