A sustainable curbside recycling model that’s better for Jackson?

Allow us to (re)introduce you to Environmentality.

We first met Fondrenite Karissa Bowley and her startup two years ago, at the time, geared toward supporting the recycling efforts of small businesses.

Now Bowley, along with Derek Augustus, is working to build a curbside recycling program in Jackson, at first starting in Fondren, Belhaven and LeFleur East.

“We plan to begin within our current residential service area where we already have a curbside glass program,” Augustus said. “Refining the logistics of our current service area will enable us to begin expansion to other parts of the city. In that process, we hope this change brings about an awareness of the challenges in the recycling market that start at the consumer level.”

JacksonCurbside.com details pickup options that include single-stream plastic, paper and metal collection, starting at $3.60 per visit for a weekly pickup, bags included. Glass, electronics and compost pickup options are available as add-ons.

“At the prices listed, we would need roughly 300 (registrants), more specifically, approximately 100 per one-mile radius,” Augustus said. “We would be looking at 100 households in Fondren, 100 in Belhaven and 100 in the LeFleur East area.”

Service could start with as few as 25 to 50 participants in a square mile but prices would be higher.

To help Environmentaility prepare to begin curbside residential recycling pickups, interested residents need to visit jacksoncurbside.com and fill out the form.

“Provided that we have enough people preregistered within certain areas, we could start within a week or two (of the city’s cessation),” Bowley added. “We hope that the city would give all of us at least a one-month notice (if they were to ever cease recycling services) so that we can minimize any gaps.”

The Bigger Picture

Environmentality’s approach is not one of moving materials from one spot to another, but innovating in the way recycling is dealt with holistically.

“We have known from the beginning of our business that the current mainstream recycling system is flawed,” Augustus said. “Vast amounts of energy — both fossil fuels and human labor — are used to move these materials across the world, rather than being used to devise local, sustainable, creative solutions. We are in a position to take on and redirect a good bit of Jackson’s recyclable material.”

China had been a major receiver of the US’s recyclables until last January.

A May article in the New York Times questioned whether recycling actually goes to be recycled or if it simply ends up in landfills, especially after China’s ban.

“China has definitely sent the recycling market spinning…” Bowley confirmed. “There are still buyers of certain plastics, but the prices are currently very low, and the contamination standards are stricter. If we are going to do this right, our solutions need to be more local.”

Currently, Environmentality ships glass to Atlanta, where bottles and jars are processed and shipped to container manufacturers. All other materials are taken to several local buyers who then sell to bulk buyers.

“Essentially, we are currently functioning as a supplier of waste products to various middle-man buyers,” Bowley said. “If we begin taking on substantially more material, we plan to skip the middle-man and seek out bulk buyers directly, which will allow us to sell it for a better price. We have already begun making these relationships, but will need much greater volumes to move forward in that direction.”

“Once we realized how many times recyclables change hands and how far they are shipped, we set out to find a way to change it. It is our goal to eventually process recyclables right here in Jackson, she added.”

Augustus believes that our “waste” can be a valuable resource to our economy. “One of our missions is to demonstrate that idea by converting ‘trash’ into valuable items for Jacksonians,” he said. “We have several projects underway that are inspired by open source projects around the world and we are excited to begin showcasing one aimed at plastics in the near future.”

To accomplish this, recyclers in Jackson will need to “tighten up” their routines.

“We hope to greatly reduce ‘wish-cycling,’” Augustus said, the practice of tossing items in the bin that you hope can be recycled. “(It’s often) a major cost redirecting those items from the recycling stream to the landfill. On our website, we are working to list, with pictures, very clear examples of what we can and cannot accept.”

The Disposability Delusion

Thankfully, recycling is becoming more mainstream. In other parts of the country, some cities require it.

Though change is often slow to come to Mississippi, the state’s problems with waste and the environment aren’t insular ones.

“Not only does our mishandled waste contaminate our environment, disrupt ecosystems and endanger our wildlife, but there is also a human justice element to the idea of handling what we produce responsibly,” Bowley explained.

Not convinced as to why you should recycle?

“It is a waste not to,” she said.

“We have built huge industries around creating massive amounts of materials for packaging, but behave as if taking responsibility for that manufactured material is optional after it has served its initial purpose. If we were to treat this massive amount of material as a raw resource, there is no telling how much economic value could be created.”

Bowley called the concept of disposability “an illusion.”

“Our waste does not just stop existing when we ‘throw it away.’ Many plastics take centuries to break down. Beyond the fact that our waste is pushing past the limits of what we can sustainably store in landfills, we tend to saddle vulnerable and disadvantaged communities with this unwanted material. In that practice, more privileged communities can remain unaware of the consequences inherent in an irresponsible waste disposal.”

Think of it this way: every single recyclable material discarded irresponsibly, including food waste, is like throwing away money.

“It’s time to revisit the way we handle these materials,” Bowley said. “Whether it is wildlife, the environment, human rights, or an efficient, thriving economy, we believe that almost everyone has values that can be furthered by making the decision to recycle. When we recycle, we reinvest in our shared and limited resources. Not doing so is simply unsustainable.”

Publisher’s note: An earlier version of this story was based upon a statement from Public Works Director Robert Miller’s office last week that said in part, “I am seeking to negotiate cost reductions to the solid waste contract by suspending the recycling program. In doing so, I will be seeking alternatives for citizens interested in continuing recycling activities,” that pointed to a much quicker end to recycling. This afternoon, Miller’s office says, “The existing recycling contract with Waste Management does not provide for renegotiation of component elements; we may have to terminate the contract and re-bid it in order to accomplish the changes that I believe will be most beneficial to the community. I anticipate that this will take several months to accomplish once the process has begun. I anticipate that the existing recycling program will continue for the foreseeable future.” A source in the Mayor’s office says that contract is not up for “two to three years.”

It is our opinion that the service Environmentality is building is a smarter, more viable long-term option that addresses recycling needs beyond immediate disposal. 

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