The Slidell City Council narrowly approved on Tuesday a proposal that will decrease residents’ bills for garbage collection and recycling, but also will limit curbside pickup of household waste to one time a week.

When the city and Coastal Environmental Services began negotiating a five-year extension to the company’s contract for waste removal, Coastal said it wanted to raise monthly household rates from $19.61 to $21.29, a $1.68 increase per month, or $20.16 annually per home.

The St. Tammany Parish company said Republic Services, which was processing the recyclables for Coastal, hiked the price to process a ton of recyclables from $65 last September to $135 in November and then to $167.50 per ton this April.

Coastal President and CEO Gus Bordelon said decreased interest from overseas buyers of recyclable materials (chiefly China) was the reason for skyrocketing costs.

The city council countered with three proposed amendments to the contract renewal, all which reduced monthly rates. Two of them, however, would have eliminated city participation in a curbside recycling program.

The council voted 5-4 for an amendment that decreases the rate by $1.19 monthly (down to $18.42) but ends the twice-weekly trash pickups Slidell residents have enjoyed for years.

Bill Borchert, Kim Harbison, Cindi King, Glynn Pichon and Val Vanney voted for the amendment, while Warren Crockett, Leslie Denham, David Dunham and Kenny Tamborella voted against it.

The council already had effectively killed two other proposed amendments when neither received a motion for approval. One would have decreased the per-home cost to $16.58 monthly, but would have eliminated recycling and reduced garbage pickups to once per week. Another would have decreased monthly rates to $18.64 while ending curbside recycling and keeping twice-weekly garbage pickup.

Bordelon told the council that Slidell was the only city in the parish where garbage was collected from homes twice per week. He called a twice-weekly service the “Cadillac” of collection plans, and added that once-weekly garbage pickup has been very effective in other municipalities.

Some council members expressed concerns, however, saying that keeping garbage in trash cans for an entire week would attract flies and bugs, and would also stink, particularly during warmer months. Bordelon said, however, that statistics show 60 percent of Slidell customers only bring their trash carts to the curb once a week. 

Coastal contracted recently with FV Recycling of Sumrall, Mississippi, to process recyclables at $120 per ton. While the rate still is nearly double what Coastal was paying to Republic nine months ago, it’s a move that will should keep consumer costs low for the time being, he said.

“We felt like we were over a barrel (with Republic,)” Bordelon said. “There was no negotiation. It was ‘Here’s what we’re charging.’”

Bordelon said FV Recycling found that the first loads of recyclables brought from Slidell to its Mississippi plant contained 51 percent residual waste; a very high number compared to the 30 percent national average.

Residual waste is a term for garbage that finds its way into the recycling stream. Bordelon showed the council slides of such material stashed inside recycling carts, and it included everything from children’s toys and garden hoses, to disposed food and even a garbage bag filled with crawfish heads.

“Can anyone tell which one contains recycling?,” Bordelon asked the council while showing them a slide with four nearly identical Coastal receptacles standing side by side on a curb. “Neither can we. … The amount of trash that’s getting into the recycling stream has been a real eye-opener for us.”

Bordelon said Coastal will have an “education plan” in action soon to inform residents about the do's and don'ts of proper recycling. The company plans to advertise its message, as well as send flyers to customers instructing them which products can go in the recycling stream and what should go in the garbage can. Sanitation workers will place orange tape across the top of recycling carts that are “contaminated” and will place “No Glass” stickers to the tops of carts, as well. Only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics will be recyclable in the revamped program.

Bordelon said a key part of the strategy will be to collect all recycling only on Wednesdays through the entire city. He said when customers drag garbage and recycling carts to the curb on the same day, it encourages contamination. And recycling that is contaminated almost always winds up in a landfill, meaning that customers could be paying four times more for a recycling service that isn’t actually recycling anything.

“You have a participation rate of 45 to 48 percent (in the recycling program in Slidell,)” Bordelon said. “Our position is we’re going to find a way (to make this better for the people that want it.) It’s the right thing to do.

“As for garbage collection, one time a week really works. Mandeville and Covington changed (to once a week) 15, 17 years ago. The City of Bogalusa. Abita Springs. They all do it. It works, because you have single stream of recycling. And it reduces rates.”