David McDonough and his local company Phoenix Recycling began a household recycling service in 1991 to answer a need no one else in the New Orleans area seemed to be addressing. Sixteen years and one devastating hurricane later, he essentially did the same thing again.
Phoenix had shifted to commercial recycling in the mid-1990s as New Orleans began collecting glass, aluminum, paper and other valuable recyclable materials as a municipal service. But since Hurricane Katrina, that service has disappeared. The facilities of the city’s former recycling contractor, BFI, were damaged by the flood and City Hall has not requested any bids for new providers. But McDonough and business partner Steve O’Connor began hearing from neighborhood organizations and individuals eager to begin recycling again rather than shunting their household waste off to landfills. In August, the company resumed its household service on a subscription basis, hauling truckloads of materials to a number of recycling operations around the region.
“We initially sent out an e-mail to 20 people [outlining the proposed service] and the way that spread we soon had 2,500 responses,” says McDonough. “The demand is there, we get requests coming in constantly.”
City Hall has not budgeted funds for a resumed recycling program, which prior to Katrina was supported in part by $1 monthly assessments on Sewerage and Water Board bills to city residents. The city has organized two “recycling days” in 2007, inviting residents to stockpile recyclables at their homes and haul them to pick-up sites on their own. Over the summer, a delegation of New Orleans officials including Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield and Sanitation Director Veronica White spent 10 days in Germany investigating recycling and waste handling operations there. White has said the city likely won’t make decisions about returning curbside recycling service until sometime in ‘08.
In the vacuum of municipal service, some nonprofit and community groups have started their own recycling efforts. For instance, the Crescent City Farmers Market periodically hosts recycling days at its markets and the Green Project, a nonprofit store for recycled building materials, often collects some basic household recyclable goods.
Phoenix charges households $15 a month for its twice-monthly curbside service. As more customers sign up, McDonough says, the rate could decrease further. If the city starts recycling again, he says, Phoenix would likely bid on the contract. Information about Phoenix’s service is available online at www.phoenixrecyclingnola.com