Downtown Bloomington Recycling Center Improves City Sustainability

Chad Roeder’s day starts at 2am, when he gets up to start collecting recyclables. He needs to take care of his morning rounds for his business, Bloomington Pedal Power, before he starts his day at his new project, the Downtown Bloomington Recycling Center, which opened in November, 2011.

So far the facility, located in the parking lot of the Showers building next to Rogers Street, has proven quite popular. Roeder said there have been between 30 and 70 drop-offs per day; the center collects cardboard, paper, metals, and glass.

“It’s running exactly as I’d hoped, and the response from the public has been truly worth the effort,” Roeder said.

Since Bloomington Pedal Power works downtown, Roeder has long wished for a nearby recycling center. In addition to delivery and courier services, his business does a lot of recycling pickup for local businesses; he and his employees do their hauling with bike trailers.

By opening a downtown recycling center, he also provides a public service to local residents, many of whom live in apartment buildings without curbside recycling service.

“It’s tragic how many recyclable materials are being land-filled every day in the city of Bloomington,” Roeder said.

“It’s happening because infrastructure is not in place to effectively deal with the amount of recyclables being generated,” he continued. Through the downtown recycling center, a public-private partnership between Roeder, the City of Bloomington, and the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District, he hopes to start alleviating that problem.

His clientele is mainly from the immediate area, and also from the north side. By coming to the downtown center, people are reducing the amount of time and fuel they used to spend getting to South Walnut facility.

“People would have to drive four, five miles there and four, five miles back, battling the traffic. You might end up spending a half hour journey getting down there when you could come over here to Showers and be done in five, ten minutes,” Roeder said.

The city gave Roeder a two-year lease on the Showers parking lot space to give the downtown recycling center a trial run. During this time, Roeder said, “We will be assessing our impact, collecting data, and talking to the people who come through to gauge how they like the project and how it has affected their ability to recycle.”

Ultimately, Roeder would love to see the downtown recycling center find a larger permanent home. With more space, the center could accumulate several tons of each material at one time and get a better return on the resale, he said.

For instance, if the center had the capacity to store 20 tons of paper at one time, it could be sold directly to a paper mill, bringing in top dollar and negating the need for a middleman. That makes recycling more financially sustainable.

Letting materials go into landfills is not just wasteful environmentally, Roeder said, it’s wasteful financially. He cites cardboard as an example. “The city is throwing away $4,000 a week just in cardboard, to say nothing of the paper, or the metals. It’s literally a goldmine. Conventional approaches to the problem have proven to be ineffective,” he said.

But the city needs to invest in the space and equipment to make that possible. “It’s going to be critical that we scale up the amount of materials we can manage, and the only way to do that is to have more room and better infrastructure,” Roeder said.

Meanwhile, he’s interested in getting the local community engaged with the downtown facility. Once Roeder gets an occupancy permit for the building, volunteers will be able to help staff the recycling center. He’s looking forward to getting student and community groups involved as well as concerned individuals and people who are interested in gaining new employment skills.

Financial support is also needed. The major sponsors who helped get the project off the ground “represent some of the core downtown locally-owned businesses,” Roeder said. Now he is focused on recruiting more “gold-level” sponsors (those who give $500) to the cause.

In addition to getting the recycling center as highly functional as possible, Roeder wants to help educate the public about recycling and making the processes behind it more transparent and widely understood.

“There are a lot of questions surrounding the recycling industry, and that has to change. Public awareness of those issues is critical to the mission of waste reduction and landfill diversion,” Roeder said.

The Downtown Bloomington Recycling Center is open Monday through Saturday from 7:30am to 5:30 pm. It is located in the northwest corner of the Showers parking lot. To get involved, call Chad at 812-325-2777.

 

 

 

by Laura Gleason

 

For his efforts to promote city recycling,

Chad Roeder was recently awarded the  Downtown Revitalization Award for Design from Downtown Bloomington, Inc.