When Macon and Bibb County governments consolidate in less than a year, newly elected officials will have a lot of decisions to make quickly, including what to do about solid waste collection and recycling services.
We dont know, and nobody knows right now, said Chris Floore, Macon public affairs director.
Right now, Macon handles its garbage collection in-house and runs its own landfill. The county contracts out its service and trucks the trash to Twiggs County. Both governments offer some recycling, but theres variation in what they collect and how they collect it -- and the level of service differs between areas.
The issue is complex enough that it may take quite a while to settle, even if consultants do lots of preliminary work on waste management. Floore said he hopes the new government will conduct a cost-benefit analysis on whether its better to keep waste services in-house or outsource them. That would probably take the first six months or a year to do and implement, he said.
In the consolidation legislation that voters approved July 31, the stated intent is for all current city and county employees to keep their jobs. But thats not a permanent guarantee; and task force members have acknowledged that a decision will come on whether to expand city trash collection, outsource it countywide or keep some combination.
Recycling programs undoubtedly will figure in that choice, and not just for environmental reasons. Whatever happens, the new government will be responsible for the citys current landfill and will bear the cost of waste disposal wherever it goes.
The citys annual financial report includes the latest information on the status of Macons landfill. As of June 30, 2012, it was estimated to be 76 percent full.
The estimated remaining life of the landfill is nine years, the report says.
Once the unlined landfill -- which was built on a swamp -- does close, the consolidated government will be required to monitor it for leakage and gas emissions for 30 years.
Those closure and monitoring costs are estimated to total $16.9 million.
With the law requiring combined city and county budgets to be cut by 20 percent within the first five years, officials will be looking for any possible savings.
Greater recycling efforts would postpone landfill closure, which will cost millions -- and local taxpayers will foot that bill. So the more thats recycled, the less waste that goes into landfills and the longer it will be before taxpayers must cover closing costs.
Several groups have come to propose more recycling or other waste-management options to the city, but it doesnt make sense to decide that for the city alone when a countywide government is on the way, Floore said.
We just sort of shut down all that talk until we can figure out what were doing, he said.
Consultants have said the city doesnt have enough waste coming in to make it practical to expand the recycling program right now, but if garbage from the rest of the county and the school system is added to that, it could be profitable, Floore said.
Macon and Bibb Countys collection of recyclables differs substantially, both in the service provided and the items collected.
The Bibb County Residential Solid Waste Collection service, provided through contractor Southland Waste Systems, picks up household garbage, recyclables and yard waste, according to the county website.
Curbside collection of recyclables and yard trash is provided once every other week on the same day of the week as your solid waste, according to the site. Items picked up are newspapers; green, brown or clear glass; aluminum cans, tin cans, aerosol containers; and plastic containers but not bags.
Recycling is entirely voluntary, said David Fortson, acting Bibb County engineer.
We give recycling bins to the residents who desire them, he said.
Fortson thinks participation has been fairly constant during the years recycling has been offered. Its apparent from the raw numbers that participation is far from universal.
In December 2012 the countys contractor collected 69 tons of recycling, 162 tons of yard waste, and 1,378 tons of garbage from unincorporated Bibb County, Fortson said.
North Macon, I think has our highest participation rate, he said. East Macon has our lower participation rate, and south Macon and west Bibb are somewhere in between.
None of the countys trash goes to the city landfill. Recyclables are taken from a transfer station by Hattaway Recycling, and separated and sold in Milledgeville. All other solid waste gets hauled to a landfill in Twiggs County, Fortson said.
Macon, meanwhile, collects single-stream recycling twice a month in four neighborhoods: Intown, Vineville, Shirley Hills and the Wimbish Road area, according to the city website.
The rest of the city we recycle newspaper only, and its picked up on the same day that the solid waste is picked up each week, the website says.
In the four target neighborhoods the city collects paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and aluminum or steel cans. The city doesnt take glass of any kind, plastic bags, polystyrene or aluminum foil.
The single-stream recycling program serves 2,000 households and eight public schools, Public Works Director Richard Powell said via e-mail.
The single-stream program targeted areas that would get maximum participation, he said. For years, Macon generated revenue when its vendor was Macon Iron.
When Macon Iron was purchased by Schnitzer, the new company discontinued the single stream program, Powell said in the e-mail. Macon looked for a new vendor for profit but was unsuccessful.
Macon Iron/Schnitzer Southeast still has a recycling drop-off point at 1645 Seventh St. that takes paper, plastic and cans, as well as clear, green or brown glass.
Metal collected at the landfill, and paper, metal and plastic from city offices, are sold for profit to Schnitzer, Powell said. So is paper, collected at fire stations and by garbage trucks citywide.
Costs and proposals
Some work on waste policy has been done, and more is coming. And recycling is part of those talks.
As Macon reviews its options in the consolidated government, expansion of the recycling program should be included as services offered to the public, Powell said.
He figures it would take four more trucks and a dozen new employees to expand the citys recycling program countywide, plus the purchase of more recycling carts.
But how to do that or handle waste management in general -- with existing employees, through outsourcing or by hiring more -- is undecided, said Leonard Bevill, chairman of the consolidation task force Facilities Committee and a member of the task forces Human Resources Committee.
We havent gotten to that point yet, he said. As far as outsourcing or keeping existing staff, I think all of those things are on the table at this particular juncture.
Nearly two years ago the city accepted an offer from the Macon Water Authority. That agreement said the authority would pay the city $7.6 million over 25 years to help pay landfill costs. But some of that money must be used for levee maintenance. The city also set up a fund of its own to pay for closure, but millions more are needed.
The tentative plan is to close the 77-acre landfill one side at a time, Powell recently told Macon City Council members. First the west side will be sealed under two feet of clay, then the south side, then the east side, leaving the north end for last, he said.
In September the city sought a consultant to come up with a detailed closure plan, assess the current solid waste program, recommend how to deal with methane gas that the landfill emits and recommend a recycling strategy, Powell said.
Recently, the City Councils Public Works & Engineering Committee approved Hulsey McCormick & Wallace for those tasks, at a cost of $15,000. Final approval for the six-month study is likely at Tuesdays full council meeting.
On another track, consultants for the consolidation task force are being asked to put together not just an initial structure for waste management, but whats almost a strategic plan for dealing with the landfill and related issues for the next several years, Bevill said.
Recommendations from current government staff and those consultants reports are likely to generate heavy discussion, he said.
I know we have some things coming up here probably in the next 30 to 90 days that will be really pressing, Bevill said.
Several companies have approached local officials with offers to take over and expand recycling, but no decisions have been made.
The city and county alike have a great need to dispose locally of biodegradable yard waste, Powell said. Vendors have proposed turning food waste and yard waste into biofuel, or turning it into compost, and selling the results; turning plastics and tires into fuel, also for sale or to power generators; and expanding recycling to include those items, Powell said.
Collecting more recyclables is good environmentally, will extend the landfills life and will help meet federal and state waste-management standards, he said.
But there are barriers to a countywide recycling program, Powell said. Constantly fluctuating prices for recycled materials make profitability hard to calculate.
Bevill said the real framework for such decisions isnt only combining existing government workers and services but also in creating something entirely new. A series of public meetings over the next few months should help the task force gauge what services residents want, he said. The goal, Bevill said, is making Macon-Bibb County a better place to live.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.