Subscription curbside recycling to begin in May

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 16, 2011

 Laura and Paul Wong toss cans into the giant bins at Sterling Heights’ recycling center on 15 Mile, west of Schoenherr. The city plans to add a subscription-based curbside recycling service by May 2012.

Laura and Paul Wong toss cans into the giant bins at Sterling Heights’ recycling center on 15 Mile, west of Schoenherr. The city plans to add a subscription-based curbside recycling service by May 2012.

Photo by David Schreiber


STERLING HEIGHTS — If all goes as planned, Sterling Heights will soon offer a program aimed at quelling the clamor for curbside recycling.

City Manager Mark Vanderpool said plans are moving forward on contracting an outside vendor for a subscription-based curbside recycling program that will supplement, not replace, the city’s existing drop-off recycling centers.

Curbside recycling requests are among the most frequent subjects of feedback fielded by city administrators, he said, but “the challenge for us was, how do we do this without impacting general fund expenditures?”

Department of Public Works Director Sal Conigliaro outlined the potential solution at a budget workshop in April: a service that residents could opt into for a fee, paid directly to whichever vendor the city tapped to handle the task.

Details were nebulous at the time, but Vanderpool said it’s now getting closer to becoming a reality.

According to a tentative timeline provided by the city, administrators anticipate completing the specifications for the program by the end of August and going out for bids in September. Bids would be received in October, and City Council would review applicants and award a contract in November.

A promotional campaign and resident sign-up would extend from December until February 2012; in March and April, recycling carts would be ordered and delivered to participating households. The actual retrieval would begin in May.

Administrators have assumptions about the program that could change based on the outcome of the request for proposals process. The service would entail single-stream recycling, meaning residents would not need to sort materials or maintain multiple bins. Pickups would be every other week. Participants would be able to sign up online or via phone and would need to commit to a multi-year contract.

There will be a minimum number of residents required to ensure the program is a go, but that threshold won’t be known until the RFP process is complete, said Vanderpool. The cost per household also is a question mark, though it will likely be less than $80 a year, he added.

There’s one feature that’s non-negotiable: Vanderpool said bidders must agree to provide a Web-based rewards program that allows residents to earn perks redeemable at local restaurants and retailers.

“That’s very common in some of these programs now,” he said. “It’s win-win, because the participating businesses get increased business, presumably, and residents then get discounted purchases and reduce their curbside recycling cost.”

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said the recycling rewards program in his community, run through Recyclebank, has been “remarkable.”

“We were the first community in the Midwest to have an online rewards program,” he said. “We were the first people between New Jersey and New Mexico to do this.”

Historically, Rochester Hills households were responsible for contracting their own waste pickup. The city signed on with Recyclebank in conjunction with its shift to a single hauler, Allied Waste, in April 2009.

A microchip on the recycling bins that’s scanned as it’s emptied into Allied’s trucks tallies how much, in terms of weight, an individual household has recycled, Barnett explained. Rewards points are then distributed on a route-by-route basis, based on the amount of recycling performed among homes there.

While the single-hauler issue was “intense and divisive” prior to adoption, Barnett said residents now seem pleased with how it’s working out, especially the recycling aspect.

“The program has been really revolutionary in our community,” he said. “It’s increased recycling tremendously. Before, we had about 15 percent of our population that would recycle. Now we have … between 85 to 90 percent on a weekly basis.”

Local businesses also have benefited, as Recyclebank allows residents to earn points toward coupons redeemable at participating establishments in the area, as well as national retailers, at no additional cost to the companies, said Barnett.

There’s one major difference in the methodology: In Rochester Hills, residents pay a flat fee — about $45 quarterly — directly to Allied Waste for refuse retrieval, which automatically includes the curbside recycling, said Barnett.

In Sterling, residents’ waste pick-up is rolled into their property taxes, and the voluntary curbside program would be a separate charge. Finance and Budget Director Brian Baker said residents pay just under 1 mill for refuse collection, equating to about $66 per year for the average resident.

“We continue to receive requests for curbside recycling, and I think this is a good compromise to address this demand while not imposing a tax on the entire community for a service that not all the residents are interested in participating,” said Conigliaro. “Of course, the cost will be a big factor in ultimately determining how many residents sign up. But based on our projections, we feel confident the costs will be competitive enough to garner support to implement the program.”

Even if Sterling’s subscription service takes off, Vanderpool said the city has no intention of discontinuing its three recycling centers, which allow residents to deposit their own sorted recyclable materials at sites on 18 Mile, Clinton River Road and 15 Mile — at least not anytime soon. According to Baker, the recycling centers cost approximately $88,000 annually to operate.

It would be an interesting quandary, said Vanderpool, “if demand for curbside recycling eventually decreases the demand for the three drop-off recycling centers, but initially, the first couple of years, we don’t see that happening.”

And even if it did, “ultimately, we would still have some form of drop-off recycling for residents who want that option,” he added.

For more information on the program, or to provide feedback to the city, call Community Relations at (586) 446-2489.