Corporate Grants Behind New Curbside Recycling

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Monday, January 18, 2016, 12:14 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Image from a display at the October press conference for East Lansing’s new recycling program

East Lansing’s residents are now several months into the City’s new single-stream curbside recycling program and, based on the number of dedicated carts seen out at curbs, the program appears to be popular. ELi filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn more about how the program was launched with help from two external funding sources: the Recycling Partnership, an industry-funded nonprofit organization; and Parker Hannifin Corporation, maker of the hybrid drive system for our City’s new recycling truck.

The FOIA response shows that for our new curbside single-stream program, the Recycling Partnership gave East Lansing a cash payment of $125,000 plus “access to resources, Partnership staff time and other in-kind services with an estimated value of $139,000.” The Recycling Partnership gets its funding primarily from corporations that make containers and corporations that make products that go into those containers.

The Recycling Partnership says that they “engage in community partnerships to design and execute tailored social marketing campaigns that increase desirable recycling behaviors.” Contributors to the Recycling Partnership include, for example, Amcor (a major producer of beverage containers), the American Forest & Paper Association, and Coca-Cola.

The Recycling Partnership focuses on promoting recycling (and not on re-use or reduction of consumption). Through programs like this, companies like Coca-Cola also promote goodwill and product placement. Coke products were handed out for free at the October press event launch of East Lansing’s new recycling program. (Article continues after photo.)

The cash grant to the City of East Lansing from the Recycling Partnership provided $100,000 to purchase the new curbside carts and $25,000 for educational and promotional material related to the new program. The new curbside carts were estimated to cost East Lansing about $248,000. According to Scott House, Director of Public Works for the City, the carts were bought from Cascade Cart Solutions, a Grand Rapids-based company.

The grant agreement between the City and the Recycling Partnership required that all the curbside carts be embedded with RFID tags. RFID tags are basically small embedded devices that allow someone with an associated scanner to track information about how a product moves. RFID tags in recycling carts might allow, for example, for tracking which neighborhoods have more carts out. When combined with information gleaned from trucks, RFID tags in carts might allow for figuring out how much and what kinds of materials are being collected in different neighborhoods. 

When I asked House about the RFID tags line in the grant agreement, he told me, “We currently do not have a RFID tracking system in the trucks. The software is evolving and we will investigate in the future.” He added that individual household information would not be shared. Rather, “The information [collected] will be on an aggregate basis.”

The grant agreement also required the city to make “quarterly progress reports” to the Recycling Partnership, “monthly tonnage data for at least six (6) months after all carts are distributed,” and generally allow the Recycling Partnership “to capture data that supports the Partnership’s model of carts, education and outreach, and technical assistance in driving increased recovery rates.”

The grant agreement also required City’s staff “to participate in local press events related to the Partnership.” There was a large turnout of City staff at the launch press conference last October, including directors of all the major City departments.

The grant contract with the Recycling Partnership was signed in June 2015 by City Manager George Lahanas. According to Cathy DeShambo of the Department of Public Works, the grant contract “did not need to go to Council, just required George’s signature,” because, according to City staff Laurie Hoffman, “Normally, if the City has a monetary investment for the grant, it would go in front of Council for approval.” (The grant agreement seems to indicate that the City Manager agreed to lay out at least $150,000 of City funds for the program.)

As for the second source of external financial support for our new recycling program, Parker Hannifin Corporation agreed to a “concession” of about $69,000 for our truck, meaning the price was discounted by about $69,000. City staff has sometimes referred to this as a “grant,” although it was not a grant in the conventional sense of a cash disbursement.

According to Director of Public Works Scott House, “The cost of the truck excluding the hybrid grant was $332,613.51. The purpose for the grant is that we are the first to utilize the [hybrid] technology in Michigan [for a recycling truck] and will continue to work with the vendor to monitor the performance of the system.”

 

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