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February 6, 2013

Future of Norman recycling is biweekly

NORMAN — Many Norman utility customers will be able to recycle cardboard at curbside in the near future. Other changes coming to the city’s recycling services may be less popular, however.

The Norman City Council discussed cost comparisons and customer service along with multiple recycling options at the City Council Conference on Tuesday. There was a consensus to change to a bi-weekly pickup of recyclables in order to avoid raising the recycling utility rate. Also, city leaders were in agreement that the larger size polycarts needed for bi-weekly recycling that includes cardboard would be purchased and provided by the city.

Bi-weekly pickup will reduce traffic and noise in neighborhoods. The larger polycarts will have lids to help prevent wind from blowing recyclable refuse around neighborhoods.

Other items of discussion were more contentious.

City staff were directed to pursue a 5-year contract with Republic which was the low bid. High bid was the current contractor, Waste Management. The city also bid doing the recycling in-house which was the middle bid cost.

“We looked at the bids and they were somewhat comparable,” Utilities Director Ken Komiske said.

While many city council members felt the city would deliver better customer service than a private contractor, there would be an initial investment in three CNG sanitation trucks.

Council member Robert Castleberry said the contract with Republic makes sense. If the city does its own recycling unpredictable elements such as the cost of fuel, employee insurance and the cost of disposal of recyclables can fluctuate.

Castleberry said because the cost is set in the contract with an outside vendor, he favors that option.

While the city council was split on whether to award the contract to Republic or do it in-house, the majority leaned toward awarding a contract to Republic.

Also under discussion was glass recycling. Glass is made using sand, a low cost material, and there are currently no glass manufacturers in the state, limiting the recycling market.

“We’re paying over $100 per ton to recycle glass,” Komiske said.

Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said it is important to continue recycling glass as people would consider it a reduction of services to eliminate it.

“If you are spending more in resources than you are gaining, you are hurting the environment,” Council member Tom Kovach said in favor of eliminating glass. “I think it’s a serious question of economics and the environment.”

For now, city staff has been directed to continue with plans to pick up glass.

Extending recycling to multifamily was also discussed.

“Many customers have expressed an interest who live in apartments,” Komiske said.

Rates for multifamily customers would go up, however, if recycling were added. City attorney Kathryn Walker said under the current ordinance, multifamily rates could be increased to include the recycling charge  because the ordinance includes all residential.

High levels of contamination due to people dumping trash in recycling bins at apartment complexes is likely, however, and finding space for a recycling dumpster could create a problem for many apartments.

“I think we’re putting the recycling polycart in front of the horse here,” Kovach said. “We have so many small apartment complexes. I’m all for multifamily recycling. I think the way to achieve that is to require it in the zoning for future development.”

“Let’s start with the new ones and give apartment owners an option,” Council member Linda Lockett said.

The new polycarts will be a different color than the trash polycarts so that people can tell the difference. The city will work to educate utility customers as it delivers the new recycling carts to homes. It will take some time to get the new program up and running. In the meantime, the city will try to negotiate an extension with Waste Management.

The city council will likely vote on finalizing the recycling contract and other details at the council meeting next week.

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