Material in Chattanooga's 'collection of curbside recycling' will not be recycled

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Jenny Allen grabs items in need of recycling out of her trunk at the city of Chattanooga Recycling Center at 8004 Batters Place Road on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in East Brainerd, Tenn.

Chattanooga's "emergency recycling pickup" will not take materials to recycling centers, but will deliver them to the dump.

Regular curbside recycling service has been paused since July due to a shortage of qualified drivers. The city this week announced a one-time emergency recycling pickup, to take place on regular trash pickup days next week.

The materials collected, however, will not be recycled but will go to the regular dump.

Asked on Thursday, the mayor's office confirmed the recyclables would be taken to the landfill along with the materials in regular garbage bins - a detail not included in the initial news release or social media posts from the city.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga offers one-time emergency recycling pickup amid driver shortage)

A spokesperson told the Times Free Press that the information was not intentionally left out of the initial release and that the pickup is designed to remove old waste, which cannot be recycled.

"To be clear, due to the abrupt service pause earlier this month, many residents' bins have been sitting out in the weather for several weeks - rendering the material inside too poor a quality for the recycling aftermarket," spokesperson Mary Beth Ikard said. "While the city is currently in the hiring process for several new ... drivers, this emergency pickup must be combined with the garbage route as we continue to be short on qualified personnel."

She said running separate trash and recycling trucks along routes would be impossible given the staffing levels.

"We hear many residents have already emptied their bins by taking their recyclables to a drop-off convenience center," she said. "This one-time pickup is really for those who've been unable to do that for whatever reason. We're thinking particularly of seniors or people with limited mobility. We conveyed this collection as being on 'emergency' basis because there's also a code-mandated health/sanitation imperative to not leave this refuse uncollected for too long (pests and odors etc)."

photo Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Jenny Allen recycles a plastic bottle at the city of Chattanooga Recycling Center at 8004 Batters Place Road on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in East Brainerd, Tenn.

To address the driver shortage and avoid similar issues in other departments, Mayor Tim Kelly included $30 million in pay increases for city employees in his first proposed budget, which will be voted on by the city council next week. The proposed budget includes a more than 40% increase for collection drivers.

The city plans to fill its remaining vacancies and resume regular pickup sometime in October.

Ikard also said officials are using the recycling pause in recent weeks to find ways to improve the city's process, including working with entrepreneurs for innovative solutions.

To participate in the emergency pickup, residents must place garbage and recycling carts at the collection point before 7 a.m. on their normal collection day.

One Brainerd resident and waste reduction advocate, Sadie McElrath, 35, said Thursday that the pause in curbside could be a good time for Chattanoogans to consider more proactive ways to manage waste.

"We try to avoid single-stream recycling, which is what our city curbside offers," McElrath said. "So for the recycling that we do have, we have for over a year now, we bring it to one of the five recycling centers and sort it out ourselves. And the reason for this is, it only takes one greasy pizza box that your neighbor throws in the recycle bin, not realizing that that contaminates all of the paper in the whole stream and it all gets thrown in the trash."

McElrath, who runs the blog Zero Waste Chattanooga, also encourages residents to consider ways to avoid products that create even recyclable waste.

"In general, I try to recycle the least amount as possible, anyway, because there's so many better options than recycling such as reducing and reusing," McElrath said. "So for example, when I go to a grocery store, I use reusable produce bags, you know, because even recycling paper bags has a high carbon footprint.

"Everybody's getting too upset about recycling not being available, but really recycling is the last thing we should be doing. Well, second to last behind landfilling."

Residents wishing to recycle can bring materials to the following centers from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday:

- 5955 Brainerd Road.

- 1250 E. 3rd St.

- 3189 Cummings Highway.

- 8004 Batters Place Road.

- 4504 N. Access Road.

Refuse collection centers and recycling collection centers will be closed Monday for Labor Day. They will reopen for business Tuesday.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at [email protected] or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.