Sherry Sloan, the Recycling Coordinator for Metro Public Works, was kind enough to visit our neighborhood association meeting Thursday evening to talk about the program and to answer our questions. The program has run into some problems in our neighborhood since the big carts were dropped off last fall.
When I say "dropped," I do not mean it as a euphemism. They were unceremoniously dropped off a truck haphazardly in the alley a few weeks before Christmas. No instructions came with them. No educational materials were left for residents. The carts were pre-used, dirty, and mine even came with unrecyclable trash in the bottom.
No educational materials: that means that we had neighbors who had no idea that the new carts were recycling bins, let alone what was recyclable and what was not. So quite logically, people started throwing all of their garbage in them. Some did not use them at all.
Then things went from bad to worse. Just before Christmas I witnessed a Curby employee empty a neighbor's bin, not onto the truck, but into the alley. As he sorted he threw bags of items on the ground, and he dropped individual beer bottles in the alley, which would never be picked up by waste management when the trash truck came around.
When I called the Metro customer service line a few days later to complain, I was told that neighbors should look under the cart lid to find a sticker with instructions. With somewhat bitter irony, I asked her where we were supposed to get the original instructions to find the instructions sticker. I sent an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org detailing my complaints. I got a quick response from Metro customer service saying that a Public Works supervisor would be distributing educational packets to our neighborhood soon. Six months have gone by. I have no packet. No neighbor that I know of has received a packet. There's a chance I may not fully comprehend what they mean by "soon."
The day after my exchange with Customer Care, a recycling truck came down the alley and checked the bins, but didn't pick up any trash they threw down the week before. They lifted the lids (I assume to see if there was more trash to throw on the ground), but they simply drove past the bottles they threw down the week before. Waste management also drove by the grounded bottles as well as bags of trash thrown on the ground by Curby employees the week before, long since shredded open by stray dogs and birds.
Trash littered our alley for weeks, thanks to recycling efforts. If this was recycling, I wanted none of it. In the name of saving us from burgeoning landfills they were essentially turning our neighborhood into small-scale landfills.
A Metro employee who attended our first neighborhood association meetings in February got an earful of our complaints about the alley. She is the one who put us in contact with Sherry Sloan. Ms. Sloan called me at the end of February. She assured me that the current Recyling Supervisor would be giving the Curby employees a stern message about keeping alleys clean as they pick up the recycling. She said that the Supervisor had been hired in January, and that the previous Supervisor may have been the reason dumping unrecyclables in the alley was tolerated.
Back to the present: At this week's meeting, Ms. Sloan acknowledged to the group that there had been problems in the past, but that pick-up employees were educated on proper procedures. She told us that she believes that things have vastly improved for us since late February. Things have gotten better than they were, but I do not know that they are "vastly improved," and I do know that they are not good enough. Ms. Sloan's talk was educational and helpful for those who attended the meeting, but what about the majority of Salemtown residents who have still not received any educational materials on recycling?
Granted we no longer seem to have a problem with Curby employees dumping unrecyclables in the alleys, but we have a new set of problems. Those infamous stickers under the lids are one such problem. If my cart had a sticker, it's gone now. When I mentioned that to Ms. Sloan at the meeting, she said that she had wondered about the quality of the adhesive on those stickers.
Another problem that I did not have a chance to raise with her this week was that recyclable items linger in my cart. While I do not actively participate in the recycling program as a means of protest, someone strolling through the alley threw a couple of plastic bottles in my cart a few weeks ago; plastic bottles, which the Recycling Program claims that it has been picking up since April. Nearly every day that Curby has come by, I have witnessed a guy jump off the truck, open the bin and close it without picking up the plastic bottles.
Granted, the plastic bottles rest alongside an empty glass beer bottle (unrecyclable) and a Styrofoam container in a plastic bag (unrecyclable), but at least one of those items was already in the cart when it was dropped off back before Christmas. The beer bottle appeared sometime early in the spring. Maybe if I offer to clean out the beer bottle, then they'll offer to clean out the container-in-the-bag, but it's just easier for me to continue to balk at recycling. I would just prefer that somebody else haul my trash, recyclables and all, to a distant landfill and get it out of our neighborhood. As for the items in the recycling bin: out-of-sight, out-of-mind until I absolutely have to bag them up and throw them in the trash bin.
The environmentalist in me would love to support a recycling program that works. This Recycling Program has a long way to go to show that it works. And with the lack of educational materials for six months, they're lucky I even know what they're up to in the alley.