Recycling bins lining an alleyway behind Court Street

Recycling in Athens – from Asset to Liability

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Spring cleaning.

The phrase conjures up images of bustling around the house, fluffing pillows and dusting curtains, all in an attempt to give the house a deep “spring cleanse” in preparation for summer.

Here in Athens, this spring cleaning means that an unlimited number of trash bags and bins can be put out on the curb and picked up at no additional cost.

“It’s just an opportunity for people to get rid of their stuff, their excess stuff,” said Ron Lucas, Athens Deputy Service Safety Director.

Recyclables are among the major items that can be taken away free of charge, but these recyclables might not be able to be recycled at all in the not so distant future.

When the Chinese government stopped importing recyclables from the United States, a thirst for recycling companies blossomed here and put some recyclables under a microscope.

In the past recycling was accepted regardless of whether the material was clean. That’s no longer the case according to Athens Safety Service Director Ron Lucas. There is now a burden on the trash customer to thoroughly clean items like pasta jars. Even dirt on the outside of a jar means that it won’t be recycled.

Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas
Trash being thrown away outside of Bryan Hall
A small chocolate milk bottle poking through a trash bag
A recycling bin adorning a side porch of an Athens home
Dumpsters filled to the brim lining a back alley

“A contractor that wants to buy that load of glass, sees that dirty glass in there, they’re going to refuse it,” Lucas said.

What this means is a loss for a contractor like Athens-Hocking Recycling Center because they now must toss a batch of glass into a landfill. Material that could have netted them money, becomes an expense.

Lucas said this is shaking up the recycling business and has prompted the city of Athens to bid for a new refuse contract as the city’s current contract expires on June 30th. The biggest thing the city is now looking at in this new contract is if they can still provide their residents with single-stream recycling and what that cost will be.

In the bid, the city is looking to see if they need to increase the monthly fee all residents pay regardless of whether they recycle. The last contract for refuse came to around $928,000 a year, but a one year extension increased that total by $450,000 to $1.38 million. Lucas sad be sees a similar increase for the next contract.

“One and a half million dollars is going to be what it’s going to cost, and at our current trash rates, we can’t support that,” Lucas said.

All of this has caused waste disposal funds to be severely depleted just as the current contract is set to expire.