Recycling gaffe: An 8-year misunderstanding

TUPELO – The city’s failure to recycle plastics through its voluntary drop-off program appears to have started as a misunderstanding some eight years ago.
No one apparently realized it until last week, however, and now Tupelo officials say it will be remedied. Plastics will be recycled immediately, along with paper, cardboard and steel and aluminum cans.
But for the past several years, plastics had gone straight from the recycling receptacles into the landfill.
First, some history. Tupelo launched its voluntary drop-off recycling program under the administration of Glenn McCullough Jr., who was mayor from 1997 to 1999. At the time, Boyd Yarbrough was the city’s environmental coordinator and head of the recycling efforts.
Yarbrough told the Daily Journal recently that the city acquired portable recycling stations that it placed throughout the city. People could take their paper, cardboard, cans and plastics to the stations.
The city had its own equipment to bundle the materials, and they were taken to an agency in Starkville, which sold them to be recycled. The arrangement lasted about four years until the Starkville group got out of the business, Yarbrough said.
When that happened, Tupelo turned to Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority to take its recyclable waste.
But Three Rivers never accepted plastics for recycling – not then, not now – and it had never claimed to.
The Daily Journal obtained from Three Rivers a June 19, 2001, press release announcing an expanded recycling program mirroring the one in place today.
According to the announcement, the Three Rivers Regional Recycling Program received a $185,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Quality to buy 11 recycling trailers and other equipment for the program.
Many of those trailers were set up in Tupelo. And they could accept aluminum, tin, cardboard and newsprint, the press release said. It also said the materials would be taken to the Lee County Solid Waste Transfer Station, the same place the city’s Public Works Department takes most of its recycling today.
The press release does not mention plastic.
Yarbrough said he doesn’t recall what happened to the plastics when Tupelo switched from Starkville to Three Rivers. He left the city position shortly after that.
Since then, Tupelo has gone through two mayors, three Public Works directors and another environmental coordinator.
Those in place today said they had no idea the plastics weren’t being recycled.
Because none were here when the program began, they all assumed everything had been worked out in advance and saw no reason to change things.
Only interim Public Works Director Sid Russell said he had suspected plastics might not get recycled, but he said he never knew definitively.
Now that everyone does know, Mayor Ed Neelly has instructed all materials collected at the drop-off trailers go directly to Tupelo Recycling. The private processor sorts and bundles cardboard, paper, aluminum, steel and various plastics to be made into new products.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal