By JOHN McBRYDE
In the nearly nine years since blue bag recycling was introduced to Franklin residents, the program has gone from being a champion in the city’s Sanitation and Environmental Services department to what could now be labeled as code blue.
Blue bag recycling simply isn’t ideal from a sustainability standpoint, according to Mart Hilty, Franklin’s assistant city administrator for Public Works. He and Jack Tucker, director of Sanitation and Environmental Services, explained why during Tuesday night’s Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session.
Bottom line: they want to end the blue bag program in December this year and replace it in January 2020 with a cart that residents would roll out to the curb in the same fashion as they currently do with the solid waste container. The recycling cart would be 64 gallons compared to the 96-gallon one used for solid waste. The method is known as automated curbside recycling.
“In terms of curbside recycling, there are a number of issues that we’re currently facing with the blue bag program,” said Hilty, whose presentation Tuesday was part of the department’s cost of service (COS) and operations evaluation.
“Locally, our processor in Marshall County has a very difficult time in managing the plastic bags. They gum up their equipment and cause a lot of downtime.”
He also mentioned the concern for employee safety. Over a five-year period, between 2013-17, there were 38 employee injury claims totaling $265,944.
“We ended up having a lot of our workers injured,” Hilty said. “Automated recycling has a likelihood of reducing that tremendously.”
Aldermen had a few questions, including one from Bev Burger, 1st Ward, who wanted to know about capacity of the cart that would replace blue bags.
“In my experience — in Nashville we did a pilot blue bag program before we went to carts — we actually got more volume in carts than bags,” Tucker responded. “You’ve got a lot of air space in bags that you won’t have by using a cart.”
One adjustment residents would have to make has to do with the handling of large cardboard pieces. The practice with the blue bag program is to lay large pieces of cardboard underneath or alongside the blue bags at the curb. For any excess cardboard that won’t fit in the cart, residents would need to take it to one of the recycling centers around the county.
“Our goal is to not have to pick up waste on the ground,” Tucker said. “Basically our code calls for that now, but we just haven’t done a good job of policing it over the years.”
Recycling in Franklin will likely remain on a voluntary basis, and those who choose to participate would need to pay an upfront cost of around $45 for the cart. Alderman-at-Large Brandy Blanton asked if there’s a way to help those who may not have the means to pay for the cart. While there’s not a specific method in place, City Administrator Eric Stuckey said something could likely be worked out.
“If you’re a regular blue bag person,” he said, “you’re going to pay for this in a little more than a year, depending on the volume you use. [After all], the blue bags are not free. It’s a pretty quick payback for most people, but we can certainly work with those who might need some help.”
Franklin’s blue bag program began in July 2010, and Tucker estimates participation by residents has climbed to as high as 80 percent.
“I expect an increase in the volume of recyclables [with the newly proposed method],” he said. “The easier and more convenient you make it for people to use it, the more participation you’ll have. And I think Franklin being Franklin, people will catch on to it pretty quickly.”
The proposal will still need to be approved by aldermen at an upcoming BOMA meeting.