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Albany panel looking at curbside recycling

ALBANY -- An effort started more than a year ago to review the city's solid waste ordinance is gaining traction with the formation of a committee of elected leaders, residents and city officials who will consider, among other things, whether curbside recycling can fit into the mix.

Public Works Director Phil Roberson said that the committee has been meeting over the past few weeks to examine issues raised following nearly a year of research compiled by city staffers, who surveyed garbage and recycling programs across the state.

"Basically we looked a variety of different programs and ordinances across the state and are hoping to pluck out some of the best practices to update our ordinance and to stabilize the rates and make sure our residents are getting the best bang for the buck," Roberson said.

The surveys show comparisons by city and service, ranging from whether household garbage is collected to whether ordinances pay for and utilize solid waste code enforcement officers to prevent illegal dumping.

As the committee works through the proposed changes to the city's ordinance, it'll likely consider amnesty periods where trash of all shapes, sizes and colors can be dumped in roll-off containers positioned throughout the city.

As far as recycling goes, Albany is one of the few major cities in Georgia currently without a curbside recycling program.

Enter Waste Pro, a $400 million refuse and recycling company that does business in the Southeast -- and wants the city's business in Albany.

The company has pitched its curbside recycling program to city officials. It says it can perform at a cost savings to the city while using an innovative coupon program that will help consumers save money for participating.

"We think that there's definitely a niche here for recycling and that our program is a good fit," Waste Pro's Joel Thornton said.

The challenge to starting a recycling program immediately is that unless the city wants to charge $3-$4 additionally to each ratepayer in the city -- and it doesn't -- the city would have to grant Waste Pro a contract for both recycling and household garbage removal. Currently, that household garbage contract belongs to longtime hauler Transwaste.

According to city documents, the commission has agreed to a one-year contract with Transwaste, with a four-year option to renew. Currently, there are two years left, meaning that essentially there are two one-year contracts with Transwaste.

While that contract can be broken without cause with a 90-day notice before July 1, Roberson is hesitant to do so.

"Yeah, we could essentially break the contract and go shopping for another vendor, but that's not a good business practice and isn't very business friendly," Roberson said. "When these people come in, they've got to buy millions in equipment that they amortize over the life of the contract. If we were to constantly be switching vendors every year, garbage prices would skyrocket."

And if a company like Waste Pro can't get the household garbage contract, the recycling contract would have to be tacked onto utility bills, something city manager James Taylor is unwilling to do.

"I'm an advocate of recycling. I recycle myself. But now is not the time to be adding $3 to $4 per month onto everyone's utility bill," Taylor said. "Everyone is struggling and I just don't think making bills bigger is the answer."

Even the area's chief environmentalist, Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful Executive Director Judy Bowles, said that the timing is bad on recycling.

"Finding different ways to recycle is a good thing, but I don't think this is the economic climate to make that switch just yet," Bowles said. "Down the road, in a year or two, it may be feasible, but I don't think right now is the best time."

Roberson said that the committee will consider making curbside recycling part of the Request for Qualifications when the next solid waste contract is considered, but that won't be until next spring at the earliest.

While Albany has recycling centers, it lacks a curbside recycling pickup service.