By Sheree Stubblefield

Approximately twenty years ago, the word “recycling” was added to the lexicon of the average American home. It was becoming “normal” rather than an extreme practice of the new-age,  “granola” community.

Nowadays, some people are hyper-recylists while others recycle if it’s convenient. Horror of horrors, there are the unnamed few who don’t recycle at all. If a survey was taken in Cooper-Young, the majority of the neighborhood would very well fall into the hyper-recyclist category. Maybe a more appropriate word would be fervent. Or passionate. Either way, the well-known recycling bins at First Congo have been convenient for the Cooper-Young community as well as surrounding areas to recycle their goods in a favorable location. The inconvenience of illegal dumping, however, has created a problem. While probably not a problem created by Cooper-Young residents, the dumping has become an unsightly blemish and a problem that the community is looking to solve. Fast.  

“The recycling bins have been such an eyesore for the neighborhood due to the neglect in the pickup and maintenance services they are receiving. Others are using them for a dumping ground for old sofas, mattresses and tires.  We can’t allow our neighborhood to be apart of the blight situation that is happening in a lot of other neighborhoods in our city. Too much work has gone into this neighborhood by thousands of volunteers to go backwards now,” said Tamara Cook, Executive Director of the Cooper-Young Business Association.

The bins were installed approximately thirteen years ago when the city was first embracing a culture of recycling. First Congregational Church approached the city and asked them to install a recycling drop-off center in their parking lot.  It was one of several centers located in various neighborhoods around the city. The city obliged and thus forth, it has become one of the most heavily used recycling centers in Memphis.

Initially the city and their trucks transported the roll-offs to the plant to be emptied.  Predictably, as can become common in urban areas, the bins became covered in graffiti and dumping tires and other junk nearby became a recurring problem. The city would send drivers by to see if the bins needed to be transported and emptied but when government holidays came, the containers often were full for days.

Madeleine Edwards, creator and owner of Get Green began attracting more and more clients when Project Green Fork was started by Margot McNeely in 2009. “At that point we started brainstorming about how we could help beautify the bins and make the pickups a bit more efficient with the increased use.  We knew that the city truck drivers were already stretched pretty thin, and there wasn’t a good way of communicating when the bins needed attention,” said Edwards. At that point, PGF and Get Green, with the approval of First Congo, took a proposal to the city in which they offered to help raise money for new roll-off containers and artwork to be painted on them by local artists. They then approached ReCommunity, who agreed to cover the transport of the bins to the plant so the city could put their resources toward the other recycling centers around the city.  

Shelby County Office of Sustainability got involved to help get a grant for the new bins and Urban Arts organized the artwork project, while many generous supporters gave to a crowd-funding site. The hope was that with Get Green’s frequent monitoring of the bins, they could adjust the schedule according to that center’s particular needs and graffiti and vandalism would be reduced because of the artwork. Going forward PGF, Get Green and First Congo all worked together to keep the area as clean as possible, which would in turn, reduce dumping activity.

All this then begs the question: Why are the bins being removed?

According to Edwards, “We have been extremely grateful to ReCommunity for sponsoring the center for the last several years.  However, they are no longer able to justify the increasing cost of doing so with the market as it is and the cost of the hauls increasing.” Through the years, the value of recycled materials has tumbled and this has caused a domino effect for recycling centers.

ReCommunity, who sponsors the center, has been on the losing end of this trend. Each haul is expensive which creates a reluctance to transport a bin that wasn’t completely full.  As they tried to reduce the number of hauls, the bins became overflowing more often with the end result being too much recycling being dropped off and left outside the bins.

This has become a blight issue to residents and businesses in Cooper-Young.”It almost never fails, that once a mess gets started, someone decides to drop off tires or an old couch,” said Edwards.

Furthermore, with the continuing economic development of the area and the continual struggles with dumping, some community stakeholders are understandably concerned with having a perceived eyesore in such a visible spot in the neighborhood.  “First Congo has been a generous and supportive partner through the years and their commitment to helping the area be more sustainable and progressive is extremely commendable,” Edwards went on to say.

More challenges remain such as trying to keep contamination low while educating the public about what does and doesn’t belong in the bin.  

ReCommunity has pulled their sponsorship as of the end of March 2019.

Although the removal of the bins is disappointing, Edwards says, “The most rewarding thing has been seeing all kinds of people from all kinds of places bringing their recycling to the center.  There has been a steady increase in use, and the center now averages around 4 tons per week.”

The containers will be moved to another location owned by the city until they have determined the best new location for the Cooper-Young community.  The City Solid Waste Division stated that is will take around 60-90 days to relocate, update the containers with new signage and install a camera. They have acquired some funding to upgrade the recycling centers and the Cooper-Young location will be the first to benefit. There will be messaging coming in the next couple of months regarding the new location and any related changes.

It turns out that the community spirit in Cooper-Young will be its strength. Janet Boscarino, Executive Director of Clean Memphis says, “Neighbors can always help. Continue to let your voices be heard, that having a recycling center is important to you.  We need everyone to focus on reducing contamination and understand what is acceptable for recycling in Memphis.”

During this transition, your clean recyclables can be taken to the following location until the new Cooper-Young center is up and running:

Downtown: Mud Island Drive (North entrance of Mud Island Park)

East Memphis: Moore Ed (Approx 300 yards off Germantown S, just south of the Agricenter)

Southeast: Hickory Hill Community Center 3910 Ridgeway

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