Nashville’s residential curbside recycling program will cost the city more money going forward. And the change is big enough that it briefly had some on the Metro Council doubting whether to continue the service at all.
Councilmembers raised cost concerns last month and held a special meeting to learn more about a higher payment negotiated with Waste Management, which runs the city’s curbside program.
Others spoke strongly in favor of recycling, noting that regional landfills are projected to be full within a decade.
“More trash and more landfill space is the wrong direction,” said Councilmember Nancy VanReece.
By Tuesday night, the council approved an immediate $1 million payment and an increase, going forward, of about $2.25 million more annually. Three of 40 members voted in opposition.
The change follows a protracted negotiation. For roughly two years, the city has not been paying what Waste Management says it needs to process the city’s recycling.
The entire recycling industry was upturned in 2018 when a policy change in China sharply reduced which materials are valuable to recyclers. That has forced collection companies to spend more on sorting.
That has not helped Metro, where nearly one-third of what’s put into residential bins is considered unhelpful “contamination,” according to Sharon Smith, assistant director for Metro Public Works.
The city’s contamination issue has prompted a ban on takeout food container plastics and public messaging that all but begs residents to keep plastic bags out of their bins.
“None of us are happy that our costs are going to go up,” Smith said. “But [Waste Management was] spending more. They were having to do a lot more to remove contamination than they’ve had to in the past.”