Possible Starkville-MSU recycling partnership starting to take shape

October 19, 2020 10:21:06 AM

Tess Vrbin - [email protected]


Starkville is considering a partnership with Mississippi State University's recycling program after the city halted its own program, which operated at a financial loss.


City and MSU officials have come up with an idea of what that partnership would look like, but much is still to be decided, and it has to be both structured and financially feasible for the city, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said.


"We don't know yet what the hauling fees would be, but we've got more meetings (with MSU) next week," she said Friday.



Aldermen voted to indefinitely suspend the city's recycling program as of this month and did not include it in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. The city had a contract with Waste Management to haul the collected recyclables to Tupelo, and the cost went up from about $40,000 to about $60,000 this year while revenues totaled only about $24,000, Sistrunk said.


Sistrunk chairs an ad hoc committee that formed last year with the goal of improving the recycling program, and she first mentioned the potential partnership with MSU at the Sept. 15 board of aldermen meeting. MSU acknowledged the discussions in a press release Thursday.


"The university has a long history of effective collaboration with the city, but a recycling partnership would require some structure to make the proposal financially feasible," the release states.


Saunders Ramsey, MSU's executive director of Campus Services, did not respond to a request for comment.


Starkville suspended curbside recycling pick-up in March as a cost-saving measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and gave participants the option of dropping off their recyclable materials at the sanitation building on North Washington Street. Only about 10 percent of city residents were signed up for the recycling program, and there was no way to ensure that everyone who dropped off bags was a paying customer, Sistrunk said. Additionally, the amount of contaminated or non-recyclable materials increased when the city switched to drop-off only, she said.


MSU collects paper, plastic, cardboard and metals in several recycling bins throughout campus, according to the Office of Sustainability website. The Waste Pro USA office in Columbus picks up the materials from the MSU bins three times a week, and adding one location in Starkville to Waste Pro's route would not put a financial burden on the city or the customers, Mayor Lynn Spruill said.


Starkville citizens had to pay only $2 per month to participate in the recycling program, and Sistrunk said the city ideally will not have to charge more than that if it joins MSU's program.


The proposed partnership included set hours for citizens to drop off recyclable materials, and employees of the city's Sanitation and Environmental Services department would be stationed at the drop-off site to check each bag for contamination or food waste, Sistrunk said. People would receive an "additional and significant" fee for non-recyclables, she said.


Spruill said a fine would be a good way to avoid the issue of contamination that arose when the city suspended curbside pickup earlier this year.


"The devil would be in the details in how we would work that out, but I think that would be an appropriate way to disincentivize those who would include contaminants," she said.


Customers would drop off their recyclables in specific bags that would identify them as paying customers, Sistrunk said. The city has not yet determined a cost for those bags, since it would depend on several factors, including the cost of having city employees monitor the drop-off site.


Spruill and Sistrunk agreed that curbside pickup is not an option at the moment, which MSU's recycling program does not include.


Spruill said the potential partnership might include an interlocal agreement between the city and either MSU or Waste Pro USA, more likely the latter. She also said she believes they can come to an agreement that financially benefits or at least does not place a burden on the city.


"I'm hopeful until there's no hope (for it)," Spruill said.