Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Well this is embarrassing: The Tulsa World newspaper discovered last week that the city's relatively new and complicated trash collection program has gone slightly awry. The city bills residents to collect "green waste" like yard clippings for recycling and conversion into mulch. To use the service, residents have to bag the waste into clear plastic sacs and affix a special "green waste" sticker to each one – all to help garbage collectors make sure they take it to the right place.
From there, though, it appears the city has been quietly trucking all of this stuff to an incinerator instead of a mulching machine. Via the Tulsa World:
The city has hauled residential yard waste exclusively to its trash incinerator almost since the beginning of the new trash system but still charges customers for separate green waste service, officials confirmed Tuesday.
Trash operators said they decided in January to take all yard waste to the Covanta Energy incinerator plant like regular garbage because the city's mulching plant could not remove the plastic bags in which residents are asked to place the material.
The city has continued requiring residents to affix those bags with a 50-cent "green waste" sticker and charges every trash customer a $1.09 monthly green waste fee, saying it still provides the service of collecting an unwanted material.
The story – the subject today of local wrangling at a trash board meeting – sounds more like a case of incompetence than conspiracy. The city also innocently argues that the green waste has been going to a trash-to-energy plant. And that's just as good as mulching it, right?
Whatever the level of overt shadiness, the story's got to be enough if you live in Tulsa to make you wonder where your old newspapers and aluminum cans are going...