Politics & Government

Macon-Bibb waste plan looks to divert much from landfills

On average, every person in Macon-Bibb County throws away six pounds of trash a day. That’s not even counting industrial and construction waste, which pushes the total to 8.6 pounds.

So found a study by consulting firm A. Goldsmith Resources that was presented to Macon-Bibb commissioners last week. The calculation is part of a 10-year draft plan to manage solid waste, which anticipates slow population growth and closure of the publicly owned Walker Road Landfill at the end of 2020.

Closing the landfill is expected to cost $9.3 million, Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkley said. To extend the landfill’s life and to reduce what must be sent elsewhere once the landfill closes, Macon-Bibb officials are looking to expand single-stream curbside recycling countywide and build a local center to process what arrives in recycling bins.

“One of the biggest problems we have right now is that there’s no facility in Middle Georgia that takes a large amount of single-stream material,” Barkley said.

Within the former city limits of Macon, single-stream recycling is limited to 2,000 households in the InTown, Vineville and Shirley Hills neighborhoods; but all 26,0000 households the Solid Waste Department serves can get paper -- but not cardboard -- recycled now.

“These households are directed to set out paper in a bundle or bag on top of their garbage container,” the consultants’ report said.

In the former unincorporated area of Bibb County, private contractor Advanced Disposal collects single-stream recycling from the 19,800 households it serves. Some businesses and large institutions also recycle, but local government doesn’t track that, Goldsmith found.

Single-stream recycling collected by Advanced and city-county workers is now sent to Schnitzer Southeast, which ships it to a facility in Alpharetta, Barkley said.

“They can only handle a certain amount themselves,” he said.

The plan calls for a major push to increase recycling: enough to reduce what goes into area landfills by 25 percent, and to divert 30 percent of residential trash to recycling or composting facilities.

“If we’re to build a recycling center and all that, the cost would probably be somewhere between $10 million to $12 million,” Barkley said. Sale of the recycled material, as well as a recycling fee on all residential garbage bills, would help cover that cost, he said.

Right now, Macon-Bibb has “the extreme lowest” recycling rates among Georgia’s major cities, Barkley said.

Macon-Bibb now offers an interactive map to give any resident details on their recycling status and garbage collection schedule. On the Solid Waste Department’s page at maconbibb.us is a tab for a “Trash Pick Up Map.” Typing in an address will give that specific information.

Consultants found that seven landfills took trash from Macon-Bibb in 2013, a total of 243,529 tons. Nearly two-thirds went to the Wolf Creek Landfill, a privately owned dump in Twiggs County. Another 30 percent went to the Walker Road Landfill, with the other five splitting much smaller amounts.

The report predicts Macon-Bibb’s population to rise by about 10,000 people by 2025. If current trends continue, that would mean about 8,000 more tons of household, small business and yard waste going into landfills annually in 2025.

In 2011 the Macon Water Authority agreed to give the city $7.6 million over 25 years. Part of that must be used for maintaining the Ocmulgee River levee, but most is earmarked for landfill closure. When the landfill does close, Barkley said, the plan anticipates construction of a central transfer station to direct where local trash will go. A new landfill won’t be in Macon-Bibb County, but there are several options in the region, he said. The government would seek bids for a new contract, Barkley said.

A major public education campaign is anticipated to increase recycling, and Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said an increase in garbage collection and dumping rates is likely. Macon-Bibb has the second lowest user fee for trash service in the region, he said.

“If we go up only a couple dollars per year, it could fund the whole recycling program,” Floore said.

Macon-Bibb Solid Waste charges $45 per quarter per household, while Advanced charges former county residents $38.25, with some variation in services provided. The Walker Road Landfill lets residents dump up to 500 pounds per month there at no extra charge, and the per-ton tipping fee is $27.75, according to the consultants’ study.

To further cut down on waste going to current and future landfills, the plan suggests building two more facilities: one for construction waste, such as lumber, brick and plaster; and one for organic material, which would be turned into compost.

The study sets two goals for local garbage collection: It should be “convenient and adequate,” and provide the same service to everyone.

The services offered, and charge for those services -- whether provided by government employees or private workers -- likely will be worked out over the next year, Barkley said.

“We’re still debating on what the service level will be,” he said. That service will determine the price.

One of the remaining open questions of city-county consolidation is whether Macon-Bibb should bring all trash service in-house or contract it all out to a private firm.

In December 2014 commissioners extended Advanced Disposal’s contract for 30 months, tacitly guaranteeing the continued existence of the current hybrid. And that’s likely to continue anyway, Barkley said. It would be a “massive undertaking” to buy enough equipment for the Solid Waste Department to cover the whole county, he said. And so far commissioners have shown no interest in privatizing Solid Waste employees.

“I think it will be a combination at this time,” Barkley said.

The draft solid waste plan, if adopted, would be implemented in stages. But some parts would need to get underway quickly to meet the anticipated schedule. Commissioners will have a work session to discuss the solid waste plan at the end of April, according to a report from County Manager Dale Walker.

“But as quickly as possible is our timeline,” Floore said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.