City gears up for opening of recycling, sustainability center

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 31, 2013 

The city’s new Recycling and Sustainability Center is all but completed with workers putting final touches on the 54,000 square foot facility near the city’s Pine Grove Landfill.

The $8.5 million facility will allow the city to handle many times the 2,800 tons of recyclables it currently produces at its Victory Drive facility, according to Public Works Director Pat Biegler.

“Last year, we made $250,000 off recycling,” Biegler said. “We could be looking at making $2.5 million or more in the future.”

That would mean dramatically increasing how Columbus residents handle their trash. Currently, only 4-5 percent of the city’s trash is recycled, with the rest going into the landfill. Biegler said her goal is to raise that number to 40 or 50 percent of all the city’s trash being recycled.

“If we can get to that point, we can extend the life of the landfill from 30 to 60 years,” Biegler said. “That will save a lot of money.”

Getting to that point will mean educating the public about the importance and benefits of recycling. Toward that end, the city announced a partnership Thursday with the Coca-Cola Co. to help encourage recycling.

The company has operated the program, called “Recycle and Win,” in about 20 other cities, but Columbus is the first in Georgia, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said at a Thursday press conference.

“Coca-Cola was invented in Columbus, so it’s fitting that they came here,” Tomlinson said.

Over the next six months, Coke will put up $13,000 in $50 Piggly Wiggly gift certificates that will be given to residents who recycle properly, putting only the proper items in the bins and separating glass from the other recyclables.

A specially decorated Toyota Prius will be driven around town checking on the bins and selecting winners.

The press conference was held in the shadows of the new recycling facility, which will officially open on Dec. 11, Biegler said. But crews are already running refuse along its various conveyor lines and through the huge, two-story machinery.

The facility recently baled 26 large bales of paper in less than a half-hour, according to Floor Manager Bob Heider.

Currently, inmates sort the recyclables at curbside, separating the paper, glass, plastic and metal items into separate bins on city trucks. Going forward, the recyclables will be collected in a conventional trash truck, with only the glass separated at curbside.

Glass will not be run through the new center, Heider said, because it wears down the machinery and presents safety issues. Glass will be separated and sold by the city.

When it is up and running fully, it will be manned by 24 county prison inmates and four corrections officers, Heider said, plus some administrative staff.

Recycling trucks will be able to drive into the plant dump the material on the concrete floor. There, a “skid steer,” a small earth moving machine, will push it onto a conveyor belt, which takes it up to the first sorting line where inmates will pluck out different materials, which get dropped into large concrete bays.

When a bay is full, the material is loaded into the baler, which compresses the material and binds it with steel wire. The bales are then sold by Pratt Industries Inc., the city’s partner in the project.

Pratt operates similar plants around the country, but its primary business is manufacturing paper, much of it from recycled paper products.

Pratt owns all the machinery in the plant and leases it to the city. Pratt also markets the facility and sells what materials it does not use in its paper business.

The city will get 90 percent of the proceeds from trash it collects and $40 per ton of trash brought in from outside. For example, all the recyclable refuse from Auburn home football games will run through the facility, Biegler said.

The $8.5 million price tag for the plant included all costs, construction, infrastructure, equipment and furnishings, according to Deputy City Manager David Arrington. Biegler said citizens should look at it as an investment.

“This facility will pay for itself,” she said.

Related stories:

City leaders expect new recycling center to 'pay for itself'

City's new recycling center will include educational features

Council finally approves $42,000 for recycling center furniture

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