Destined for recycling, but dumped instead

TUPELO – It’s a dirty secret in the city’s drop-off recycling program that some materials don’t go to the recycling center; they go to the landfill.
“The plastic is not recycled, it never has been recycled. It’s taken to Three Rivers and dumped,” said Terry McGlaun, Lee County Solid Waste director.
McGlaun oversees the county’s transfer station where Tupelo hauls most of the recyclable materials collected from its four voluntary drop-off locations, not the same as the city’s residential curbside recycling program in which all accepted materials are recycled.
The city says on its Web site and on the drop-off receptacles that it accepts newspaper, cardboard, aluminum and steel cans, and two types of plastic containers – No. 1 and No. 2 – for recycling.
For a while, it used to take all the items to a recycling center in Starkville, but that hasn’t happened for years, according to McGlaun.
The drop-off program is different from the residential curbside recycling program, in which Waste Management collects green bins from households every two weeks.
WM takes that material to Tupelo Recycling, which sorts and sells everything it gets, said Bryan Denton with The Traylor Group, which owns Tupelo Recycling.
In the drop-off program, anyone – whether a resident or a business – can deposit recyclable items in receptacles set up at different locations: the Commerce Street compost site, Tupelo-Lee Humane Society on South Gloster Street, Fire Station No. 6 on Coley Road, and AvonLea Assisted Living amp& Retirement Community on Lawndale Drive.
When those trailers are full, the city removes the cans and sells them for a profit, said interim Public Works Director Sid Russell.
Since the start of the current fiscal year on Oct. 1, Tupelo has earned $7,685 from cans.
The city takes the rest of the materials to the transfer station, located off Skyline Road. There, the county bundles the newspaper and cardboard, which it sells to two different vendors for a profit.
It has earned $5,885 from those items since Oct. 1.
But because the transfer station isn’t set up to handle plastics, those materials are taken by the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority to the Three Rivers Regional Landfill in Pontotoc, where they’re buried along with other non-recyclable waste.
McGlaun said the city knows its plastics aren’t recycled. Russell said he wasn’t aware of it until the Daily Journal brought it to his attention. But he said he had long suspected it.
Others had not suspected it and were upset to learn their recycling efforts apparently have been moot.
“It’s like lying,” said resident Dan Buchmann, who on Tuesday carried several bags of newspapers, plastic containers and cans to the drop-off center on Commerce Street.
“It’s outrageous,” said Buchmann. “I feel cheated.”
Said Barbara Fleishhacker, who owns The Main Attraction and also uses the drop-off points: “You think you’re doing something good, and really you’re just wasting your time. They need to fix that.”
The city’s environmental coordinator and head of the drop-off recycling program, Sherrie Cochran, was out of town this week and could not be reached.
It’s unclear how much recyclable plastic goes into the landfill. McGlaun said no one weighs the materials separately when they’re brought to the transfer station.
But Tupelo brings the trailers about four times a week, with an average monthly weight of 9 tons combined.
Russell said he’d like Waste Management to handle the drop-off containers like it does the residential bins. But he said Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority owns most of the seven trailers used in the program, and it apparently didn’t like that plan.
“I met resistance from Three Rivers,” Russell said. “I don’t know why. They really got kind of defensive.”
Three Rivers Solid Waste Specialist Dan Reese did not return two calls for comment.
McGlaun said Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority is trying to reach an agreement with a Canadian company to recycle everything it can from the waste stream. If and when that happens, the plastics will be recycled, too.
Until then, however, people who take plastics to the city’s drop-off centers will do no more environmental good than if they tossed the containers into their trash cans. It all will end up in the same landfill.
Or, they can take them to Tupelo Recycling.
Denton said the company has bins set up outside its Westmoreland Drive location – just off South Gloster Street – where anyone can deposit plastics, cans, newspapers or cardboard with confidence that it’ll get recycled.
Denton said the city could bring its plastics, too, but it has never asked.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or

Drop-off recycling
The city of Tupelo has three drop-off recycling locations and accepts newspaper, cardboard, steel and aluminum cans and plastics. But plastics are currently not recycled. The locations are at:
* North Commerce Street compost site.
* AvonLea Assisted Living amp& Retirement Community at 2429 Lawndale Drive.
* Fire Station No. 6 at the intersection of West Main Street and Coley Road.
* Tupelo-Lee Humane Society at 2400 South Gloster Street.
Or you can take recyclable materials to Tupelo Recycling, which accepts and recycles newspaper, cardboard, steel and aluminum cans and plastics:
* Tupelo Recycling at 669 Westmoreland Drive, off South Gloster Street

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

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