Mayor's office introduces plan to increase recycling in Indianapolis

Covanta would build a material recovery center on the site of their south side incinerator.
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The mayor's office says it has a plan to dramatically increase the recycling rate in Indianapolis.

They say you won't have to separate recyclables from trash and it won't cost taxpayers a dime. Several recycling advocates, though, are far from sold on the idea. They want the mayor's office to hold off on a deal until it's fully vetted.

Carrie Hamilton, who heads the Indiana Recycling Coalition said, "I understand how attractive it sounds on the surface, but the Covanta deal probably wouldn't achieve very much."

The plan calls for Covanta, which runs an incinerator on the city's south side, to build a $40 million material recovery center there as well, allowing it to handle all the city's trash and recyclables.

Mayoral spokesman Marc Lotter said, "It's going to be one of the most advanced facilities in the country." He said it uses new technology to separate "80-90 percent" of almost all recyclables "except glass and organics."

Lotter said that 10 percent of homeowners recycle now by paying $6 a month for curbside pick-up or going to a drop-off site.

"This captures the (other) 90 percent at no additional effort or cost," he said.

But Hamilton feels there are better alternatives.

"They're proposing to recover 23.5 percent of the waste stream. The state's new recycling goal is 50 percent," she said. "As a city striving to be truly sustainable, we can do better."

Hamilton wants the mayor's office to hold off on finalizing the new 10-year contract with Covanta.

She said taking curbside recycling countywide remains the "gold standard." While cost has been a big obstacle to making that happen, she said new state grants and a program through Walmart could be used to cover the costs.

Hamilton worries that the amount of waste recycled could drop under the Covanta plan because of what's known as "dirty recycling" or mixing trash with recyclables.

When you do that, she said, "the recyclables are so highly contaminated with waste, you can't get very much good, quality materials out of it."

She used the example of cardboard mixed with food or diapers.

Lotter said after years of studying their options, the Covanta deal is the best one.

"We're not putting any money into this," he said. "It's Covanta taking the entire risk that they can pull materials out...pull out enough...that they can sell it and make the investment back on their new facility."

Covanta currently makes money selling the energy produced through incineration to Citizens Energy.

While Lotter said the curbside and drop-off recycling programs will continue, Hamilton thinks many people committed to recycling will think it's okay or just as effective to throw everything together.

"The prediction is some people paying today will no longer pay, so you'll lose that high volume of materials from households and ultimately, in the long-term, opportunities will be lost because we're not collecting enough at a quality that can be recycled," she said.

Lotter said the city hopes to finalize the deal with Covanta next week. It still needs the Public Works board to sign off, but no action from the City-County Council is required.