Recycling Revealed: Good for the earth, but good for taxpayers?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Recycling has grown in popularity over the years because it is good for the environment. Yet, city officials from both Lafayette and West Lafayette say recycling’s biggest benefit could be from the lift it gives to each city’s budget. Recycling saves the cities hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Local recycling programs have changed dramatically in the 38 years Dave Downey has been West Lafayette street commissioner. He is disappointed in the people who, after many advances in technology and local policy, continue to throw everything in the trash.

“What are you thinking,” Downey said. “We have very limited resources. The earth is only so big. We’ve made it as convenient and as [easy] as possible to recycle. There’s very little reason not to do it.”

Recycling is not only good for the environment, but Downey and Lafayette Street Commissioner Dan Crowell think it’s good for taxpayers too.

“It saves us a lot of money,” said Crowell. “Just last year it saved us almost $170,000.”

Despite their close proximity, the two cities handle recycling differently.

In West Lafayette, there are two ways to recycle. Residents can either have their recycling picked up or they can drop it off at the city’s facility on South River Road. Together, they allow the city’s recycling process to be profitable.

Residents can choose curbside trash and recycling pickup for a $16 monthly fee. Though residents pay for both for trash and recycling, the city uses that money to pay for only trash. That is because West Lafayette isn’t charged by its disposal contractor, Bestway Disposal, for recycling. Bestway hauls it away for free.

For comparison, Bestway charges the city $41 per ton of trash it receives.

If residents choose the drop-off option, the city sells some materials directly to companies that turn it into other goods, such as insulation or soda cans. Due to the pickup option not costing the city a dime, any money collected from selling the materials is profit.

“We bring in over $60,000 a year from the sale of cans and bottles,” said Downey. That money, Downey said, is used to reduce costs and fees within the street department.

When West Lafayette picks up recycled materials, they’re taken to a transfer station the city owns with Lafayette, Tippecanoe County and Purdue University. Bestway operates the facility, which is on N. Ninth Street.

If you live in the red and green zones in Lafayette's pickup map, then you're recycling is taken to Bestway's facility on North Ninth Street.
If you live in the red and green zones in Lafayette’s pickup map, then your recyclables are taken to Bestway’s facility on North Ninth Street.

Lafayette also uses Bestway Disposal. The city is also not charged for any recycling it brings to Bestway and, like West Lafayette, it also brings recyclables to the transfer station on N. Ninth Street.

The difference is Bestway takes away only half of Lafayette’s recycled materials. The other half of Lafayette’s recyclables are taken to Waste Management’s facility on Wabash Avenue.

The maps illustrate where recyclable materials are taken in Lafayette.

Crowell says Lafayette chooses to split the recycling stream because it lowers the city’s costs. Those costs are only for trash because, like Bestway, Waste Management does not charge the city for recycling.

Waste Management is the largest residential recycling service in the United States. Bestway, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., operates in four states.

If you live in the blue or purple zones, then Lafayette takes your recyclables to Waste Management's facility on Wabash Avenue.
If you live in the blue or purple zones, then Lafayette takes your recyclables to Waste Management’s facility on Wabash Avenue.

Both companies make money in Lafayette by charging the cities a fee for each ton of trash that they take away, and by selling recyclables that they collect for free. One revenue stream, the trash fee, is very reliable. The other, selling recyclables, is not as stable. The recyclable material market can be volatile, and even in a good market, recycling isn’t big business, according to Lafayette District Manager Tom Runkle.

“One of the challenges that we face is that recycling is not very highly profitable,” Runkle said. “But it’s a commitment that Waste Management has made to the customers as well as the community because, quite honestly, that’s what they want.”

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