Episode 5: Interview with Nashville Metro Public Works

Episode 5: Interview with Nashville Metro Public Works

Jenn Harrman, the Nashville Public Works Waste Reduction Program Manager, answers our questions about what’s recyclable in Nashville and where does it go?  Like many cities, Nashville has had to adapt to a changing markets for recyclables.  The rules for what plastics can be recycled have changed twice in the last year, causing some confusion.

How Recycling Works and Why It’s Not a Perfect System

Maris Masellis: Recycling can be confusing, and it shouldn’t be. To help clear things up. We’re talking to Jen Harmon from Nashville’s Metro Public Works Department to find out about recycling in our city. This is zero waste trash talk.

Maris Masellis: We are so elated to have you here with us, Jen. So welcome to zero waste trash talk. I’m Maris and that’s Michael Britt. Jennifer Harmon is with us today from Metro Public Works in Nashville. And you are the Waste Reduction Program Manager. If you like I did get Your bio about how you started with building restoration and some nonprofit work. Maybe just share a little bit about where you’re from how you got into the line of work that you’re in and any other fun facts you want to tell our listeners. Before we jump into our favorite topic.

Jenn Harrman: Sure. So my background was in interior design. And then with that I got really interested in historic preservation, really the idea of reusing buildings rather than sending them to landfill, and the adaptive reuse. The most sustainable building I feel like is the building that’s already there. So from there, I got my master’s in historic preservation and then did a lot of nonprofit work where I found that I really liked talking about it more than actually designing those buildings. So I worked for a number of nonprofits. I did a lot of tour programs, public education, community outreach. Being what I like to say the “token millennial”. But I ended up doing a lot of social media for those organizations and got into communications and marketing through that. Moved here to Nashville about six years ago and I took that communications background with me to Metro government. A fun fact, I was a Segway tour guide as well here in Nashville. So that’s how I got to learn the city and learn the history of Nashville or at least some of it. But yeah, I’ve been a public works for about six months. And I’m I’m really excited to be in a position that allows me to move sustainability forward and waste reduction. Of course, I’ve always advocated for reuse. So I’m still doing that. Just on a broader scale now.

Maris Masellis: Amazing

Michael Britt: And you have good balance.

Jenn Harrman: I do yes.

Maris Masellis: With the segways? I’ve never been on one of those things. Well, that is awesome. That’s our common denominator. Michael and I met at the MRF actually, at a recycling class. And we share the love of protecting our planet and restoring the planet and reusing the things that we already have. We’re definitely on board with that. So You’re doing great things. Recycle Right? We went to that webinar last week. And the main points that we were able to take away from that, we just wanted to go over a couple of those and just recap what we what we think are important. So no dairy tubs, no plastic clam shells, no plastic to go containers.

Jenn Harrman: That is absolutely correct. None of it, unfortunately.

Maris Masellis: And to build on that, anything that you really get from the restaurant to go, if it’s not a compostable product, you probably can’t recycle it.

Jenn Harrman: No, you really can’t. Unfortunately, number one, anything that you’re going to get from takeout is going to have food on it. It’s just so rare that it’s not going to have food, which of course contaminates your recycling. But then also, it’s usually just not a product, like you said, unless it’s compostable that can be recycled it, it just ends up in the trash

Recycling Mystery: Compostable Plastics | Earth 911

After finishing off your morning coffee, you stop by the trash and recycling bins to dispose of your plastic cup. That’s when you see the words “compostable plastic” printed on the side of the cup. Standing there, you can’t help but wonder, “Which bin do I drop this in?”

Maris Masellis: No styrofoam, it never has been recyclable, and it never will be recyclable.

Jenn Harrman: You see a lot of Styrofoam. There’s definitely some styrofoam. There’s usually I’ve seen, especially at our drop off sites, big styrofoam like coolers and all that kind of weird styrofoam products. Styrofoam, I will say it’s not recyclable and won’t be recyclable in our program but that doesn’t mean it’s not recyclable. There are companies that do recycle styrofoam, but you just have to make sure that you find the right location. And just like our program, make sure that whatever styrofoam product you’re trying to recycle is accepted by those drop off locations. So there’s some grocery stores that take it and there’s also a company out in Laverne that will take styrofoam packaging materials.

Maris Masellis: We went out there. And actually, we did the video. Mm hmm.

Styrofoam Recycling Nashville at EFP Corp

Zero Waste Trash Talk takes a field trip to see how recycling styrofoam works at one of the only facilities in the Nashville area. It’s cool that a material …

Michael Britt: And what struck us is that there’s one bin for the whole region to put your so that that’s statistically zero recycling happening,

Jenn Harrman: Unfortunately, yeah.

Michael Britt: And then the other thing we’ve learned, we start digging into that is how styrofoam, unlike other plastics that can break down in a hundred 200, 500,1000 years, no one’s ever been able to determine how long styrofoam will break down. So it’s, it’s considered maybe a forever thing. So yeah, it’s one of those things we want to avoid.

Jenn Harrman: Mm hmm.

Maris Masellis: And Michael moving on…

Michael Britt: Well, let’s see, the first thing that we always tell people and everybody acts shocked (about) and you covered it and we appreciate that, is that the recycling triangle doesn’t mean anything. It really just denotes approximately the kind of plastic resins and it doesn’t mean it’s recyclable.

Recycle Numbers On The Bottom Of Plastics

Ever wonder what those little recycle numbers on the bottom of food containers, cups, and plastics are? Here’s a guide to what they mean! Did you know that the use of plastics should be limited if at all possible, but some are safer than others?!

Jenn Harrman: Yeah, that’s correct. So that one through seven, it’s really just denoting, like you said which type of plastic it’s made from. But every plastic product is made differently. So even something that might be for example number one, PET plastic, so that’s where the clam shells come in a plastic bottle and a clam shell are both made from PVC plastic, but there’s different additives that have been added to that plastic clamshell container that just makes it chemically completely different. And so it’s got to be recycled, different process different. And it just makes everything really, really complicated. And so those numbers, they are all theoretically recyclable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean they definitely can be recycled where you live or in any program currently.

Michael Britt: Yeah. And we saw on The Story of Plastic, which we were talking about before we got started here today, that the people in Indonesia were sorting it by burning it and smelling it, and they had 83 different types of plastic laid out. That tells you that there’s a lot more than one through seven going on there.

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. Well, number seven is just other. So that captures who knows how many other different types of plastic.

Michael Britt: Yeah, I want a T shirt that says I’m a number seven.

Maris Masellis: Very nice.

Michael Britt: Pizza boxes, while we’re talking about food. One of the things we came across early on was pizza boxes being soiled with the grease from the food. Our first video that we (shot) was about composting and that you should compost it (pizza box) and not recycle it. One thing I wanted to ask about that, because a lot of people say, Oh, yeah, tear the part off, that’s not got the food grease on it and send that through. And my thought process was that the people who are sorting as fast as they can on the on the Material Recovery Facility line are going to instinctively toss out pizza boxes, is that correct?

Trash Talk Compost

Tips on how and where to compost in Nashville, TN

Jenn Harrman: I don’t know they’re instinctively going to toss out pizza boxes because that top is going to look just like cardboard. So they’re looking really mostly for the things that are going to cause a lot of damage. So you’re talking plastic bags, plastic foam, plastic bubble wrap, and big bags of recyclables so they’re kind of looking for that first, the cardboard They’re going to see that piece of cardboard, they’re going to let that go through. And the reality I think more with the pizza box is that that greasy part, if that’s left on, instead of the whole pizza box being taken out, that greasy pizza box might actually make it in, which then means that it could potentially transfer some of that grease to some of the other cardboard and contaminate that. But also just that piece isn’t isn’t going to be recyclable. So it just, you know, there are so many pieces of material that are coming through a murf a material Recovery Facility that they’ve got to focus on their top contaminants and that’s usually those plastic bags and plastic film.

Michael Britt: Basically, please don’t put soiled pizza boxes in the recycling bins.

Jenn Harrman: Oh yeah, please don’t. Compost it (instead).

Maris Masellis: Ok so easy enough, throw that pizza box into the compost.

Michael Britt: That’s right. So you talk about plastic bags. And you know a lot of people think that they are recyclable because they technically are fairly easy to recycle. They put them in the recycling bins and what happens is they get tangled and have to be pulled out and that costs, man hours and repair time. Is that correct?

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. The last time I was at the facility, they told me that they shut it down usually a couple of times a day just to cut those bags out. And they of course, have to shut everything down, make sure it’s safe, and then they’re cutting it out by hand. There’s no real way to do it any other way. So after that gets wrapped around, I mean, so that’s, that’s why it’s a huge problem. And we really ask people to take it to a drop off facility or even better yet, try not to get them at all.

Plastic Bag Problems

It’s 10:30 AM at the American Recycling Center and our operations are completely shutting down! For the next 20 minutes, we will be cutting away the plastic bags that get stuck in our machinery using nothing more than knives and handheld saws.

Michael Britt: To follow up with that a little bit, then one way to keep those out would be is if the convenience center offered a way for us to take them (there and put them into) a bin. How come the city doesn’t have a bin that says “put your plastic bags here”? In order to save the hassles and and to clarify and maybe make it less confusing?

Jenn Harrman: That’s a really that’s a great question. And that’s also a question that we get for styrofoam and some a lot of these other products that really need to be separated out. And it comes down to a lot of different factors, it comes down to cost of recycling, we do want to make sure that the cost of recycling stays economical so that we can continue to have that program, especially right now, any new programming is going to be be difficult to roll out, as well as we work with a contract to do our recycling. So the plastic bag recycling is done through through those big box stores or grocery stores. They have a whole separate system. So it would be a separate contract and our current contractor doesn’t manage or deal with those particular items. So there’s a lot of different barriers there. And with the Zero Waste Master Plan, of course, we are definitely looking at options for some of these other things and incorporating strategies that would make recycling more options for recycling but what happens to plastic bags were a little more towards the plastic bag ban which the state is looking at as well.

Maris Masellis: Well, that’s a good thing. I think piggybacking off what Michael said, because we see plastic bags in there all the time. And it’s so frustrating because it seems like a really simple idea. It seems almost too simple. Like, how are we messing this up. I jump into the dumpster sometimes and grab stuff because that’s the kind of person I am. And knowing that these bags are not going to be recycled, you’re not going to be looking into them, they they’re gumming up the machinery and slowing down productivity.

Michael Britt: So you’re talking about trash bags right now full of recycling,

Maris Masellis: trash bags, grocery bags, any kind of bag

Michael Britt: Just wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page.

Maris Masellis: Any kind of bag, it’s a number one problem. I feel like that sticks out a lot. And if that is really slowing down, the process, maybe concentrating on that solution alone. Bigger signs, I want to get on there with spray paint and be like no bags. I want to write it all the way across and graffiti it so it’s pretty and people’s are like, oh, okay, no bags. But yeah, I think that’s just the confusing part for us is if it’s really such a problem what kind of efforts can we do moving forward that are low cost or or in, in your control that we can help

Michael Britt: Or or even the monetary discussion can be, okay, this breaks down twice a day shuts us down it costs so many thousands of dollars a month. Can we put that towards a recycling program for bags instead of repairs?

Jenn Harrman: Those are all a lot of good questions. I know for us, I think the number one thing that we can do is public education. You know, really helping the community understand. That’s kind of where we’re at right now. Our big focus, signage, absolutely. We’ve talked a little bit about about that. I know it came up In the webinar the other day actually, I think you might have even asked me over webinar the other day and we’ve heard that there needs to be bigger signage. So those are definitely some lower cost things that we can do. We do have new signs and they have a lot of those No’s. All of our new signage focuses on our top issues that we’re having. So all of those top No’s include the No bagged recyclables, No plastic that isn’t a bottle, jar or jug and No plastic bags. Those are some of our top issues that we have. So those are on all of our sites now out at the drop off sites. I think you also mentioned diverting some of the money from dealing with the bags at the actual facility and then that just gets into, that money’s being paid for through our contractor that’s absorbing that cost that then comes back to us. So there’s absolutely some opportunities to be a little bit more creative there. But I think ultimately until we get rid of just plastic having so many of them in general, the problem is going to continue to prevail similar with litter as well. It’s the number one littered item. I see it constantly all over the street everywhere. So that’s why again, the zero waste master plan focused on actually banning those items if you don’t have it in the first place. And Kroger also supported that from at the state level level as well.

How the Plastics Industry Is Fighting to Keep Polluting the World

The students at Westmeade Elementary School worked hard on their dragon. And it paid off. The plastic bag receptacle that the kids painted green and outfitted with triangular white teeth and a “feed me” sign won the students from the Nashville suburb first place in a recycling box decorating contest.

Michael Britt: Okay, so back to the signage thing because that just reminded me Maris texted me photos of the new signs when she first saw them. That’s how geeky we are. Look at the new signs. Then when I went to check them out, I took a picture of like how it’s nice to have the new signs but they’re leaning against the bins on the ground. That kind of denotes that they’re not important and I was standing there looking at them going, how do you get those up higher? I was actually there (Convenience Center) when the trucks came to change bins. So I saw the whole procedure right? They (the bin truck drivers) get out and they physically move the sign, and they back their truck up and line everything up then they put the new one (empty bin) back, they move the sign back in place. Well, how about if there’s a mechanism (to hang the signs on the large bins). There’s a lot of places to hang a sign on those bins, it seems like it would not be that difficult for them to just pick one up that’s got a hanger spot on the side of the band.

Jenn Harrman: We have actually talked just about that. We’ve talked about that and tried to workshop solutions and have come up with some ideas. So it’s something in the works and seeing just what’s the best way that works operationally, like you said, they’ve a lot of work moving those things in and out. So we don’t want to add work to that process. But there’s got to be a way to move them up. We’ve also had folks that you know, if you can’t see really well and it’s further down there and it’s just difficult to see when they’re on the ground and they need to be up.

Maris Masellis: That’s good that it’s on your radar

Michael Britt: We appreciate that and we really don’t just hang out all day at the convenience center.

Jenn Harrman: You don’t?

Maris Masellis: Speak for yourself!

Michael Britt: They do all know Maris by name. I’m there a lot but they don’t know my name. They know you don’t they Maris?

Maris Masellis: They sure do! Moving on because we’re almost through this list. And this is just the beginning. We’re just getting straight now what we thought was important for us to get clear was the peanut butter jars, such as peanut butter jars? They are accepted as long as they’re clean and dry. . Mayo jars, mustard jars…

Jenn Harrman: Yeah, absolutely. All those jars, anything that could be considered a jar and that includes some of the bigger jars too, I think like a plastic coffee container. Those things are would be kind of considered a jar as long as you don’t get, you know, massive. We don’t want huge, huge things. But yeah, all that stuff. Absolutely.

Michael Britt: Like the red Folgers plastic with the handle? Okay. So really it comes down to the only plastic that goes in (curbside bins) needs to be a bottle a jug or jar period. Correct? No more little scrap pieces. No films. No, I’ve saved all my little caps in one bin and putting them in. Just bottles, jugs and jars?

Okay. So really it comes down to the only plastic that goes in (curbside bins) needs to be a bottle a jug or jar period

Jenn Harrman: bottles, jars and jugs. And I know, in the past there had been some thought that by putting all those caps into one container, closing it up would work. The problems that we have found with that is that sometimes all those little things that you put inside of that are a different type of plastic and the plastics are separated by those different types of materials. So we have number one that’s separated from number two, but it’s only those certain types of number one and number two items that that can be accepted. So if you put a bunch of things that are number five plastic inside of a number two plastic, well then it’s no matter what it’s going to the wrong place.

Maris Masellis: It’s kind of like bagging your recyclables?

Jenn Harrman: Exactly!

Maris Masellis: Their just gonna throw that entire thing out and be like, okay, we can’t sit here and just, you know, separate everything from this one jar.

Jenn Harrman: And then on top of that, too, as things go through the process to the facility. The machinery is huge and it’s terrifying in some spots it can just shred things to pieces as it goes through. So it’s going to break that open and all those little pieces are gonna fall out, that’s the reality of it. It just becomes trash on the floor. That’s again also why in the past we’ve thought putting all your shredded paper in a paper bag and sending it through would be a way to recycle shredded paper. We found that that stuff just gets torn open and it still makes a mess.

Michael Britt: It becomes a confetti party.

Jenn Harrman: Oh, yes, I can imagine I’ve definitely had confetti fall on me. Plastic and paper confetti.

Maris Masellis: So leave the caps on. Leave the caps on. We’re just Leave them on and it’ll be okay. If not, yep, it goes in your trash.

Michael Britt: so we’re talking about bagging things. Just to go back to that for a second. I know we asked that question at the webinar to clarify. What if someone puts a bag of aluminum cans in the in the bin at the convenience center or in their pickup bin, that bag just automatically gets pulled out and put into the landfill pile? Correct.

Jenn Harrman: Typically, I know that some of our staff if they do see stuff that’s easily able to safely get to and kind of unbag I know some of our folks do that. And we want as much recycled as possible. But if it’s not safe for us to get in there, get to it. (Then) it’s just going to unfortunately, make it to the facility and they’re going to take it out and send it to landfill.

Michael Britt: Or you can just call Maris and she’ll get in there. As a train of thought here, part of the problem is that it’s all self regulated. You read the sign, you throw things in (the bins) at the convenience centers. Is there any mechanism for groups like ours, our Zero Waste Nashville Facebook group or Tennessee Environmental Council volunteers, where we can help by putting people at stations and go through this whole education process and help people recycle? Is there any way that could happen?

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. I think we probably need to look at something, of course further in the future when we’re doing more in person opportunities. But in the past, I know we have worked with folks that have been out there and done some education. I’ve participated in some educational opportunities at a drop offs where we’ll just set up a table and just have somebody there for a number of hours advertise it so people know that we’re there because then we’re available to answer questions, but then also help them go through and understand why maybe something they’ve been recycling isn’t recyclable. So that’s definitely an opportunity that I would be happy to explore and see how we can can do Some of those. Yeah

Michael Britt: Definitely let us know when when you’re ready to do something like that.

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Maris Masellis: So contamination. So basically we know what we can and can’t recycle through our curbside and convenience centers. But contamination is a big thing. And it’s one of the reasons why recycling is so difficult. We wanted to ask a few questions about that too. Michael was wondering what of contamination you see in the curbside bins. If you knew that figure, and what were the biggest offenders for contamination?

Jenn Harrman: The way we determine how much contamination we have is through an audit of the trucks actually coming in. So right now our contamination rate is around 29% overall. I would say that we see a lot more contamination at drop off sites than we do through curbside bins. Generally at the drop off sites it tends to be illegal dumping. We’ll find an entire container full of tires. Please don’t do that. That’s difficult for us to manage and there’s a place where you can take your tires and we can manage that in other ways. I do believe it’s a we’ve also added some signage about illegal dumping at our drop off sites as well, at least some of our top offenders that we have, because unfortunately, those sites simply managed, like the convenience centers are. We don’t actually have staff there. There are schools, nonprofits that do help manage those and they go around to try and help clean them up as best they can. But that’s where we’re seeing a lot of the kind of bigger contamination. I think there’s another question you asked that I’ve missed.

Michael Britt: The the top offenders in curbside bins

Jenn Harrman: In curbside the top offender is definitely going to be your plastic bags and your food containers, those kind of takeout containers. In the drop offs it’s a lot more illegal dumping type products and people trying to recycle helium tanks and you know, weird stuff that just shouldn’t be there.

Michael Britt: Do you think that’s intentional? Or is it wishful? Or do you feel like it’s maybe a little of both?

Jenn Harrman: Both, I would think

Maris Masellis: Yeah something I’m thinking about right now. It can become confusing for someone who isn’t putting the effort into finding out these types of things. Because think about the peanut butter jar. If you want to clean it out and dry it, you can put it in your recycling bin. But you can’t do the same thing for the to-go containers. There’s the disconnect there. Why not? Why can’t someone put the recycling or the jar in there and technically think, Oh, well, if I do the same thing with my to-go container from the restaurant, then that’s fine. But it’s because the further conversation which we will get into is, there aren’t markets for certain types of things. And if there’s not a market because we need to sell this product to someone who’s going to do something with it, then it won’t go anywhere. Would you say that’s correct?

Jenn Harrman: Pretty good. That’s exactly it. And that’s one of the reasons why on those new drop off signs, we’ve tried to be a little bit more explicit about the way that we’ve worded the categories. So that’s why it says plastic bottles, plastic jars and plastic jugs. And that’s it. That’s the only thing that’s on that sign. And that’s what we’ve shown pictures of same with food and drink cans. You know, we don’t want all those other weird metals, although those can be taken to a convenience center. But the food and drink cans are specifically are what’s going in that particular recycling program. But we’ve tried to be very specific about that. And then you’re absolutely right if there is not a market it, it can’t be sold and turned into something else, it’s just not recyclable.

If there is not a market for it, it can’t be sold and turned into something else, it’s just not recyclable.

Michael Britt: Wow. Yeah, one of the pictures early on that we saw. I think Abby Stephanie Dennis took it and posted it on our Zero Waste Facebook group or the East Nashville Facebook group. Somebody had put a hospital IV, the big metal IV rolling stand into the can bin (at the EN Convenience Center). The post was on the East Nashville Facebook Group, which is as you know, there’s so many trolls on that site. There were a great number of people defending that by saying “it says metals”. That’s what that taught us that we have to be very specific because people take things literally. So how is the contamination rate, and we see that it’s like 30% nationwide, that’s one of the figures I keep coming across. How is that doing over time? Has it been getting better or worse in Nashville?

Photo from Nashville Convenience Center recycling bin
Photographer: Stephanie Dennis

Jenn Harrman: From the statistics that I’ve seen for the last few audits that we’ve had, we’ve fluctuated a little bit by a few percentages points here and there, but over the past few years it’s really pretty much stayed at that 30% rate right around there. 29-30%

Maris Masellis: When did Nashville start recycling? Do we know that?

Jenn Harrman: I’m not 100% sure when we started recycling, I should know that I’m gonna look it up for sure. I do know that in Tennessee there was an act in 1991 that require there to be diverse strategies for waste reduction for everybody to reduce their waste at least by 25%. That really kind of jumpstarted a lot of recycling programs. Okay. But I’m not 100% sure when the timeline of our curbside and drop off recycling program started.

Maris Masellis: Yeah, it’d be interesting to kind of track all that just to see where it started, how it’s been going. And when we’re talking about diversion rate, the amounts that sent for sorting versus the amount that’s actually sold into a market. Are those two different things? Do you consider a diversion rate just the amount of recyclables that you’re getting at the MRF? Or is it the (amount) actually being sold?

Jenn Harrman: So the diversion rate for us in terms of the numbers that we report on are just the pounds of recycling that are sent to the facility. So that’s what’s included in our reporting. But we also recognize that as we do those periodic audits, understanding what the rate of contamination is because we know that contamination rate is approximately what’s not being sold, what’s not going to any of those markets.

Michael Britt: So, once it goes through the sorting process, you make them into bales correct? What is your goal for purity? Or, you know, what’s your percentage of non-contamination? I don’t know how to phrase that but you understand what I’m saying. What’s the goal there?

Jenn Harrman: I understand what you’re saying. And that really kind of goes beyond our role with the recycling program and goes into Waste Management’s realm. And I’m not 100% sure what exactly they’re looking for but I’d be happy to ask them and try and find that out for you.

Maris Masellis: Even better, what could you even say, what your role is and what their role is? Just to put it side by side?

Jenn Harrman: Yeah, so our Metro provides the collection service, essentially. So we’ve got the curbside and the drop off service, providing residents with access and ability to be able to recycle. We have a number of different programs, the traditional recycling being those drop off and curbside, but then we’ve also got mattress recycling and household hazardous waste collection and things like that. And then we collect all of the recycling the curbside, the drop off collection, and we take that to Waste Management’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). They are our contractors. So their role is to then sort it and sell it off to manufacturers. So, of course, the ultimate goal is for zero contamination. Absolutely. Now, that’s probably not going to happen. But that is the ultimate goal. And for us, we want to reduce as much contamination from all of those things that shouldn’t be in there. We want to reduce that as much as possible, because that’s how we determine the cost of our recycling for waste management to manage it, and to process it and do it. After that, Waste Management then sells that product. And that’s how they make a profit. Of course, a lot of those dynamics have changed very recently with the bans from China has just really disrupted the global market. Even though we’re still selling our recycling in the Southeast, we’ve always had this southeast regional market, it still has affected the prices of all that recycling. But that’s on on their end, and they’re dealing with that. The contamination rate, like I said, is how we’re charged.

Maris Masellis: And just for my knowledge, you’re paying Waste Management or Waste Management pays you to collect it?

Jenn Harrman: We, we have our own staff that collects it. So we paid the for collection, we have drivers that go on and collect everything. And then we pay waste management to sort it, process it and sell it. And those dynamics have changed a little bit in the past when some of those recyclable materials were at a higher value we actually made a little bit of money off of recycling. So the way the contract worked was we didn’t actually pay for it. And if there was a little bit of profit, we were able to profit share a little bit once they sold the product because they were able to capture all their costs from selling those recyclables. Unfortunately, because the values have severely dropped, they’re not able to do that. And that’s why we’ve had to renegotiate our contract and, you know, find a path forward that we can still continue to offer recycling for the city and just kind of make it all work economically for everybody.

Michael Britt: So this is kind of jumping ahead, because I still have some procedural questions about how we do things. But one of the big things that comes up all the time, especially since the the Chinese National Sword Policy (is that) we’re seeing on all these documentaries, that it’s American trash and plastic that’s ending up in these third world countries like Indonesia. That we’ve been dumping it on poorer countries. So it’s (recycling) never really worked because we think Okay, China’s taking it. That’s great. We don’t have to worry about it. And when we’ve ask if Nashville’s, does our plastic or trash end up over there? Could answer that? Is there a mechanism for us to know that our trash and our plastic and our recyclables once they go through the system, don’t get sold on that market and end up in other countries?

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling

China’s decision to no longer be the dumping ground for the world’s recycled waste has left municipalities and waste companies from Australia to the U.S. scrambling for alternatives. But experts say it offers an opportunity to develop better solutions for a growing throwaway culture.

Jenn Harrman: So we’ve talked with Waste Management about that and to find out where our recyclables go, and there’s just a really robust market here in the Southeast, for recycling and the recycling industry. So as far as we know, from what we’ve talked to them about, we know a good number of the people that they’re selling all of these products to and they are all here within the Southeast. They don’t have to sell out to those international markets. The recycling that’s going overseas to China and some of those other places you mentioned, have more typically been along those Coastal regions where they’re seeing the backup of recycling and not able to sell it anymore because they had been using those markets. We’re still able to sell our recycling because we have domestic markets here in the United States, majority of which are in the Southeast.

Michael Britt: Is there a mechanism or just because our contractor says, this is what we’re doing with it. Has there ever been an audit just to make sure? Or any investigation to make sure that our recycling hasn’t ended up somewhere like that?

Jenn Harrman: I honestly am not sure. I think that’s a Sharon (Smith) question, because, as far as I know, and as far as we’ve discussed, I know, Sharon’s had the opportunity to tour the Mohawk facility where the carpet gets made from the plastic bottles that we recycle. There’s definitely a lot of transparency in the industries that we know this stuff is getting sold to. I think there’s furniture like park benches that are being made here in Tennessee. I know that we’ve had some relationships with a lot of these recyclers beyond Waste Management and to our knowledge and to my knowledge, it’s all staying here. Although have we had an audit? I’m not 100% sure.

Maris Masellis: Do we use any of those products you do buy back any of those like the park benches that are supposedly made out of our recyclables? Do we utilize those types of products? Do we buy that back?

Jenn Harrman: I’m not 100% sure I know this. I feel like I’ve heard that the state does and state parks that some of the park benches that they use are coming from recyclables that are you know from that facility. That’s another one I have to double check on though.

Michael Britt: What about like internally with Metro, do you use recycled content office paper?

Jenn Harrman: I am not sure. I don’t know what the purchasing contract is. However, I do know that it’s part of the Zero Waste Master Plan and something that we’re looking at very strongly. We’ve even started talking with General Services about how we can implement some environmentally sustainable practices in our purchasing to actually build that into our contracts when they are up for renewal. Then we can start incorporating some of those more sustainable practices.

Maris Masellis: Yeah, this circular economy, which we’re all striving to, to generate, and I heard you talked about Urban Green Lab and I was wondering if maybe that had something to do with it. They’re really great at putting those types of systems in place for companies. Are they gonna be involved in something like that with you guys, or…

Jenn Harrman: We’ve just started conversations with General Services and that’s kind of where we’re at at the moment. I’m sure that Urban Green Lab has been an incredible partner for us in a lot of different ways. So as we can find more opportunity to bring them in and help, you know, help us move this forward, we’re absolutely going to look at doing that. We

Maris Masellis: We just like to practice what we preach, you know, we try, we try the best we can.

Michael Britt: And we point that out to anybody we can, that if you’re just recycling but not buying recycled products, you’re not contributing to the solution.

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. Right

Michael Britt: So a couple other of the issues, I’d like to ask about. First one cardboard, how about that? So from what I understand there’s a cardboard ordinance that requires individuals and businesses to recycle cardboard. But we see tons of businesses with overflowing cardboard in their trash bins, and we see, I see tons of cardboard in trash cans in my neighborhood. Is there any mechanism for enforcement? Is it a real ordinance? Is it a law? What’s going on with that?

Maris Masellis: Where’s the Cardboard Patrol? Security!

Jenn Harrman: We are fully aware that there is not the enforcement that needs to be in place on the bans that we currently have. Because we also have a ban on electronics as well. And those are things that we have not enforced.

Maris Masellis: Oh, well, let me tell you, we’re going to jump right into apartment complexes because that’s where I live. And we have a dumpster at the bottom of the hill that I live on and I live in a low income based housing area. So let’s just say that I’m very fortunate to have a car that I can separate all my recyclables and bring them to the convenience centers but many of my neighbors cannot. We don’t have recycling here. Every weekend, there’s TVs, furniture, all sorts of stuff and we don’t have a gate or a lock or anything, people just come and dump it into our apartment complex. And there’s not one single thing being done about it. So I know for a fact that that stuff is making it into the landfill, which I myself, I mean, I’m one person, I saw somebody walking down the hill with a TV in hand, and I stopped and I was like, hey, just put that in my car. I’ll take it for you. I mean, what else can I do? What else can I do for you? I mean, I’m trying. Why? That’s, that’s a big question for me. Why don’t we have recycling for apartment complexes? Is that something that we see in the future?

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. So a lot of these things, you know, the Zero Waste Master Plan, when you look at it, there are just a ton of different strategies that are put in there that we are going to continue to chip away at over time as we get the funding the capacity and ability to push these things forward. Two things, for sure, doing better enforcement of cardboard bans and other bans because we want to include more bans. But if we can’t enforce the ones we currently have, then we can’t add more. So that’s definitely a part of that program on how we can accomplish that. And then also, expanding recycling to apartment complexes is part of that plan as well. Overall, putting in place programs and recycling programs that are going to be more effective and incentivize people. Another big thing in addition to public education is right now most people they don’t pay directly for curbside collection of trash or recycling. It’s paid for through your taxes and through Metro government’s budget. And so if part of the plan is to move to a program called Save As You Throw, that incentivizes people to put more in recycling, of course, you have to do it right, which is why we have our Oops audit program and do spot checks.

Maris Masellis: I’m so glad you guys are doing that again.

Jenn Harrman: That would also include eventually compost pickup as well. So by putting more products in your compost or by diverting more waste, having less trash, because it encourages you not have as much trash in the first place, because you’re paying for how much you’re throwing away, and if you keep more out of your trash and put it in the recycling or in the compost, then it just gives you that financial incentive because you’re starting to have to pay for those services. And the more you recycle and compost, the less you’re gonna pay.

Maris Masellis: For the record, No cardboard in your curbside recycling bins. No electronics in your trash bins.

Jenn Harrman: Yeah, well no electronics in either bin but no cardboard for sure should go into your trash bin. It needs to go, you know, right in that recycling bin

Michael Britt: So my comment is, and I don’t want to derail it again. But the funding side of things, how we pay for things, would it be, and this is a policy question so I’m not putting you on the spot. I’m just thinking out loud. Currently our trash and recycling are tied to our property taxes right? When I lived in California our trash was tied to our water bill. It’s a fee that we had to pay and you didn’t have a choice. If you didn’t pay your trash fee, your water got shut off. So it was all tied together. It makes it much easier when the city needs to raise the price. They can just raise the fee for that. Well, right now, (in Nashville) it’s really tough to raise the percentage of our taxes that go towards your department. That’s a big political battle. So maybe that’s one of the things we need to be talking to our politicians about is separating how the service is paid for.

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. And that’s, you know, with that Save As You Throw program, it does mean that the cost for trash collection and pickup would have to then go onto residents.

Maris Masellis: Yeah, absolutely. accountability.

Michael Britt: That’s right. Speaking of, that kind of leads me to this next question. Something I hear over and over again, is that these construction waste bins that we see are categorized as a recyclable material and they don’t have to pay the same dump dumping fees. Is that correct? Is that just false? Because according to all the figures, construction debris way out numbers, what, what we as individuals send to the landfill.

Jenn Harrman: I have no idea I have not heard that. That’s another Sharon (Smith) question.

Michael Britt: Okay, yeah. If you could get back to us on that one that would be great. I don’t know who to ask that’s why I’m asking you

Jenn Harrman: Just to clarify, you’re wanting to know what the CND tipping costs are. So when they tip that trash in if it’s cheaper than…

Michael Britt: By categorizing construction debris as a load of recyclables, are they paying a lower rate while they’re filling the landfills up quicker? That’s basically the the gist of my question.

Jenn Harrman: Got it? I’ve not heard that. But I am not 100% Sure.

Michael Britt: We asked our our network what questions they would like us to talk to you about specifically, a lot of people mentioned glass. And I know that a lot of people say oh, we want curbside pickup. And, you know, I agree with that to some extent, and we’ll get to that one in a minute. But what I don’t want is for it to be like Chattanooga, which according to the Tennesseean, they yielded to all the demands for glass and then just picked it up as a separate entity and dumped it straight into the landfill. So, glass is an issue. So I have two questions about that. Well, the first question is, why can’t we separate it and have a separate pickup for glass? I understand that when it’s mixed and crushed in the trucks and goes through the system it’s dangerous, it embeds in different materials and, and it just becomes a nuisance. But what about a separate glass pickup?

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Some of your recycling is actually going to the landfill. Chattanooga has let residents recycle glass in curbside bins for nearly a year now. East Ridge and …

Jenn Harrman: So glass absolutely as a separate pickup is…Yes, okay. I just want to make sure I wasn’t gonna say the wrong thing. I am sure that glass separated pickup is part of our Zero Waste Master Plan as well. So it is another one of those things that we are trying to incorporate into that program so that we can offer that service and of course right now there are other companies out there. There’s Private companies and there are some great nonprofits that do offer curbside collection for a fee, but it is something we plan on incorporating into our program.

Michael Britt: So that’s great, I’m excited about that. I think a lot of people will like that answer because that’s what they want.

Michael Britt: The rest of this question about glass for me is that how the bigger honky-tonks downtown, according to The Tennesseean, produce up to 100,000 glass bottles on a busy night. That’s from just one honky-tonk. So I know that one and a half, two years ago Nashville had a pilot program that was supposed to be collecting glass. I guess it was supposed to be $6 million over so many years and I read that in the first first 20 days, they collected 10 tonnes of glass. Then it was cancelled after three or four months because it wasn’t working. Can you tell us what wrong, what happened with all of that?

Nashville Trashes Glass Recycling Program For Downtown Honky Tonks | WPLN News – Nashville Public Radio

An attempt to recycle more glass bottles in Nashville has failed, as Metro is discontinuing a pilot program that tried to capture glass from the downtown honky tonks. Recycling glass isn’t easy for the city – it’s heavy and costly to haul. But last year, pushed by the former mayor, Metro tried to make it […]

Jenn Harrman: I think it went on a little bit longer than that but unfortunately, you’re right, it did fail. It didn’t end up working out. And there were a lot of different reasons for that. First of all, downtown’s glass recycling collection in that downtown area where we were doing the program is collected by Metro Nashville Public Works. So we collect it, which means that they don’t pay for that collection. Again, it’s part of that general fund money to offer that that collection service, so none of those businesses are financially incentivized to do something different.

Michael Britt: They don’t pay for their for their waste hauling?

Jenn Harrman: So there’s part of downtown that is included in our curbside program, so it’s just all wrapped up in the general fund money that comes to public works. So they aren’t paying a separate fee. I think there is some confusion that when they pay, there’s a different fee that they pay for being downtown but it does not go towards trash collection. That’s part of the metro general fund. So we collect that curbside, all of those carts. I was not with public works at the time, but I believe we provided some additional carts for them, and then had a separate pickup. Because they didn’t pay for the service they weren’t financially incentivized. And then, also, unfortunately, there’s a very high turnover rate for employees downtown. So the amount of education and trying to re educate over and over again, all of these employees just wasn’t happening. So a lot of employees didn’t know how to manage it, how to separate what they were supposed to do. And then beyond that, we pick up I think it’s like, twice a day for trash and twice a day for recycling. We’re down there all day long, picking up trash and recycling because there is so much that’s generated down there. And for that reason, we weren’t able to something similar to our audit program where if we find that this is contaminated, we can’t pick it up. We couldn’t do that downtown because of just the sheer amount of trash. So for a number of reasons, it was unfortunate that that did not work out.

Michael Britt: Are there plans to try to re address it in the future?

Jenn Harrman: I am not 100% sure exactly. I think you know, when you have a program like that, not moving forward, it’s kind of difficult to get it going again. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have things again in our strategies and our Zero Waste Master Plan to address the recycling and the trash collection downtown to do better.

Michael Britt: Here’s a policy idea. What if we go to city council and say, we’d like you to charge 25 cents a bottle to these people downtown that are flooding our dump with bottles unnecessarily? You said there’s no incentive for them to do it (recycle). But if they’re paying per bottle, maybe they’ll start pouring taps a little more often, maybe they quit throwing so much glass away.

Jenn Harrman: Well, the same pay as you throw idea that we’re looking at for residential programs is also something that we want to expand to those commercial businesses as well. So in the future, there would be some of those incentives and when it comes to those kinds of bottle bills, a lot of states that have done it successfully. There’s opportunities to explore that, though, you’ll see more at the state level.

Michael Britt: So, okay, yeah, out of out of our control at this point.

Maris Masellis: yeah glass. JusticeIndustries.org I believe was what you referred to on your webinar last week and I just wanted to give that out if you want wanted glass pick up before city pickup happens. There’ are places out there that will do that for you.

Justice Industries

Justice Industries is a nonprofit organization that exists to build and sustain social enterprise businesses-creating job opportunities for individuals experiencing barriers to employment. Our largest industry, Just.Glass, offers curbside pickup of your glass for recycling. Click here to sign up! Our newest industry, Just.Wash, offers interior and exterior mobile car wash services in the Nashville area.

Michael Britt: Or you can do like Maris and I do. We take our glass and our compost at the same time and drop it off at the recycling centers, the Convenience Centers.

Maris Masellis: We do go to the convenience Center, which does take class and compost.

Maris Masellis: Moving on, Jen, how you doing? How you doing? Feeling good? Um, this is crazy.

Michael Britt: She’s as geeky as we are, but probably more so than we are about trash actually. Yeah.

Maris Masellis: It really is a pleasure to have you speaking with us today. And we definitely hope that we can continue the conversation even after this because it’s obvious that we have some things that we need to go over that maybe we don’t have the answers right now getting back to the market thing. We I think we went over most of the different topics with streams with other recycling streams. Michael, do you agree? Yeah, I think we kind of went over all that stuff.

Michael Britt: The one other thing that we didn’t cover that I wanted to was, did we talk about yard waste being bagged up? I see all my neighbors raking their yard waste into plastic bags and there seems to be a lack of education on that. If you go to Home Depot, you get the cheap or free paper bags, what is Metro doing to educate people that they shouldn’t be bagging their yard waste (in plastic).

Jenn Harrman: Like bagging in plastic bags?

Michael Britt: Yes because those end up in the trash versus compost where they’re supposed to be picked up as, right?

Jenn Harrman: Right. I think one of the things about yard waste that’s nice is that if you bag it in plastic, we’re not gonna pick it up. So that right there is the incentive to not bag it in plastic because we won’t pick it up

Michael Britt: So where’s it going? Into their trash bins?

Jenn Harrman: Part of the breakdown of what we found in landfills and what’s labeled as organics includes both food and yard waste. So there’s definitely still some yard waste. That’s another one of those that the enforcement needs to be brought online to really push that. In fact, I had someone just the other day that asked how can we do more brush pickups. One of the things that you can do is call our contractor that we work with for brush pickup. They have two locations where you can take your brush and drop it off. So you you know, if you have a bunch of you don’t want sitting out in front of your ditch, keep it out of the ditch, I will say that, put it at the edge of the street, don’t create a dam. Water needs to flow through your ditch, but keep it out of the ditch, put it in paper bags, and we’ll come and pick it up four times a year. If that’s not enough, then there’s definitely some free drop off options for you. And we do share about that on social media. But I think the biggest way to educate people is that we just won’t pick it up unless it’s in paper paper bags.

Michael Britt: Okay, yeah, my dogs love brush collection week when everyone has brush piles out at the street (something to pee on during neighborhood walks). The guys come with the big arms on the truck and pick it up and it’s so efficient. I don’t think I ever remember seeing anything like that in Los Angeles. I don’t think we had trucks driving around picking up debris like that. The yard trimmings, like we had to pay to haul it off.

Maris Masellis: So that’s pretty much information education. There’s so many common themes, Jen. And we know that even just talking about these things, as much as we talked about it over and over and over again, we’re trying to look at this through a different lens at this point, because what we’re seeing is, yes, we’ve we’ve had plastic, which is the main problem, right? I think plastics are part of the main problem, we can all agree. And we’re seeing that over the last 20 or 30 years. The problem has been put back on to the consumer. Recycle. Okay, we’re recycling. You’re not doing it. Right. Okay, well, we’re gonna try and do it better. And then we try and do it better and it’s still not right. Then it’s, well, why aren’t we reducing reusing? We need more education. People don’t know what they’re doing. Okay, well, you go into the store and don’t buy the plastic. Okay, wait, everything’s covered in plastic, so we don’t have options. What do you think about the system and how this has been progressing? Do you see some light? Do you see? Are you feeling inspired? Or are you feeling like this the same crap over and over again and education, we can blab blab blab blab all about it. What are we doing? That’s not working? How do we do something different? That’s what my question is to you like what is your personal thoughts? What are your personal thoughts on that?

Jenn Harrman: Unfortunately the way that recycling was basically brought into mainstream when people first started recycling. It was all based on putting the onus on the consumer, the person that bought that product. It wasn’t on the industry to manage it. So this industry they made this product you now have trash and now you’ve got to deal with it using your tax dollars and it’s it’s frustrating. There was a lot of marketing that went into that, making people believe that they could recycle everything. So you start at a place that is just, it’s now so difficult when you look at the public education side, because it’s not so much that recycling is changed, it’s that it’s become more transparent. And so now that there’s more transparency, that’s at least where I feel there is some light at the end of the tunnel, because we now know that that plastic dairy tub wasn’t getting recycled, that plastic clamshell container wasn’t getting recycled. So even though it’s more complicated, we are already doing it better because we know more. But then on the other side of that, we can only do so much and there’s got to be a lot of change on the top end like anything else. It’s got to stop at the very top. And I really believe there’s some legislation going through the federal government that a lot of folks have said it’s dead in the water, but it’s It’s not dead in the water if people support it, and people get behind it. And there’s more voices that really want to see change on a sustainable level on how we manage our waste. And so if we can have some more regulation across the country on a federal level, to really force industry to make a change, then I see some light there. That’s where I see a lot of potential and I also know a ton of people are just so overwhelmed when it comes to plastic. And it’s one thing that I’ve realized myself, I have to recognize that I can only do so much. I can’t feel bad because I can’t recycle this thing because ultimately, that’s not my fault. And so I really encourage people to not get too overwhelmed, but also to find ways where they can support legislation that will force change.

I have to recognize that I can only do so much. I can’t feel bad because I can’t recycle this thing because ultimately, that’s not my fault. And so I really encourage people to not get too overwhelmed, but to find ways where they can support legislation that will force change.

Michael Britt: One of the conclusions that I’ve been coming to personally is that we have a system that has been going on 20-30 years. Consistently, the total number of plastics recycled in that time period according to all the statistics, it’s generous to say that 10% of the plastics created have been recycled into something else. The flip side of that conversation is that as an industry, recycling plastic fails 90% of its mission. So that seems like a distraction. And this is again is more of a policy question, should we even as a society, be recycling plastic? Because like you said, as we shine light on it, when you go to the store, and you think, Oh, I’m gonna get that lettuce in a clamshell, Oh, wait, I can’t recycle that. I’m gonna have to throw it away. Maybe I should choose the one that’s not in plastic or asked the store for lettuce that’s not in a clamshell.

Maris Masellis: Which is significantly more expensive

Michael Britt: Sometimes yeah. I buy my produce from farmers markets and CSA so I have the means to avoid plastic, but most people don’t make the effort

Maris Masellis: For an example, I went to a store and bought spinach in a plastic bag and it’s like $1. Then we went somewhere where they have loose spinach (not wrapped in plastic) and it was $4 or $5. That’s a big difference, especially for someone on a budget.

Michael Britt: The question, and the one of the things we’re exploring on this podcast is that maybe it’s better if we just recycle the things that work. The aluminum, the tin cans, the paper and glass if possible, and maybe the 40% of compostables in the system. Is that about right 40% organics,

Jenn Harrman: About 32 Yeah, right. Closer to 30 I think.

Michael Britt: Okay, 30%. So if we shifted to composting instead of recycling plastic. And I know, mechanically for you for you to say, Oh yeah, we could flip a switch and do composting tomorrow instead of plastics ,that it doesn’t work that way. I understand that. But as people who are asking for policy change, I feel like I’m going to be asking to stop recycling plastic. I think that’s the conclusions that I’m coming to, realizing that it’s it’s a failed system. Am I totally off base with that?

Maris Masellis: Tell us how you really feel?

Michael Britt: how I feel. So, yeah, we’ve done all this pseudo education, I’m glad you’re there to help bump things up. Because I think there wasn’t enough education for this. But regardless, you know, education has been tried and redoing the sorting facilities every 10 or 15 years, you know, big companies put investments into city programs. We’ve been doing the same thing on a repeat cycle. So what what do going forward? What is Nashville Metro Public Works doing to think differently and approach this differently?

Jenn Harrman: Well, I think number one, and I know I’ve said it a number of times, but the Zero Waste Master Plan, it really is an entire new way of approaching waste management and how we deal with the things that we no longer need and how we deal with with all of our waste. It comes at it from so many different angles, all the different areas that we need to address. So looking at one thing that is great is that we’re looking at it in all these different areas. You know, looking at construction and demolition waste you mentioned and the recycling of construction and demolition waste, we can make huge improvements there. There can be more opportunity there but the zero waste master plan also recognize that we don’t currently have the facilities in place yet? So looking at how can we bring those facilities online? And how can we find perhaps public private partnerships to do something like that, so that we are able to just even have the market to process those different types of materials. So we recognize that there is, with each one of these different areas in each one of these different strategies, there are a whole lot of players that have to be involved. And we have to approach those players and we have to have conversations with them have conversations with you know, of course, we’re having conversations with council members, having conversations with the mayor’s office, but having also conversations with our partners. Folks like you as well as just any of our other partners in this. As well as, as companies. You know, we’re talking with Waste Management more about if I am not sure if something’s recyclable. I will call waste management, ask them the specifics and say, hey, is this a thing that’s going in? That’s how we found out definitively that clam shells, even though we got new technology and the technology can sort that material, they don’t have a market for it. So once there’s a market, we’ll be able to sort out clam shells and be able to potentially recycle them. But, you know, we’re having those conversations. And we’re really trying to approach it in a way that it you know, we have to do it better. And that’s what the zero waste master plan is all about. It’s not gonna happen right away. It’s not gonna happen tomorrow. It is a 30 year plan. And we’ve just embarked on it in 2016. Of course, recent challenges you know, we’ve got to work with financial challenges…

Maris Masellis: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but like, what are the most important things from that? What are the things that we could see coming up like sooner rather than later?

