City DopeNews

Solid Waste Department Asks for ‘Eco-Stations’ Downtown, Higher Recycling Fees

After a pilot program, ACC Solid Waste officials want to move forward with “eco-stations” to collect trash and recycling downtown to solve the issue of leaking and unsightly bags on the sidewalk.

While some observers complained about the appearance of the exposed trash receptacles (Dumpsters) during experiments on the Twilight Criterium and Notre Dame weekends, Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen said at the commission’s Nov. 12 work session, the eco-stations—once derided by commissioners as “trash corrals”—could include bike racks and charging stations, and be decorated with murals, “living walls” of plants or “whatever you guys want to make them look good and hide the activities inside,” Janssen said. 

Advantages include safety, aesthetics, less stormwater runoff and fewer pickups disturbing downtown residents, but Janssen also acknowledged the downside: “It’s less convenient. It’s no longer a valet service for our businesses downtown. We recognize that.”

Janssen also warned that the county’s recycling program, which is subsidized by landfill tipping fees, is on pace to lose $900,000 this year and run out of money by the middle of 2022. Expenses at the landfill are rising as a new phase prepares to open, and costly changes to state regulation are on the horizon, she said.

Solid Waste had previously proposed, and the commission approved, a recycling education fee of 60 cents to $1.60 a month on residents’ and businesses’ water bills. But former county attorney Bill Berryman nixed the fee because of a legal precedent, according to Janssen. The fee would have covered services like Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful, recycling drop-off centers and the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHARM) that are available to all residents and businesses, but those that don’t use a hauler don’t contribute. Private haulers are also under-reporting about 4,000 customers; they’re either not paying an existing fee, or haulers aren’t passing on the fee to ACC, Janssen said. She said she’s also heard complaints of private haulers not recycling. “They’re literally throwing away the material,” she said.

The options, Janssen said, are raising franchise fees on private haulers, which they would pass on to customers, and raising fees on self-haulers who take their own trash to the landfill, or closing the deficit with property and sales taxes through the general fund. The latter option would be a change from current policy, because Solid Waste is currently an enterprise fund that’s expected to pay for itself.