Tippecanoe County, which has paid West Lafayette to manage the site since 2000, is looking for a new location, as city street department needs more storage space
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The note, posted last week by West Lafayette City Council President Peter Bunder along with a Facebook segment encouraging reduced consumption of plastic materials, was a little ominous.
“There will be changes in the new year,” Bunder wrote. “First, look for the River Road drop-off site to close.”
Turns out, that’s true.
The 24-hour recycling drop off center West Lafayette has maintained at 705 South River Road since the ‘80s – one that averages more than 500 visits a day, or roughly 20 vehicles an hour, all week long, according to the city’s street commissioner – will be no more by spring, if those in on the decision can work out details by then.
Also turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
“It’s not just going to disappear,” West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said. “But we need to make some changes.”
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Advertised as West Lafayette’s drop-off center – a free spot to take cardboard, glass, paper, plastics, motor oil and more – the center actually is contracted by Tippecanoe County, a flagship site for residents who don’t get the sort of curbside recycling pickup that those with Lafayette and West Lafayette trash service get.
Since 2000, Tippecanoe County has paid $41,500 a year for West Lafayette to house and run the site. As part of the deal, West Lafayette also reaped whatever the market would bear during those years for recycled glass, paper, plastic and the rest.
The market doesn’t pay quite what it used to. And West Lafayette – with nine garbage trucks and 11 snowplows today, compared to four garbage trucks and three snowplows 20 years ago; not to mention an inventory of leaf machines, skid loaders and more – is looking to put more of its fleet under roof.
“We understand what West Lafayette is up against,” said Tracy Brown, a Tippecanoe County commissioner. “And we’re working on a plan. … People feel very, very strongly about recycling. But I think we’re coming to a point where this community is going to need some serious trash talk, and not just about this drop-off site.”
Brown said the county also has drop-off sites in Stockwell in the southern part of the county; Southwestern Middle School on County Road 800 South; and East Tipp Baptist Church on County Road 300 North. The county also has rollaway bins at the trash transfer station on North Ninth Street Road.
Brown said commissioners are leaning toward moving the West Lafayette drop-off center to the North Ninth Street Road trash transfer site.
What will be lost, Brown said, will be the sense of oversight that helped keep people from dropping construction materials, old refrigerators and common household trash. Brown said commissioners have had conversations about cameras and other security measures to keep everyone honest.
“But our sheriff’s office is already busy,” Brown said. “We don’t want to turn them into the recycling police.”
He also talked about sheer volume in an Amazon-delivered age, overflowing county recycling dumpsters that get hauled off Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“A place like East Tipp (Baptist) has been very gracious to have us there,” Brown said. “But we may have worn out our welcome.”
The county has paid West Lafayette through the end of 2018 to manage the drop-off center. Brown said a drop-off center at the trash transfer station on North Ninth Street Road would be open during business hours, instead of around the clock, 365 days a year.
Brown said he hoped county commissioners could have that lined up in the first three months of 2019. Other details, including West Lafayette’s cost to run the site, still need to be worked out, Brown said.
Dennis said that “there’s no way” West Lafayette would close the drop-off site in the meantime.
“We’re going to be picking up stuff dumped at our place for the next year, I’m guessing, because people are so used to going there,” Dennis said. “That’s just how those things work. … So, is it going to close? It’s a ‘yes,’ it’s going to happen. But it’s a ‘yes,’ and we’re just not sure when it gets done.”
Dennis said the change comes at a time when the cities and county are looking at what it costs to manage a recycling program. Statistics from the drop-off center show why.
At the drop-off center’s peak, during a three-year period starting in 2006, West Lafayette made between $98,737 and $111,991 from sales of plastic, paper, cardboard and glass. In a three-year period starting in 2015, revenues ranged from $15,597 to $25,559.
Those figures reflect more than 70 percent more recyclables collected at the drop-off site between 2006 and 2008, compared with 2015 and 2017. But the revenue per ton dropped from as much as $52 per ton in 2006 to as little as $10.81 per ton in 2016.
In 2018, the drop-off center had made $16.35 per ton, for a total of $18,497 through November, according to West Lafayette figures. (It also had saved $47,583 in fees by not dumping the 1,131 tons of recyclables in the landfill.)
Ben Anderson, West Lafayette street commissioner, chalks that up to markets drying up for plastic and glass.
“It’s getting tighter out there,” Anderson said.
“We need a new strategy on recycling,” Dennis said. “We know people recycle and people want to keep recycling. But recycling has lost its attraction on the markets. … Do you do what’s right for the environment or do you do what’s right by your bottom line. We’re always going to fall on the side of doing what’s right on the social side. But we have some thinking to do here.”
On Friday, Beth Sanders, who lives near West Point, was offloading bins of glass and bundles of cardboard at the South River Road site. She said she stops by “whenever I need to,” a couple of times a week.
“Wherever it goes,” Sanders said, “I’ll go, too.”
Anderson said the biggest rush of the year will be Christmas Day and the next day.
“It’s crazy how it piles up,” Anderson said. “You know people are using it. … We’ll be here.”
How longer, though, will be determined in the next few months.
Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.
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