Jenn Harrman: I’m going to take that in two different two different directions. I think one of the biggest impact areas that we can make are in increasing commercial and residential recycling, increasing our recycling of construction and demolition waste, and increasing food waste and organic waste diversion. So those three things if we can get those things under control now, there’s a lot of strategies that go into doing that. But if we can get those things, that’s going to get to 75% diversion. I think some of the things that we’ve seen some positive movement on are, you know, some of the circular economy things. Being able to work in into our contracts, starting that process in those conversations, to be more sustainable about our purchasing processes. We’re also looking at how we can incentivize developers to recycle their construction and demolition waste. You know, if they don’t have an incentive to do it, even if there’s a recycling facility available, they’re not necessarily going to make that choice. So we’re looking at ways we can incentivize that. And those are conversations that we’ve been having. With a lot of changes to recycling, of course, we’ve been focusing on that. But if we continue to recycle, but recycle, right, that’s going to help that’s gonna improve and, you know, increasing participation, there are still people that can get curbside recycling bins that don’t have them. So if we can educate people, let them know that no, you’re recycling is not going to China, when you do recycle correctly, it gets recycled, it gets turned into things, it gets turned into carpet, fleece, you know, those plastics do get turned into things. So it’s a lot of different stuff that we’ve got to do, but it’s doable, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s on the horizon that we can do.

Michael Britt: Is there any conversation about multi stream instead of single stream? I know this is another policy thing and that it’s an about face from what’s going on now, but the statistics I was reading say that single stream collects almost 26% more content, but 29-30% of that is is contaminated where multi stream collects less content but it was only 1.6% contaminated so it was pretty much a wash and much more effective on the selling end of it than the collecting end. Is there any conversation that maybe single stream isn’t the right answer?

The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End

For those of us who spent most of our lives painstakingly separating plastic, glass, paper and metal, single-stream recycling is easy to love. No longer must we labor. Gone is the struggle to store two, three, four or even five different bags under the kitchen sink.

Jenn Harrman: Um, you know, we did used to have separate collection back before plastic was all introduced. They took everything and separated it with the trucks in our collection program. I think moving forward, we’re for ease and access to recycling. When you start making it more complicated for people when they have to start separating things out… I’m going to throw my parents under the bus. So my parents, they don’t live here, but they live in a community that their recycling program has seen significant changes and reductions and now they have to separate their their recycling. So the cardboard goes out on this day this week, cans this day, the next week, and it’s too complicated for them. They just stopped recycling. I’ve started bringing their recycling home with me because they do not recycle.

Michael Britt: You are one of us. We do that too. We bring it home from wherever we’re at. We bring it with us.

Jenn Harrman: Absolutely. But it if it’s too complicated, people aren’t going to do it. And that’s one of the real benefits of curbside recycling and why it continues to be in our program because, you know, those people that aren’t like us, those people that don’t really care, they aren’t going to take the time to do a lot of that extra effort.

Maris Masellis: Incentivize. The first thing that comes to my mind is Canada because they do it so well. We need to talk to them about how they’re doing it because there people do it, even the people that don’t care do it, because they have to. Yeah, I think there’s just too much gray for us. Sure. And that’s why, and not giving people a chance to prove themselves, because we are a throwaway society where convenient society we like easy things. But if it’s the rules, you’re just gonna have to do it. And if you don’t do it, maybe we don’t pick up your trash at all.

Michael Britt: And you pay more, which is the other program you’re working on. I think that’s a really fair mechanism. I see there are people in my neighborhood driving down Porter Rd, or Eastland there’s somebody that has, like four trash cans, and they’re filled overflowing every week. I’m like what are these people doing that they create for trash cans full of full waste. But also why are we paying the same amount of money out of taxes to have our trash picked up. You know, quite honestly, I mean, you know, Maris yours is a little different situation since I do the curbside but I only put my trash out once a month and it’s only a quarter full. That’s all of the trash that I have when I’m recycling and composting. Composting was a big deal that took a lot of that out and actually made my trash not smell bad. The reality was that we put the trash out when it started smelling bad in the backyard before (composting). Now because there’s no organics in there, it doesn’t smell bad. So it’s just interesting. I think the concept of paying for what you’re putting into the landfill is a little more equitable. That might help solve some problems. There are smart people on that Zero Waste Master Plan.

Jenn Harrman: There definitely were.

Maris Masellis: Yes. That was great. I think that was a great conversation. We really again, thank you so much for being on our show. And whatever, whatever we can do. To get the messages out to our listeners, which Michael and I, what was it the first two weeks we had almost 300? Well, we have right?

Michael Britt: Well, the podcast in the first 30 days, we had 400 listeners. Now our goal, when we started, because you you were, I don’t think you were part of the waste management last summer when we held our second meeting that Sharon spoke at? 100 people from our Zero Waste Nashville Facebook Group and from our community showed up on a Wednesday night to talk about recycling. And we think that’s great that we can fill the room at Jackalope and have this great, amazing party. But we keep making videos where social media algorithms get in the way. And we thought, well we want to reach more than the hundred people that came to that event. So our goal was pretty modest. If we can get 1000 people to listen that’d be awesome. And so for us to have…

Maris Masellis: 3.5% population is all we need for change

Michael Britt: 3.5% of people we need to move the needle to make change. So yeah, our goals are modest. We just want to connect with our community and energize and activate them.

Maris Masellis: We’re evolving, and we’re taking advantage of any opportunity that we can. And especially with the resources like you guys, we really appreciate this.

Michael Britt: So absolutely use us as a resource, feel free.

Maris Masellis: Takeaways from today. We know that recycling is a complicated system, but we know what we can and can’t recycle in our in our system here in Nashville. And it is changing all the time. So that’s why we tell everyone to be aware and to research and to look on the internet to find the information yourselves. But we did learn what we can get recycle. We know that the markets have something to do with that. We know that you guys are doing your best to make sure that we can collect recycling. We know that Waste Management is on the other side of the process. So we are not really sure about what’s going on on that side, because that’s their job. So maybe we can look further into that in the future and see how we can make that more transparent. And then it seems that federal legislation is still the number one way to make change, and to have this as a norm, instead of some people do it and some people care. This has got to be a norm for all of us. But um, cool. Well, maybe we can do this weekly. Thanks Jenn

https://www.nashville.gov/Public-Works/Neighborhood-Services/Recycling.aspx

Maris Masellis: day. And thanks again for coming and hanging

Jenn Harrman: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it

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