Aldermen critique curbside recycling proposal

Starkville’s Board of Aldermen criticized a curbside recycling proposal for its incomplete budgeting statistics at last Tuesday’s meeting. 

Ward 5 Alderman Hamp Beatty and Mississippi State University’s Students for a Sustainable Campus members pushed the curbside recycling narrative in Starkville. 

In a November board meeting, the SSC team spoke to the aldermen about the club’s interest in helping Starkville reestablish curbside recycling. Alderman Beatty noted his support for the movement and said he would further discuss it at a future meeting. 

During the board’s Jan. 17 meeting, five SSC members returned to the citizens' podium with research data about recycling for the board to consider.

Emma Van Epps, SSC’s president, said the students surveyed around 300 Starkville residents. Of those polled, 92.6% stated they “are willing to pay $6 a month to reinstate curbside recycling services, and 86% were also willing to pay an additional fee for buying their own bin,” Van Epps said. 

In an interview with The Reflector, Van Epps explained SSC’s reason for spearheading the idea. 

“In 2020, that is when the (curbside recycling) program shut down,” Van Epps said, “and so now, we’ve reached the point where most things are in person, most things are open, so that gives us the greatest opportunity to reach as many people as we could.” 

Starkville native and MSU student Rebekah Carruth expanded Van Epps’ points.

“The Think Green Center is more difficult for residents with decreased mobility to haul their recycling to, which could be a concern for retirees,” Carruth said, “which is why curbside recycling is such an important thing to reinstate.”

After the SSC members and two non-student Starkville residents expressed their support for recycling, Alderman Beatty opened the board’s discussion.

“I’ve got a five-year-old grandson,” Beatty said. “… I want to do everything that’s possible, that’s socially responsible, to provide an opportunity for people in the City of Starkville to do recycling, every opportunity we can possibly give.” 

He compiled data from seven other Southeastern Conference college towns, stating that most of the compared towns have access to a local recycling facility, unlike Starkville. 

“We don’t have that luxury here,” Beatty said.

Columbus houses the nearest WastePro location, where Starkville hauls its recycled items. Accordingly, Starkville has an increased cost of transportation and labor for its recycling program, as opposed to the seven SEC towns Beatty listed. 

Oxford has the most similar population to Starkville. Both Mississippi college towns have around 25,000 residents. Beatty said he spoke to officials in Oxford who reported that 40% of the city’s 14,000 households participate in curbside recycling. 

Mississippi’s other SEC city discontinued curbside recycling in 2020 due to the pandemic, like Starkville, but Oxford reinstated it in 2022. According to its website, Oxford offers its current program at no cost to residents. However, the city charges participants $21 for a pair of bins when participants sign up. 

Beatty unveiled his proposal for the board to consider. In his curbside recycling plan, participants must opt-in to the $6-a-month program by contacting the sanitation department. The department will pick up cardboard, aluminum and tin cans, paper and plastics #1 and #2 twice a month. The city will issue two 18-gallon recycling buckets for materials excluding cardboard. Beatty said residents would flatten cardboard and stack it under the recycling buckets on the street or request an optional 64-gallon container to place it in. 

Ward 3 Alderman Jeffrey Rupp said he would sign up for the proposed initiative as a citizen but would not vote for it as an alderman until the board knew of the associated costs. 

Beatty stated that the board would have the total budgeting data after the program began. 

“We won’t know until we get in the recycling business and know how many customers we pick up,” Beatty said

In the proposal, Beatty said WastePro would divide each resident’s recycled materials into four larger containers at their Starkville location, charging the city $300 per pull of each full container. He estimated the town would fill each one about once a month. Sanitation and Environmental Services Director Christopher Smiley assisted Beatty with the numbers. 

He said WastePro container pick-up would cost around $1,200 per month, and servicing 250 participants would generate $1,500 per month to cover the waste management charges. 

Beatty clarified that the program would not be able to service thousands of households. 

“This program is not designed, and the way we’ve set it up with the $6 fee and the way we want to do it, to handle 1,000 customers,” the alderman said. 

Sanitation employees driving a pickup truck with an attached alley cat trailer would collect recycling from residences. 

Mayor Lynn Spruill said the city’s alley cat is old and asked if it could handle driving on the roads. Sanitation Director Smiley said the alley cat was not specifically designed for street patrol but could do the job.

“We would have to factor in wear-and-tear because we’d be using it more than we’re using it now,” Smiley said.

Along with the alley cat comes extra labor, transportation and gas expenses, Spruill said. 

“This is not a sustainable option,” Smiley said. “This is just a starter.” 

Alderman Beatty expressed his frustration about the board’s lack of support for his plan.

“What we’re trying to do is start a program, a bare bones program, because people want curbside recycling,” Beatty said. “… I would want my colleagues up here to try to work with me … I sense that we’re looking for every other way in the world not to do this.” 

Alderman Rupp said he was concerned about the city starting and stopping the program due to budget cuts. He said if the town were tight on money, the board would cut curbside recycling first because the costs would outweigh the revenue during the program’s beginning stages.

Budgeting Chair Sandra Sistrunk echoed Rupp, saying the board supports curbside recycling, but the fees associated with the program would outweigh the revenue of a $6-a-month program. She estimated the city would need to charge participants $15 or $20 per month to be monetarily responsible.  

“If it’s going to be an opt-in program, we want to price it right,” Sistrunk said.

The Ward 2 alderwoman recommended the board contract a waste management system to provide curbside recycling and decide on the price.

Aldermen Roy Perkins, Ward 6, and Henry Vaughn, Sr., Ward 7, agreed with Sistrunk and said they would not vote on Beatty’s proposal as it stands due to the unclear budgeting data. 

“It’s very obvious that we’re looking for a way not to do this,” Beatty said in response, “instead of looking for a way to get in here and roll our sleeves up and find a way to make this, make curbside recycling work. There’s a way to make it work.”

Beatty urged the public to “put pressure” on the board to reinstate curbside recycling.

“If Oxford, Mississippi, can recycle, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, can recycle, we can recycle,” Beatty said.

Van Epps said Students for a Sustainable Campus has a petition that Starkville residents can sign to support the movement.

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