As part of a new recycling initiative in the city, Champaign plans to close down its popular Hagan Street recycling drop-off center on December 1st, leaving many county residents without means to recycle. According to Elizabeth Hannan, Administrative Services Manager at the City’s Public Works Department, the closure would save the city $150,000 a year. And since upcoming recycling ordinances will be mandating that multi-unit dwellings receive curbside services (and since there is already an ordinance on the books in Champaign mandating curbside service to all single-family homes), the city feels the drop-off center will not be needed. In addition, Hannan tells me, this center is providing a service for people outside the city, people who don’t pay city taxes.
In order to find out if this is indeed the case, and to find out more about how the closure would affect recycling efforts county-wide, I grabbed some bottled water, a pad of paper and pencil, and drove the few short blocks up to the center to spend some quality time next to the dumpsters.
What I found was surprising. First off, the place was hopping. During the weekday evening hour I was there, people of all stripes arrived in a steady stream from every direction, driving everything from late model SUV’s to absolute clunkers. Everyone, even the most recalcitrant and suspicious, became animated and talkative when I explained I was doing a story on why people used the center and how they felt about its possible closure. They wanted to talk garbage. Many folks actually rolled down their car windows to tell me more as they were leaving. They wanted to vent.
At 6:22 p.m., a woman from rural Urbana arrives and explains that recycling isn’t provided in her area.
At 6:24, Tiffany McNeely from Champaign tells me that she uses the center because she doesn’t trust her hauling company’s recycling effort.
At 6:26, Cheryl Weyhrich from Mahomet is earnest in her right to use the city’s center. “We support the City of Champaign by shopping here all the time.” To her, it is a small service in comparison.
At 6:30, Larry Holt from Rantoul arrives in his 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. “We used to have recycling in Rantoul until they took it away a couple of years ago…I guess people were dumping trash there.” What if the center closes, I ask. Larry shrugs and says, “Well, I guess it will end up in a landfill.”
At 6:34, a retired News-Gazette sports writer from Champaign arrives with stacks of newspapers. “I used to donate these to the Humane Society, but they require special ways of folding the paper and it takes too long.”
At 6:37 a young college kid from Champaign brings cans and boxes because “Kleen-Way doesn’t pick those up.”
At 6:52, a Champaign resident explains, “It is just easier to do this ourselves.”
At 6:54, a Mahomet man tells me that his hauler in Mahomet charges extra for recycling.
At 6:58, a rural Urbana man tells me that soon there will be a new drop-off site in Urbana. He also tells me that back on the east coast, in New Jersey, “everyone recycles. The entire state.” When told that the city may close the site, he wonders if the County will pick up the tab. When I tell him that I just got off the phone with C. Pius Weibel, chair of the County Board, and there’s no money, he says, “Oh, Bull! I know better.”
At 7 p.m., a college student from Bloomington-Normal drops by and tells me the City of Normal doesn’t pick up his recycling.
At 7:05, Erica Haack of Champaign stops and tells me that Kleen-Way requires too much special prep of recyclables. When told that the city plans to close the center she says, “Well then, people will just throw stuff away then. That’s no good!”
At 7:11, Karen Olson arrives in a car sporting a Tea Party logo. She believes that more accountability is needed to ensure recyclables are actually getting recycled. “If government is subsidizing recycling, then there should be a governmental means to hold the hauler accountable.” I nod to the Tea Party logo. She sees the irony and smiles. She also shares with me “word on the street” about which haulers are actually recycling. I thank her for the information.
At 7:19, a man from Gibson City tells me that his municipality only picks up on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays, so in-between, he brings recycling here. Like the woman from Mahomet, he also believes that since he buys here “and pays outrageous sales taxes” he should be welcome to use the center. He believes that if you want people to recycle, you have to make it available and convenient. This just isn’t the case in Gibson City, he laments.
At 7:22, a senior citizen who lives “ten miles out” where there are no recycling services comes to the center. She tells me she just started recycling recently, but is adamant about continuing. She would even pay a small fee to use the center, she says.
At 7:26, a woman from Mahomet uses the center to bypass the recycling limitations of her hometown hauler. She hopes everything will be recycled properly. “If I take the time to recycle, all this effort, then I sure hope that there is someone making sure haulers are actually, in fact, recycling!”
At 7:28, a man from Champaign unloads his recycling because he’s “not sure my hauler will take it.”
At 7:29, a couple arrives from Champaign and doesn’t want to talk. At first. Finally, they ask me if indeed it is true that the center will be closed down. I tell them yes, I think so. The husband then offers up this wisdom: Well now, perhaps the money saved by downsizing the county board can be used to subsidize this center. “Interesting idea,” I say.
All in all, in the hour plus I was there, there were: 17 (actually more, but those were the people I was able to talk to) total people using the center. 7 were from the City of Champaign. 2 were from rural Urbana. 7 were from Champaign County and 1 was from outside the county. Many came because they had no service where they lived. Others came because their services were limited. Some came out of habit or lack of trust. But the fact remains that when the center closes, many of these people’s recyclables will end up in the landfill.
Is there anything we can do about it? City Councilwoman Deb Feinen suggests that county government take a look at using money earned on hauler licensing fees to open their own drop-off center for county residents who don’t live in a municipality that recycles. “Aren’t these fees supposed to be dedicated to solid waste issues?” she asks. C. Pius Weibel of the county board maintains there is no available money, and he’s not sure people would want to pay for the service. But things are changing, he says, perhaps the board can look at what other counties and municipalities are doing, and go from there.