North Little Rock agrees to extend curbside recycling pact, raise rates

After lengthy negotiations over pricing and foreign laws, North Little Rock agreed Monday to a curbside recycling contract with Waste Management of Arkansas, the first of three cities to vote on the final terms.

The North Little Rock City Council voted 8-0 to approve an amendment to the original 2011 contract with Waste Management that extended the agreement through March 31, 2021.

Waste Management provides curbside recycling in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood, with a total of 91,564 residences served under the current contract. Each city is a partner in the contract.

The Little Rock Board of Directors and the Sherwood City Council have yet to vote on the final contract, pending their own review of the latest version.

"It's been a long six months," Mayor Joe Smith said after the vote, speaking to Craig Douglas, executive director of the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District that helped to facilitate contract negotiations with the cities.

The final version was sent to council members Saturday morning, City Attorney Amy Fields said Monday afternoon. The council had approved in September going forward with Waste Management, with the caveat of holding the option for approval of a final contract. Fields received the final draft late Friday afternoon.

The new curbside recycling charge to residents is to be $4.14 monthly beginning April 1, an increase from the current $2.99 per month charge. The rate is to rise to $4.29 per month beginning April 1, 2020. The price increase had been a concern of the three cities' mayors during negotiations, but ultimately found that it's less expensive than other cities throughout the country pay for curbside recycling.

A clause in the contract that had been a sticking point during negotiations was what is listed in the new contract as "Applicable Law." The definition in the contract states that the term includes any law or requirement from another "domestic or foreign governmental body" that could result in an increase in recycling costs.

In that event, the contract states that the cities would "engage in good faith negotiations to modify" the contract. Unless "all parties reach agreement on an increased rate" the contracted rate would remain in effect for the remainder of the contract time period. "Parties" under the contract definition refers to the three cities, Waste Management and the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District.

Smith said the version approved is "the same wording" as in a recycling contract for Nashville, Tenn.

Smith had said recently that it would be inappropriate to subject the cities' residents to a price increase based on another nation changing its recycling laws. He said he believed the cities should have allowed a means to opt out, if necessary.

China stopped accepting most recyclable materials from U.S. businesses last year because of claims of "contamination" of materials. About one-third of materials placed in recycling carts is considered contaminated because the materials have been compromised in some way or aren't accepted recyclables.

Smith said the cities and Waste Management would "work harder" on the "extreme contamination" problems North Little Rock and Little Rock have experienced and would initiate education programs for residents on how to recycle and what are and aren't acceptable materials to place in recycle bins.

"We're going to get aggressive on our side and Waste Management's side," Smith said about policing and informing residents who repeatedly contaminate their recyclables. "It's just in certain neighborhoods."

Council member Beth White said that the list of acceptable materials, or what could make an item unacceptable, hasn't been clear and that more explanation would be helpful.

"I found that I was recycling something wrong and I didn't know," White said. "Some things listed are so vague."

Metro on 12/11/2018