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Recycling pickup may not return for six months or more

People have been dumping recyclables and garbage together at recycling sites, often in plastic bags that aren't allowed. This photograph was taken at Earl Johnson Memorial Park.

The recycling mess in Jacksonville could continue for six months or longer, city officials say.

The city suspended curbside recycling last week because of a backlog in regular trash pickup. Although recycling will return eventually, city officials say, the question is when. And no one knows.

“When we contemplated the policy with the mayor, he expressed his deep desire for the outlier to be six months,” Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes told City Council on Tuesday. “But I hesitate to guarantee because of the number of variables, as you see, that occur every day.”

Residents have filed more than 97,000 complaints about trash pickup delays so far this year, and the city has withheld about a million dollars from its contracted trash collectors for not picking up trash on time.

The city temporarily suspended recycling pickup to focus on yard and trash pickup instead. Residents now have to take recyclables to one of 15 new recycling drop-off sites, mostly in parks around Jacksonville.

The solution has failed in many ways. During the first week, bins overflowed with all kinds of non-recyclable trash.

Hughes said the city changed its strategy this week in response to the chaos. Recycling haulers are now emptying the bins twice a day instead of once daily, still six days a week. The city’s trash collection crews have also begun following behind the recycling crews to pick up any remaining trash on the ground.

“Folks not putting things into the bin, but dispersing them all around it, was not an anticipated outcome of putting a recycling location,” Hughes said.

Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said the bins are a flawed solution to the city’s trash pickup problems, as people will likely continue mixing trash with recyclables at the drop-off sites.

“You could have the nicest signs, you could have somebody telling them that, and they’re gonna still put everything there,” Priestly Jackson said. “It’s not going to get better; it’s going to get worse.”

Last month, the city dedicated $4 million in federal COVID relief dollars toward fixing the city’s trash pickup problems. Part of those dollars are going toward the new recycling drop-off sites.

Another portion of the funds is going toward a temporary yard waste transfer site to shorten waste haulers routes to the city’s one landfill on the far west side of town. The Trail Ridge landfill services the city’s more than 900,000 residents.

The City Council voted down a separate proposed solution to the city’s trash problems on Tuesday. Council voted unanimously to withdraw a plan to rezone a plot of land near Greenland Chase to build a permanent waste transfer station.

Dozens of neighbors near the proposed transfer site spoke against the proposal during public hearings earlier this summer.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.