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Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 6:00pm

Macon Listening Post: When Will Recycling Pick Up?

If you’re new to Macon-Bibb and you want to put your glass and aluminum at the curb like you did in Augusta or Columbus, you may be disappointed.

Macon is the last community of its size in Georgia to still not offer curbside, single stream recycling. Just why recycling in Macon-Bibb is so far behind services in other Georgia communities is a question that gets asked a lot here.

Macon doctor Kimathi Blackwood is among those who asked the Listening Post for more widespread recycling in Macon-Bibb.

Blackwood says he’s a conservationist by nature. He moved to Macon about four years from Atlanta, but it was growing up in the Bay Area of California that informed his views on recycling.

“It was almost ingrained in the culture,” Blackwood said. “Growing up in school, many of the assemblies were about conservation, recycling, things of that nature. It was just more part of the culture.”

While Macon’s core has an experimental recycling zone of two thousand households, Blackwood lives outside of it - in southern Bibb County.

“I'm the point guy for my church to recycle and all that kind of stuff. So I take it all to a store that recycles,” he said. “And I take my paper products to the local fire station that recycles paper and cardboard.”

So recycling here can be a lot of work. Without a shift in culture, Blackwood says most people won’t go out of their way to do it.

“Very few people would probably do this out of the goodness of their hearts,” he said.

The county may have to appeal to something other than our better natures. Kimathi Blackwood thinks nothing short of a government mandate is what it would take. Mandatory recycling would predictably create controversy, but Blackwood thinks one thing could ease the pushback.

“If someone can make money off of it, it will happen,” he said.

Kevin Barkley runs the Macon-Bibb Solid Waste Division, and he agrees. He’s still pretty new to the job. He’s only been here for 14 months. But he has a good sense of the recycling problem.

“The recycling program here in Macon-Bibb County is at an early stage, put it that way,” Barkley said. “It's beginning of something bigger and better I hope.”

The Solid Waste Management Plan is what Barkley has put in front of the county commission and the mayor that lays out, among other things, the path to bigger and better recycling. A lot of that plan comes from the successes Barkley had where he last led a solid waste department.

“One of the things I did in Griffin Georgia is I developed the only mandatory residential curbside recycling program in the state of Georgia,” he said.

The City of Griffin agreed with Kimathi Blackwood about forcing the recycling issue. Griffin quickly got to 100 percent compliance. And that’s the plan for Macon-Bibb. It worked in Griffin for two reasons.

“Up there, if you did not recycle, we did not pick up your garbage,” Kevin Barkley said.

There were fines, too. But more importantly the city made recycling easy to do. Griffin built their own single stream recycling center so all residents had to do was put their stuff in one big bin. The materials---plastics, cardboard, aluminum---got sorted at the recycling center. After that, they started saving the city money.

“We diverted about forty thousand dollars a year from trucking costs to landfill fees and turned that into a revenue stream,” Kevin Barkley said.

Griffin paid to truck their trash to an outside landfill. Macon-Bibb will do the same when the landfill closes here in 2020. Every ton of trash Griffin kept out of a garbage truck was cash in pocket. The other revenue stream came from local and regional industries that wanted the recyclables to make things like carpets and pickup trucks. Barkley was happy to sell the stuff. That gave deparment revenues yet another bump.

Those markets are still around and as industries pursue zero landfill practices they are growing.
So it’s no surprise that job one in the new Solid Waste Management plan is building a recycling center for Macon-Bibb, but as of yet, no one knows how to pay for it.

“They're looking at ways we can finance these projects either through bonds or SPLOST,” Barkley said.

The county government will take up how to pay for the recycling center sometime in 2016 with an opening date for the center around 2018. Barkley said that could change.

“We do have a little bit of room. Like I said, 2020 is when the landfill closes, unless we pack it a little bit tighter,” he said.

So what will it take to expand household recycling in Macon-Bibb? Well, there’s a plan and a timeline. Now all the county needs is the money.

Read the Solid Waste Management Plan here.