City recycling program has lost more than $3 million since 2015; Troup wants to investigate alternatives

Recycling Quincy

A city employee carries a tub with recycling material on Friday near 22nd and Sycamore. | David Adam

QUINCY — The days of a truck stopping in front of your home and picking up your recyclable materials are likely ending.

“Yeah, it’s probably a fair statement,” Central Services Director Kevin McClean said. “We are definitely looking for other alternatives to make things more economical, so it’s not costing the taxpayers more money than it should.”

“I don’t know that we can afford recycling the way we’ve been doing it,” Quincy Mayor Mike Troup said. “That’s why we’re looking into alternatives.”

The city’s recycling program has lost money for several years. Figures provided by Comptroller Sheri Ray show a net loss of $3,114,914 from fiscal year 2015-2021. The city projects a loss of $336,251 for fiscal year 2022. The city is budgeting for a loss of $317,372 for fiscal year 2023.

“To me, it’s pretty easy. We believe in recycling, but how can we continue recycling in a more affordable manner?” Troup said. “We’re not saying we like recycling or we don’t like recycling or are we going to keep recycling or are we going to eliminate it. No, we’re going to keep recycling. How can it be more affordable is really the question. 

“I know some people are going to be upset if we no longer continue curbside recycling, but there are some people who do not do recycling because we’re charging five bucks a month.” 

Troup: Many cities no longer offer recycling as a service

Troup was in Springfield last week along with the mayors of about 100 cities for an Illinois Municipal League meeting. He said he spoke with about 20 mayors. Most of them did not offer recycling as a service in their city.

“Personally, I’d like to see it continue, but I just can’t justify it with everything else that the city has to do,” he said. “When I saw what the budget, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is worth some other study. I need to ask a few more questions.’”

The recycling program has three vehicles — two 2014 Mack trucks and one 2012 International. Next year’s preliminary budget calls for fuel, parts, labor and commercial repairs to the aging fleet to cost $213,000.

”Our recycling trucks are starting to age,” McClean said. “We spent quite a bit of money on them last couple of years, and it’s probably just going to continue to cost us money. We could be looking at buying three new trucks. That expense would be close to probably $900,000, and the actual recycle program right now costs the city about $350,000 a year to subsidize. It only brings in about $300,000 with what we sell to recycle. The price of paper fluctuates up and down, so you never really know what your revenue is going to be there.”

‘If we ordered (three new trucks) today, I’ve been told it would be 18 months before delivery,” Troup said. “That means we’re going to spend a lot more money on maintenance in the next 18 months. We’re having trouble even obtaining all the parts when we get a breakdown on these rigs.”

Nearly 5,900 customers opted into curbside recycling program

The city started an opt-in recycling program in 2019 where households pay $5 a month (collected on their water bills) for curbside recycling pickup. The current contract with Quincy Recycle for the disposal of recycled material is effective through April 30, 2024. The city previously offered recycling as a free subsidized service that was part of the Central Services fund. 

“Even if we were to double the $5 per month (recycling charge) or triple it to $15 a month, the more increases we do, the fewer people are going to stay in the program,” Troup said.

Ray says 5,879 customers have opted in to the curbside recycling program as of March.

City officials discussed issuing an RFP (request for proposal) by the beginning of April. McClean believes the city will encourage potential vendors to offer drop-off sites around the city as an option.

“I know people really like the curbside pickup, but the recycled trucks go through a lot of starting and stopping, and that’s really hard on those big trucks,” he said. “The engines are designed to run at a steady speed over the road. I know we have the same kind of issue with our garbage trucks sometimes.

“(If the city used drop-off sites) there’s probably a few people who wouldn’t (recycle) any more because they may not have a way to get somewhere to recycle. With the way the economy is going right now and with the fluctuation of the cost whether you can make any money at recycling, it just may not be the best thing for the city. That’s why we’re looking for some different options.”

McClean: Glass recycling drop-off site at County Market working well

McClean believes two drop-off sites with bins for paper, plastic and corrugated cardboard at each likely would be sufficient. 

“Obviously if we do this, we’re still going to pay somebody to maintain it,” he said. “There is going to be some cost there, but we think it’s going to be like half of what recycle costs now to do it.”

The city began a three-year partnership with Ripple Glass to provide glass recycling for Quincy residents on May 1. Residents can drop off their glass at the County Market on 48th and Broadway.

“That seems to be going really well,” McClean said. “I probably had to dump it about every two and a half weeks at first. Now I probably dump it almost once a week. It caught on really well once everybody knew about it.”

McClean said the city has four employees dedicated to the recycling program. 

City of Quincy Recycling Revenue

Fiscal Year20152016201720182019202020212022*2023**
*-projected / **-preliminary budget / Quincy implemented $5 opt-in monthly charge for curbside pickup for fiscal year 2020
(figures courtesy of Comptroller Sheri Ray’s office)

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