Tupelo to correct recycling misstep

TUPELO – Top-level city officials said Thursday they had no clue that plastics collected through a drop-off recycling program were going to the landfill, but they promised that the practice would stop immediately.
“We know that there’s a problem, and we will get it straightened out,” said city Chief Operations Officer Darrell Smith. “The material will be recycled the way it is supposed to be.”
Smith was responding to Thursday’s Daily Journal report that plastic containers collected in Tupelo’s recycling trailers are dumped at the Three Rivers Regional Landfill in Pontotoc. Signs on the trailers say plastic is accepted.
He said he didn’t know plastics weren’t being recycled until seeing the Daily Journal’s story.
Also shocked was Mayor Ed Neelly, who called it a case of miscommunication, and municipal Environmental Coordinator Sherrie Cochran, who oversees the drop-off recycling program.
Cochran said she had been told all items got recycled and that she herself hauled trash to the drop-off trailers once weekly for the past four years.
“The citizens trust that the city does the right thing,” Cochran said, “and we need to do the right thing.”
The drop-off program is separate from the curbside recycling program run by Waste Management. Those products are taken to Tupelo Recycling, a private processing center that sorts and bundles cardboard, paper, aluminum, steel and various plastics to be made into new products.
Products collected at the city’s four drop-off points have been going to two places: aluminum and steel cans to Metal Management of Tupelo where they’re recycled; everything else to the Lee County Solid Waste Transfer Station where cardboard and newspaper are recycled but plastics are shipped to the landfill.
The city earns money for the cans, and the county earns money for the cardboard and paper – about $13,500 combined since Oct. 1.
Mayor Ed Neelly said that system will stop immediately. He said he instructed his staff to take all materials deposited in the trailers to Tupelo Recycling, just as the curbside program does.
But it’s unclear whether that’s possible, because Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority owns most of the recycling trailers, and its board must approve such a deal before it can happen.
Three Rivers’ next regular board meeting is in July.
“We’ll look for his request,” said Ronnie Bell, Three Rivers Planning and Development District’s director of technical assistance for local government.
Bell said the city has had a long-standing deal to take cardboard and paper to the transfer station. But the city isn’t bound to take its cans or plastic there.
He said Tupelo can start diverting those materials immediately, and could have been doing it for some time.
Tupelo Recycling General Manager Brad Burnett said the city hadn’t contacted him about the arrangement but that it could drop off its materials there.

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

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal