What would you do if you found out your recycling efforts were all for nothing? This was the question faced by Fort Smith, Ark. homeowners after they were told by city officials that their recyclables were being dumped into the city landfill. Though rather than being a recent incident, the covert recyclable disposal has been underway since November 2016, reports TalkBusiness.net. After Green Source Recycling Center, a third-party garbage collector in Clarksville, stopped taking the city’s materials, all gathered recyclables since that time were being redirected to the Fort Smith Landfill.
“Over time, Green Source reduced the amount of material it could take from Fort Smith, due in part to limits on the amount of material they could process according to their permit from ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality). With no vendor accepting recyclables, the city chose to dispose of such material in the landfill until the city could secure a recycling processing contract,” Cal Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator, explained.
Prior to the arrangements with Green Source, Fort Smith had been working with Smurfit KAPPA until their contract expired in September 2014, forcing the city to turn to another recycling vendor.
Although city officials had been working towards a long-term solution since that happened, they failed to inform the citizens about what had transpired and what was being done with their recyclables. Once the news broke out, it attracted a flurry of responses from Fort Smith’s various homeowners, many of whom expressed their outrage during a town hall meeting.
Resident Robbie Wilson pointedly told Geffken and six Board members: “I’ve never been so disappointed in my local government than I am today. This deception about recycling is just a bridge too far in my view. A minute ago, you mentioned there was no conspiracy or active deception, but trucks were still rolling, picking up recycling as if it was business as usual.” (Related: Seattle now paying ‘Secret Trash Police’ with tax money to inspect residents’ garbage and impose fines)
Lacey Jennen, a member for the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission, was upset by “the fact that [the residents] didn’t know about it.” Jennen further stated: “Transparency and information goes a long way, and I think my reaction would have been a little bit different if we had received a notification about it explaining: ‘Unforeseen circumstances, here’s what we’re doing to try and remedy and find a solution for this, please remember to maintain your recycling practices that we don’t want to get out of the habit of’.”
Geffken acknowledged that the city could have better handled the situation better. “We made the mistake of lack of communication, that’s what it comes down to,” Geffken said.
Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders expressed a similar sentiment: “It was just a failure to communicate. In the meantime, the city staff has been searching to find that recycling solution at a favorable cost to us. There was no intent to mislead. Trash was still picked up. Recyclable wasn’t separated because there was no place for it to go. It was not done to hide anything from the citizens, but it gave us time to go ahead and try to find a solution to the problem. We just didn’t let the people know that this was happening at the time.”
Following the controversy, Mark Schlievert, Fort Smith Director of Sanitation since April 2016, was fired from his position.
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