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'Domino effect' leads to terminated recycling contract

'Domino effect' leads to terminated recycling contract

May 27th, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

Residents fill a Jefferson City recycling drop-off bin Saturday in Memorial Park.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Due to disagreements and a lack of communication, New World Recycling recently discontinued its contract with Jefferson City.

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City staff plans to move all nine cardboard-recycling containers to Hyde Park, where the public can't access them, on June 15 after New World Recycling said it would terminate its contract effective that day, city Neighborhood Services Manager Jayme Abbott told the Jefferson City Council last Monday. Abbott originally announced the sudden termination during the Jefferson City Public Works and Planning Committee meeting earlier this month.

The containers currently are located at McKay Park, 1700 Southridge Drive; Memorial Park, 2214 W. Main St.; Fire Station No. 1, 621 W. High St.; Fire Station No. 2, 2400 E. McCarty St.; Fire Station No. 5, 1005 Fairgrounds Road; and the City Hall parking lot, 420 E. McCarty St.

The city entered into a zero-dollar contract with New World Recycling in 2015. Prior to that, it had a contract with the company for more than 14 years, New World Recycling co-owner Corey Toebben said.

The city has received several complaints over the last couple of years about the bins overflowing and about illegal dumping — when people place large amounts of materials on other people's properties — Abbott and Jefferson City housing and property inspector Dave Helmick said. When the bins are full, many people set cardboard on the ground.

Since Jan. 17, city staff has documented about 50 instances when code enforcement checked on the bins after receiving complaints, according to the city's code enforcement software. The city usually receives five to 10 complaints a week regarding the bins, Helmick said.

"A lot of the problems we run into that's causing a lot of these complaints is they weren't being emptied when they were supposed to be getting emptied, and when we would notify (New World Recycling) there was a mechanical problem or whatever that would push it out another two or three days," Helmick said. "You add on top of that people not breaking down boxes and then putting them on the ground, which leads to more complaints."

Abbott, Helmick and Toebben described the growing problems around the cardboard-recycling program as a "domino effect" or "snowball effect."

Lack of communication

The contract states the bins should be cleaned at least once a week on Mondays, with the receptacle at City Hall emptied again on Fridays. It notes New World Recycling should "make available to the City, upon the terms, covenants and conditions set out here, the equipment described above, on an as-needed and available basis."

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It also states New World Recycling should keep the containers and equipment in good condition.

City emails obtained by the News Tribune show several instances when city staff contacted New World Recycling about overflowed bins and resident complaints.

"(New World Recycling) is supposed to be serviced on a Monday (and City Hall again on Fridays), and sometimes they would not be serviced at all during the week or some times they'll be serviced on Thursday and then by Friday, they're already filled," Abbott said. "We were literally contacting them on a daily basis asking them to pick up the bins."

New World Recycling picked up the bins at least once a week and twice a week for the ones at City Hall and Memorial Park, Toebben said. He noted some bins did not fill up on a weekly basis, like the one at Fire Station No. 2.

Due to the overwhelming amount of cardboard or equipment failure, Toebben said, they couldn't clean some of the bins until later in the week, though.

Equipment failure can put the company behind by a few days or more than a week, depending on the machine. Then it's a game of catch-up, he said.

"When our equipment and stuff goes down, then we're not able to do the bins," Toebben said. "The city was aware of that, and I don't know what more as a company we could have done to help it. I don't know what their complaint is. They have free pickup when every other city around gets charged."

Toebben said he contacted the city when there were equipment issues or when they couldn't service the bins. Abbott and Helmick said they were not told in advance when New World Recycling could not empty the bins.

A disagreement about the contract arose after one of New World Recycling's balers broke and was out of commission for about a week and a half in late February. New World Recycling told the city they would not be able to service the bins, Toebben said. Abbott and Helmick said they were told about the failed equipment after receiving residents complaints and calling the company.

While the machine was broken, Toebben said, New World Recycling used a trailer to pick up cardboard people left outside the bins.

That week, the city contacted Republic Services, a third-party company, to clean out the bins.

Toebben said city staff did not inform New World Recycling they would use a third-party company. The city issued a "breach of contract" letter in mid-April asking New World Recycling to reimburse the cost of using Republic Services — about $1,200.

The contract does not appear to specify whether the city can use a third party to empty the bins or if it can charge New World Recycling for the cost to use a third party if New World Recycling can't service the bins.

Assistant City Attorney Bryan Wolford spoke with New World Recycling co-owner and Toebben's wife, Kim, in late April regarding the expenses to use Republic Services, according to city emails. Under Missouri contract law, Wolford said, the city can bill New World Recycling for the cost to use Republic Services. When Kim Toebben disagreed, he told her to obtain a lawyer.

It would cost the city about $34,200 annually for Republic Services to pick up the cardboard, newspaper and magazine bins from the six locations, according to city emails. It would cost the city about $19,000 for Republic Services to empty the bins from June to the end of the fiscal year, Oct. 31, Abbott said.

Increase in cardboard

Along with equipment failure, the small business struggled tackling the city bins, Toebben said. While the company was able to service five or six receptacles a day several years ago, it can service only two or three in an eight-hour day due to the increase of materials mixing and increase in the number of cardboard boxes.

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"Doing those city bins take up a whole machine and a whole person most of the week, so it's hard for us to get anything else done besides doing the city bins because the city bins take so long to do," Toebben said. "When they get the materials mixed up — a lot of people put cardboard in with the magazines and newspapers, and we have to pull that cardboard out as we empty them — it takes us a long time to sort. Some bigger companies could just grind all the material together and go on, but we can't do that."

An increase in online shopping could account for an increase in cardboard boxes, Abbott and Toebben said. Also, while the bins originally were meant only for city residents, county residents and businesses have been using them more regularly, they said, leading to the receptacles filling faster.

"They just got busier and busier, and they just got fuller, which is a good thing. But for a company our size, trying to do that and other stuff, it was just too much," Toebben said. "We try to recycle as much as we can for people, but it's a little overwhelming sometimes. Sometimes things happen where we just can't do it all."

Commercial businesses should use other outlets to recycle cardboard, Toebben said, adding New World Recycling offers that service apart from the city bins. Republic Services also offers a commercial cardboard recycling program, Abbott said.

Even though the company had problems with the city bins, it offered to keep renewing the contract because "no one else wanted to do it and we didn't want it (where nothing else happens with it)," Toebben said.

Code enforcement officials regularly cleaned up illegal dumping or moved cardboard from full bins to other receptacles, Helmick said.

"We do that quite a bit out on the City Hall parking lot because if it's not addressed, then it blows on other people's properties and you have problems with animals ripping up stuff and people throw trash out," Helmick said.

When the containers were too full or if illegal dumping became contaminated by weather, code enforcement officials had to throw the cardboard in the dumpster, which "isn't the point of the program," Abbott said.

City staff does not know how long the bins will be unavailable. They are considering modifying the bins so they take only cardboard and contacting Cole County staff about offering a cardboard-recycling program to county residents.

Until the city determines its next steps, Abbott said, the members of public will have to use other cardboard-recycling facilities like New World Recycling at 2007 Idlewood Road, Republic Services at 5645 Moreau River Access Road and Federal International at 2730 W. Main St. City residents also can use the city's single-stream recycling through Republic Services.