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Mobile Inches Forward on ‘Robust Recycling’ Plan, Despite Council’s Cautious Approach

Separating recyclables could soon be in the past in Mobile, Ala. City officials are moving ahead with single-stream recycling, though the Mobile City Council has to still approve two contracts to usher in the new program. (file photo). (

An approval of two contracts altering how residents in Alabama’s fourth-largest city recycle, are on hold for one more week.

But that isn’t preventing Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration from pushing forward on “single-stream” recycling, which had not been available to Mobile residents until recent months.

In a news release, the administration said the city has opened a new single-stream recycling center in west Mobile. The recycling allows patrons to put all recyclables – paper, glass, aluminum cans, plastics, etc. – into a single hopper.

The location is in the parking lot of a city-owned building in Langan Park, across Museum Drive from the Mobile Museum of Art. “In the past, the city has simply not devoted enough resources or attention to recycling, but that is all about to change,” Stimpson said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to create a more robust recycling program while eliminating litter throughout our city. When recycling is more convenient and less confusing, more people recycle and people who recycle are less tolerant of litter.”

Hedging concerns

The administration’s announcement came on the same day the Mobile City Council opted to delay, for one more week, a vote on two contracts that would establish single-stream recycling city-wide.

The council wants to wait for the city’s Solid Waste Authority to weigh in on the matter. The group is scheduled to meet with Waste Management, the company which hauls Mobile’s garbage, on Wednesday.

“I think it’s appropriate to get their opinion and consent,” said council attorney Jim Rossler.

The two contracts include a $900,000 deal, over a three-year period, with Amwaste LLC; and a $125,000 agreement through September 2019 with the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

The Amwaste deal calls for taking Mobile recyclables to the company’s Florida Panhandle location for processing. The Emerald Coast pact processes the recyclables in Mobile.

Councilman John Williams said he was comfortable voting on the contracts Tuesday. He said he doesn’t anticipate the Solid Waste Authority coming back to the council with any other recommendation than a “yes” vote.

But the rest of the council agreed to wait one more week.

Council President Gina Gregory said she hasn’t gotten any indication that the Solid Waste Authority will not recommend approval for both contracts.

There have been some worries, however. Among them is the lingering concern about possible lawsuit.

The city was hit with litigation several years ago when Waste Management argued that the Solid Waste Authority had violated its contract by sending yard waste to another landfill, not the Chastang Landfill used by the company. Waste Management successfully argued in court that the change deprived the company of revenue.

Paul Wesch, the interim chief of staff to Stimpson, said the city administration doubts that another court battle would occur. “But the council wants to know that the Solid Waste Authority supports these contracts,” he said.

The administration had already started a “pilot program” for single-stream recycling at its only recycling center at 1451 Government St. The new facility is at the Western Administrative Complex.

“We view it as an experiment, which doesn’t require council action,” said Wesch.

‘Positive step’

Stimpson, during his comments to the council, said his support for single-stream recycling is aimed at improving the city’s “dismal” 6 percent rate of diverting wastes away from landfills. Nationally, the diversion rate is 34 percent.

“We recognized what we were doing was not working with recycling,” said Stimpson.

Wesch said the city wants to establish single-stream recycling drop-off points on city property within each of the seven council districts.

Mobile has long promoted recycling for residential customers through the one-stop location on Government Street, which has long required people to pre-sort recyclable materials before dropping them off. But that location isn’t owned by the city, and the lease for the city to utilize it ends this month.

“It’s a dilapidated building and the city has no interest in renewing the lease,” Wesch said.

Mobile, though, does not have a municipal-sponsored curbside recycling program which is available in most Alabama cities such as Birmingham, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Dothan.

Mobile residents interested in curbside recycling can pay for a subscription service with a private operator.

“If I had a magic wand, I’d say, ‘Let’s do curbside pickup for every recycling material there is,'” said Gregory. “However, we have very little recycling going on right now so we have to take some steps in between before we get to curbside pickup for all materials.”

She added, “It’s a positive step for us. … You can put it all in at once and it gets sorted somewhere else, and it’s much easier.”

Alabama superintendent Michael Sentance speaks to reporters after Feb. 9, 2017, board meeting.
A THAAD launch is shown in a file photo. (Contributed photo/Lockheed Martin)
(Leada Gore | lgore@al.com)

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