MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The city of Montgomery is getting back into the recycling business after a two-year absence. A first-of-its-kind plant that sorted recyclables from city garbage collections was closed in 2016. But a new agreement promises to bring the facility back to life.
The city has entered into a 25-year contract with Repower South, a South Carolina-based company that specializes in recycling and recovery. Work is underway to retrofit the Montgomery plant to better suit RePower South's needs. It is expected to open in January.
The plant originally launched in 2014 - five years after Montgomery’s curbside recycling program came to an end. The Montgomery Clean City Commission says the number of citizens who participated in the curbside program did not justify its cost. The new recycling plan would no longer require action on the part of the public. The new plant would accept garbage already being collected by city sanitation crews and then separate out materials that could be recycled.
“If your garbage is being picked up, then you’re already 100 percent buying into this recovery and recycling program,” explained the Clean City Commission’s executive director, Amanda Miller. “But with the curbside program, not 100% of our citizens were doing it.”
Two years after the plant's opening, however, the company operating the facility went out of business. I-REP (Infinitus Renewable Energy Park) was relying solely on revenue generated by the sale of the recycled materials. A decline in the market for such commodities forced the company into bankruptcy.
"We were a Guinea pig," Miller said. "In order for a business to be successful in this recycling facility, we now know they need to do more."
That’s where Repower South enters the picture. Its business model includes a secondary revenue stream - the use of recycled materials to produce a coal substitute.
"We'll take the plastics and papers and grind them up into something that can be burned like coal," explained Repower South's Scott Montgomery. "We'll sell it to people like cement kilns or paper mills."
The fuel could offset a company’s coal consumption by about 10 percent. Repower South says several companies in Alabama already have expressed interest in purchasing it.
After producing the coal-substitute, any leftover paper, plastic, and metal will be recovered and sold as before. The plant will not recycle glass.
The city of Montgomery is already heavily invested in the project. It purchased the recycling plant for $625,000 following I-REP's bankruptcy. That debt could be offset, however, under the new agreement with Repower, which agreed to share a portion of its profit with the city.
Montgomery produces over 400 tons of garbage per month. This project is expected to divert up to 60 percent of that waste from entering the city landfill, thus extending the landfill’s life. Other nearby cities may also choose to send garbage to facility in the future.
Citizens will not have to change their current habits. They will continue to throw all garbage into one bin and roll it to the curb.