Curbside recycling to proceed under amended plan

Service now set to start in March 2013

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 16, 2012

Despite falling short of a previously declared threshold for subscribers, the city and Waste Management intend to move forward with a long-pending curbside recycling program — with a few changes and a slightly delayed timeline.

Under a revised agreement approved by city council Nov. 7, Waste Management will launch Recycle Sterling Heights on March 1, 2013, with pickups scheduled for every other Friday.

Originally, the program was slated to begin this September and would have entailed retrievals on residents’ normal refuse pickup days. That timeline and format, however, were based on an assumption that Waste Management could amass 5,000 subscribers by July 1.

As of that deadline, there were only about 2,000 people enrolled; as of early November, the city was reporting about 4,300 residents on board.

“It’s taken us longer to get the signups to where they are than we had anticipated going into this,” Patrick Greve, Waste Management’s public sector solutions representative, told council. “It’s going to take us a little bit longer to get the service out on the street than probably us or anybody else would like, but my message again is: We’re committed to doing this. We want to see curbside recycling in the city of Sterling Heights.”

When council originally approved the program last March, Greve warned that the company might have to abandon plans to align recycling and regular refuse collection days, if the 5,000-subscriber mark wasn’t reached.

With that situation becoming a reality, unbundling the refuse and recycling collection days was the approach the city and company agreed to take with the Nov. 7 amendment.

“Having one established collection day rather than four different days is more cost effective and necessary for Waste Management to proceed with this service successfully,” Department of Public Works Director Sal Conigliaro told city officials. “City administration and DPW believe that the addendum does not materially impact the service being offered to the residents.”

According to the agreement, Waste Management will continue to reimburse the city $2,400 a year to cover the cost of placing promotional inserts in city water bills, in an effort to drum up more participation.

The terms also call for annual review of the status and allow Waste Management to discontinue the service with 90 days’ notice, if it’s “no longer in the best interest” for the company, due to failure to surpass 5,000 subscribers or migration from the program that brings it significantly below that number.

With the exception of the pickup dates and implementation schedule, all other details of the program remain the same, said Greve.

For subscribers paying on an annual basis, the cost is $59.40 per year, or $4.95 per month, plus a $5 one-time account setup fee. Quarterly billing also is available but incurs fluctuating administration and fuel surcharges, said Greve. All participants must commit to a one-year minimum service term.

All accepted recyclables — including cardboard, paper bags, phonebooks, junk mail, magazines, newspapers, clear glass, grocery bags, metal pots and pans, cans and plastic containers — can be commingled in the 96-gallon wheeled cart supplied to those enrolled.

Recycle Sterling Heights participants also can earn points redeemable for discounts at local and national retailers and restaurants through an affiliated program, Recyclebank. Points are allocated based on the volume of recyclables generated by the community overall, and Waste Management has previously indicated that the average member earns more than $150 annually in perks.

Even though they haven’t reached goal participation levels, Greve said he’s confident that support will swell once residents see the program in action.

“We’ve been optimistic since the start of this thing,” he said. “Signups came on a little slower than we thought, but still, over 4,000 people have signed up. … We think that’s a pretty darn good start.”

Greve said the four-month delay between the revised agreement’s adoption and actual implementation is to accommodate lead time needed for a vendor to manufacture the carts and to give residents sufficient opportunity to activate their RecycleBank accounts.

Also, past experience has indicated that it’s unwise to launch such programs around the holidays, when residents may be out of town and the delivered carts may linger unattended outside their homes, he said.

“We really want to get past that, to make sure this thing is done in the most efficient way possible,” he said.

According to city officials, residents already enrolled will receive official notice detailing startup instructions and time estimates on when they’ll receive their carts.

A few residents speaking at the Nov. 7 meeting questioned the reasoning behind using the hulking 96-gallon carts and argued that the program plans should be scuttled, pointing to the city’s inability to round up 5,000 subscribers as evidence that sufficient demand for the service just isn’t there.

But some council members disagreed, countering that the beauty of the program is that anyone who wants to participate can, and those who don’t aren’t forced to help pay for it.

The city intends to maintain its three drop-off recycling centers as an alternative.

Residents can sign up for the program by visiting or calling (866) 797-9018.