Our View: Recycling program suspension leaves many questions unanswered

Published 2:00 pm Saturday, May 18, 2019

Winchester and Clark County are in the midst of a sort-of recycling disaster, leaving many questions unanswered, and we are not alone.

After Lexington announced its decision to no longer recycle paper products Tuesday, Winchester Municipal Utilities announced Wednesday it has suspended its recycling program, effective immediately.

This decision comes after more than a year of monitoring the program, rerouting garbage collection to keep the program sustainable and frequent conversations about the viability of the program.

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The Sun reported on this impact last year during which former General Manager Mike Flynn told The Sun many cities across the country had suspended recycling operations altogether after China upped its standards for the cleanliness of recycling materials it would buy, upending the market for recycled products.

In January, WMU announced changes to its recycling program, moving all solid waste, recycling, yard waste-seasonal and large bulky item pickup to the same day for WMU customers.

WMU officials offered the new plan to reorganize its garbage and recycling operations in an effort to keep the recycling program.

The costs of providing the service had continually increased throughout the year because the market for recyclables is down across the U.S. as China is buying less and less.

The new plan allowed WMU to absorb the costs of the recycling program by realigning its collection schedule and becoming more efficient. The program was once again breaking even and at times even generating revenue for the company.

That was until Lexington, which is where recyclables from Winchester are processed, announced the changes earlier this week.

Along with Winchester, about a dozen Central Kentucky counties have been forced to put their recycling programs on hold.  Those include: Anderson County, Berea, Boyle County, Danville, Frankfort, Franklin County, Georgetown, Harrison County, Harrodsburg, Jessamine County, Lawrenceburg, Madison County, Midway, Montgomery County, Mount Sterling, Nicholasville, Paris, Scott County, Shelby County, Shelbyville, Simpsonville, Versailles, Winchester and Woodford County, according to a report from our news partner Kentucky Today.

The good news is customers who are environmentally conscious and want to recycle can take their materials to WMU’s voluntary recycling center, 175 N. Maple St., open. The recycling center is open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week; it is only accessible from the WMU Maple Street entrance. Plastic screw top bottles and jugs, glass bottles and jars, aluminum and steel cans and dry cardboard will still be recycled from this lot.

However, the local call to suspend recycling pickup leaves a lot of questions and concerns for residents and WMU customers.

We feel this is certainly a step backward for our community that has worked to implement the recycling program over the last several years.

We understand, of course, that WMU was stuck between that metaphorical rock and hard place.

However, the decisions were made with haste and left customer with a lot of unanswered questions. Many that even WMU employees weren’t able to sufficiently answer.

What should customers do with previously collected recyclables in their blue cubits?

Can customers expect more adjustments to garbage pickup now that funding for the recycling program is not longer a concern?

Is WMU working on a way to re-implement the program, considering other materials, like plastics and glass are still be collected by Lexington’s recycling facility as of right now?

With the recycling program gone, will customers see any changes to their bills since they are no longer receiving that service and since the number of pick up days have been reduced?

These are all questions we’ve heard from our readers and are among the issues we will continue to investigate as the response to the issue evolves.

However, WMU owes its customers a quick and definitive solution to this problem, whatever it may be.

In the meantime, providing more information and clarity as possible for customers and residents will be key.