By Rebekah Martin
Changes will soon be coming to Opelika’s recycling program. Oct. 1 will bring fewer drop off sites around the city as well as a new rule prohibiting the acceptance of glass.
Many Opelikans have expressed their concerns over the upcoming changes. Mike Morehouse said he wishes the city would move toward offering curbside pickup and retain the current number of drop-off locations. “The city is moving backward,” Morehouse said. “We shouldn’t consolidate to one drop off location, as I think you will do a lot of damage to the recycling program in Opelika.”
Amy Knight and Janet Morehouse both called for recycling to be made mandatory in Opelika. “We need to do what we can to protect the environment for future generations,” Morehouse said. “It’s time for recycling to be made mandatory in Opelika.”
Terry White, director of Opelika’s Sold Waste Department, said there is a great deal of misinformation about what these changes will mean for the people of Opelika. “Our budget is not being cut,” White said. “We want to increase recycling in Opelika, no doubt about it. The main goal behind the upcoming changes is to expedite our process and make it more efficient.”
Opelika’s recycling program currently has five drop off locations throughout the city that accept paper, plastic, aluminum cans, glass and cardboard. In the last fiscal year, Opelika recycled 295 tons of material with roughly 47 percent of the total volume being cardboard. The current projection for this fiscal year, that comes to an end at the end of the month, is 350 tons – a 19 percent increase. A major part of that increase has come from the cardboard route for commercial companies.
White projects a $24,000 return from all the materials that have been recycled in the last year. In contrast, though, the recycling program has cost the department an estimated $150,000. “The deficit is what we are trying to eliminate,” White said. “Hopefully, becoming more efficient in our collection process will aid in that effort.”
The proposed changes to the recycling program are correlated to the department’s annual deficit. “Recycling is never going to break even,” White said. “In a community like ours, not being close to a major metropolitan area, breaking even isn’t a realistic goal.”
Profitability is not a goal of recycling either. “The reason behind making these changes is not just about being profitable,” White said. “We simply want to take the money we have and use it more wisely.”
The Solid Waste Department is currently studying its process, as well as ways it can become more efficient. “We’ve not made any final decisions as of yet, but seeing as the bulk of our recycling comes out of the north side of Opelika, we will most likely have two remaining drop off sites – one in the Jeter community and another on the north side of the city.”
White said the remaining three current drop-off points are within 1.4 miles of each other. “It just makes sense to consolidate,” he said.
Some citizens have expressed disappointment about the decision to no longer accept glass.
“With glass being the most abrasive material that we collect and the equipment problems it causes, as well as the cost of transportation to Atlanta, it is not in the city’s best interest to accept it any longer,” White said.
There are ways that the community can aid the efforts being made by the department. White encouraged citizens to be sure to crush their plastic bottles before recycling them. “Crushing materials, such as plastic water bottles and milk cartons, and reducing the space they take up is a great way to help us be efficient in our collections,” White said.
While there are no immediate plans to hold a town hall meeting or open forum in the community, White said he welcomes comments and concerns from citizens. White can be reached at the Department of Solid Waste at 705-5480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are trying to do what’s best for Opelika,” White said. “We want to grow recycling, not cut it back. Some minor changes are sometimes a necessity for growth.”