Jan 4, 2022 - News

The tip of Nashville's trash iceberg

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Nashville was in the midst of a trash crisis even before the city was forced to pause curbside recycling pickup after the bankruptcy of its garbage collection contractor.

  • Landfills in the Middle Tennessee area, including one in Murfreesboro where Nashville's trash is hauled, are approaching capacity.

Why it matters: The stage appears to be set for the city to consider a massive overhaul of its solid waste policies, including the possibility of switching to a system where residents are charged a fee for trash pickup.

Driving the news: With Metro's trash contractor Red River Waste Services navigating bankruptcy, trucks from the city's recycling fleet are helping with garbage collection. Curbside recycling is on hold at least through January.

  • The city is waiting for the bankruptcy court to determine what happens to its contract, and it's possible Metro will be allowed to search for a new trash collector.

What he's saying: Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse, who has railed against the contract with Red River, says he hopes the door is opening for more progressive solid waste policies.

  • "This situation has become untenable and is fundamentally holding us back from enacting more progressive recycling and sustainability measures, including dealing with the rapidly dwindling landfill locations regionally," Syracuse tells Axios.

The big picture: A 2019 solid waste plan called for massively decreasing the amount of solid waste Metro sends to landfills. At the time of the report, the city was diverting 18% of its solid waste away from landfills, which pales in comparison with peer cities.

  • The goal is to increase that to 90% in the next 20 to 30 years, but Metro hasn't yet made much progress.

The latest: Mayor John Cooper's administration already shifted the responsibility for trash pickup from the Public Works Department to Metro Water Services. That might pave the way for a system where residents are charged fees for trash collection while recycling is either free or significantly cheaper.

  • A new city study is underway evaluating the potential for a more progressive pay-as-you-throw policy.
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