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Recycling in Birmingham

By Joey Amberson, City Desk Editor

The City of Birmingham spends $7 million every 7-10 years expanding the landfill to accommodate more garbage. Money that could be used to improve the city through various, other services, but it’s literally being thrown in the trash. There is a definite interest among citizens of Birmingham on the issue of recycling, but many say the problem is other citizens not knowing what to recycle or even that the city has a recycling program already in place. Only about 1% of Birmingham residents actively recycle. This is an issue that the Birmingham City Council has been trying to address in recent months. Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who serves as the council representative for district 5, said he has been involved in conversations to create a public education program for recycling, but did not know whether or not a plan has actually been developed.

Birmingham currently has a weekly curbside recycling pickup service every Wednesday, and years ago provided citizens with a recycling bin to be placed in front of their residence. The service has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19. As time has passed, the bins are aging or even disappearing from homes and the city has had no plan in place to replace them once they break or go missing. “$300,000 was made available in the fiscal year 2019-2020 city budget to support recycling. It’s my understanding that at least a portion of those funds are intended to go towards securing curbside bins.” Councilor O’Quinn said.

Olivia Hart, a resident of Birmingham, expressed her concern with living in an apartment where recycling isn’t a service offered by the complex nor picked up by the city. “It’s more economical and efficient to collect from those living most densely, yet we’re the ones left out,” Hart said. If residents living within a complex that doesn’t offer a recycling program that want to take the initiative to participate in the program, they have to physically haul their materials to a recycling facility that accepts material, which leads to issues when a facility is only open on certain days and times of the week. Several other residents also said recycling needs to be picked up from businesses, which often produce more recyclable material than your average household. Frustration also abounds with residents who want to recycle glass, which isn’t picked up by the city or available to be dropped off at local recycling facilities since the only facility to accept it closed several years ago.

With those frustrations, there is hope with the current recycling program in place. Leigh Shaffer with Birmingham Recycling and Recovery (BRR) says that they accept all of Birmingham’s curbside recycling picked up weekly along with surrounding municipalities. Commodities accepted, processed, and sold include paper, cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs with a #1 or #2 recycling symbol on the bottom, aluminum and steel/tin cans. Any other items are considered contamination and are separated out and disposed of in the landfill. Some items that are trashed may be able to be recycled elsewhere, but not at the BRR facility (for example plastic bags can be recycled at some supermarkets). “Residents should place recyclable items in their bins loose, not bagged, and the items should be empty, clean and dry. Some items that are trashed are not at all recyclable but residents may think they are and put them in the bin. Some call this wish-cycling.” Shaffer said.

In August of this year, Councilor Wardine Alexander who represents district 7 of Birmingham, began her “Love D7 Environmental Day” which is aimed at raising awareness of recycling, littering and other issues that imoact residents’ quality of life. During the first event, four dumpsters were provided for residents to come dispose of large household items that would normally be put on the curb for bulk trash pickup — things like mattresses, old appliances and other items. “We wanted to give people the opportunity to get rid of these items without cluttering up neighborhoods,” Alexander said. “The goal is to get one person, one household recycling at a time. We want individuals to have the thought process that they can be the change they want to see in the neighborhood, and that can start with recycling.” Since stepping into office, Alexander has been keenly focused on improving the quality of life in her district, especially as it relates to environmental issues. “Each environmental event we host is meant to build on the last one,” Alexander said. “This one we have coming up is for residents to be able to bring papers they needed shredded, whether it be old documents or newspapers or whatever they might have around the house. We’ll then take that to be recycled.”

Hunter Williams, Birmingham City Councilor for District 2, expressed hope for the city in the next 10 years. “My hope for the City of Birmingham is that it can truly become a green and sustainable city that emphasizes recycling as a primary way to collect refuse from residents. Over the next few years, I’d like to see our city become more educated and active as a recycling community.” Williams said.

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham