REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE: A new contract with Waste Management in Little Rock could expand accepted recyclables. Brian Chilson

The contract between the city of Little Rock and Waste Management for recycling is about to expire, and officials are looking to negotiate expanded recycling services with the new contract. Glass and clamshell-style plastics — like fruit, pastry and to-go containers — are potential newcomers.

Jon Honeywell, director of the city’s Public Works department, gave the rundown of potential changes to city officials on Tuesday. The contract renewal with expanded recycling services will be up for a vote on April 2.

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The proposed additional services come with an increased cost, Honeywell said. If approved, customers would face an increase from $5.25 per month to $5.99 per month starting in April 2024. The rate would increase about 30 cents each year, putting the end cost for customers at $6.64 per month by 2027.

Little Rock residents are currently limited to paper, plastic and aluminum recycling. Within those confines, some plastics aren’t allowed because they can’t be processed at Waste Management’s recycling center in east Little Rock. 

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Waste Management’s Materials Recovery Facility, also known as the MRF, is where recycling in the region ends up after it leaves residents’ recycling bins.

Brian Chilson
COVERED WALL TO WALL: The Waste Management recycling facility gets filled every morning.

When crews arrive in the early morning, the entire warehouse floor is piled high with boxes, bottles and cans. A large tractor then collects the material and sends it on the first of many conveyor belts to be sorted by human hands and innovative technology.

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What starts as a huge mass of jumbled up recyclables ends as compressed cubes of sorted materials, which are then sold and shipped to companies for repurposing.

Brian Chilson
BALES FOR SALE: The materials at the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) are compressed tightly and sold.

Glass recycling used to be the norm in Little Rock, but it was phased out in 2018 because of the danger that came with sorting it. The sharp pieces of broken glass were contaminating other materials at the recycling center and putting employees who sort by hand at risk.

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Brian Chilson
HAND-SORTED: Machinery does a lot of the heavy lifting at the recycling center, but crews are on deck to pull out wrongly recycled goods.

Honeywell said Tuesday that Waste Management officials are predicting about 95% of the glass recycled will be recovered using new equipment. The new process wasn’t explained at the meeting on Tuesday, but Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said it would be delivered in writing to city directors afterward.

Other opportunities to recycle glass are available in the interim. A “Green Station” opened in February off Asher Avenue for folks who want to chuck their glass, plastic bags, electronics and household chemicals. The city has also organized quarterly recycle days in partnership with the Little Rock Zoo where several items, including glass, are accepted. The next scheduled event is on March 30.

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Brian Chilson
RECYCLE DAY: Every few months, a group of recycling companies come together and collect non-traditional items near the Little Rock Zoo.

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