Recycle this: Changes coming to Naperville recycling program

<p>Manager for Resource Management Companies, Jeremy Christian, collects recyclable refuse from homes near downtown Napervlle in 2009.  |  Danielle Gardner/Staff Photographer/</p>

Manager for Resource Management Companies, Jeremy Christian, collects recyclable refuse from homes near downtown Napervlle in 2009.  |  Danielle Gardner/Staff Photographer/

Naperville neighborhoods will soon have pairs of receptacles lined up side by side at the curb on garbage pick-up day. It remains to be decided whether they’ll have to help pay for the second container.

The City Council last week awarded a $1.87 million contract for the purchase of about 41,000 lidded, rolling carts to contain recyclable materials, similar to those now used for landfill-bound trash, to Cascade Engineering Inc. The firm, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., turned in the lowest of six bids received for the vessels. City staff had estimated the expense at about $2.3 million.

The expansion of the municipal solid waste program, which has been under discussion for nearly a year, is aimed at growing the segment of city refuse processed at recycling facilities, rather than being hauled to landfills. Known as the diversion rate, the proportion stands at about 30 percent, which is less than in years past and significantly lower than neighboring communities’ current levels. The target rate of 40 percent is more feasible, officials say, with a container that’s more secure and easier to manage than the open rectangular bins now used for paper, cardboard, metals and plastics that can be recycled.

Officials generally have agreed that the container upgrade, planned for implementation in late summer, is the right move.

“I feel if you want participate in the recycling program, you should have a cart that makes it easier for our contractor to pick it up,” said Council member Grant Wehrli. “It’s just like our garbage — they use a big claw to pick it up, dump it in.”

The issue of who will cover the purchase won’t be resolved immediately. Initially, when the higher cart price was expected, officials gave consideration to a proposed $4 surcharge on residents’ utility bills for 12 months, which would have amounted to about 80 percent of the purchase expense. The lower cost could mean fewer months for the larger bills, if officials opt to take that approach.

Wehrli noted that the sale of the Tellabs property on the city’s northeast side brought in real estate transfer tax receipts of some $500,000 that were not anticipated in the budget. In addition, the recent increase in the city’s electric rates will bring in more utility tax revenue.

“I think we should use that to offset this,” he said.

Outgoing Finance Director Karen DeAngelis advised against a decision, however, until the current year’s budget outcomes come into clearer focus. Sales tax receipt projections, interest income and other anticipated revenue streams for fiscal 2014 appear to have been somewhat optimistic, DeAngelis said, and she suggested using city funds to cover the cost before making any decisions about sharing the expense.

“We can always reduce the number of months that the residents will pay in,” she said.

Some council members reiterated concerns that residents who recycle, particularly those in apartment and townhome developments, will be compelled to accept larger containers than they can conveniently store. The contract includes provisions for the 95-gallon carts to be traded for either of two smaller sizes if residents do not specify ahead of time that they prefer them. They’ll also have the ability to opt out of the program entirely, by indicating that choice on postcards to be mailed out by the city.

According to Public Works Director Dick Dublinski, who predicts participation rates of about 90 percent, Cascade is prepared to manage redistribution of various sizes.

“This isn’t their first rodeo. They know how to do this,” he said, pointing out that residents will have a chance to see if their container is the right fit during the five-week delivery period. “We know people want to recycle. … We’ll handle it the best that we can.”

Wehrli suggested having staff come back with a recommended payment plan by the end of May, a month after the end of the fiscal year, and his peers on the dais supported the idea.

Council members said they want to keep residents’ costs at a minimum.

“This is such a tangible service,” said Councilman Joe McElroy, who emphasized that no one who prefers not to recycle will be forced to purchase the carts. “Anything we can do to make it as inexpensive as possible — thereby encouraging more recycling, which is the whole point of it — that’s what I think we should do.”