Omaha Recycling Advocates Frustrated With Drop-Off Sites

Crushed plastic bottles sit in a bale following sorting at the Mid-America Recycling plant, in Lincoln, Nov. 15, 2016. Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Keurig Dr. Pepper are investing $100 million to improve U.S. bottle recycling and processing. (Francis Gardler/Lincoln Journal-Star via AP)
Reece Ristau
Omaha World-Herald

It’s a frustrating time for a self-described “tree-hugging” recycling advocate like David Holtzclaw.

The Omaha chemical engineer said his Dundee neighborhood family of five usually sets out at least three full recycling bins each week. But ever since the City of Omaha scaled back recycling collection to every other week because of pandemic disruptions, Holtzclaw, 50, has been taking some recyclables to the city’s drop-off sites.

Holtzclaw told the Omaha World-Herald he has encountered overflowing recycling containers surrounded by mattresses, broken toilets and a mishmash of trash, cardboard boxes and other recyclable material.

“This has been a problem for months, and it’s really been accelerated with the switch to (collection every other week),” Holtzclaw said.

City officials acknowledge that the drop-off sites are seeing more action because of reduced collection, and they’ve taken steps to increase how often the large containers are emptied. But people have been illegally dumping items at the sites for years, said Jim Theiler, assistant director of environmental services for the city’s Public Works Department.

“We need cooperation from the public,” Theiler said.

The city has five full-service drop-off sites that are maintained by Firstar Fiber, the contractor that processes materials collected in the city’s curbside recycling program.

Theiler said two of them – one in a parking lot in Elkhorn, the other in a parking lot near 75th and Corby Streets – have had the most problems.

The city added more containers at both locations, but the Corby Street site continues to have problems, Theiler said. The Omaha Police Department has begun to monitor the sites.

Officer Joe Nickerson, a police public information officer, said some of the things being discarded are large items like mattresses and furniture. He said part of the problem may be a language barrier, so the city is planning to install signs in languages other than English letting people know what kinds of items can be discarded.

But officers also have encountered people who blatantly use the locations as a dump, Nickerson said. In at least one location, the city installed a security camera. A few citations have recently been issued, he said.

Someone who illegally dumps items – including leaving them on the ground next to a container – could receive a $500 fine and have his or her driver’s license suspended for six months.

Holtzclaw said he thinks it’s a waste of police officers’ time to enforce recycling rules. The city should be pushing Firstar to empty the containers more frequently, he said.

Typically, the drop-off sites are fullest on Mondays because people use the weekend to haul their recyclables, Theiler said. The city has authorized Firstar to work on Saturdays to increase how often the company empties the containers.

Under the current contract, Firstar contracts other haulers to empty the containers.

“They’re kind of at the mercy of if the haulers can get the truck there when the bins are full,” Theiler said.

Theiler encouraged people to flatten their cardboard boxes before discarding them in recycling containers. He asked people to try another drop-off site, wait a few days or hold onto their recyclables if their preferred site is full.

When FCC Environmental Services takes over solid waste collection in Omaha in November, it also will take on the $312,400-a-year drop-off sites collection contract. It will have its own dedicated trucks that will collect from the drop-off sites.

“That’s going to help,” Theiler said.

This story first appeared in the Omaha World-Herald. It was distributed as a member exchange story by The Associated Press.


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