Back when Indianapolis built its waste incinerator to generate energy, the move was applauded as state of the art, and it was. The “deal” made at that time required the City to provide enough trash to allow the vendor, Covanta, to produce steam used to heat downtown buildings.
But time marches on. As cities across the country have encouraged recycling, Indianapolis has persistently lagged the nation in the percentage of people doing so. (We are one of the few places that charges folks for the “privilege” of recycling, which might have something to do with our lackluster performance.)
Ostensibly to address that low level of participation, the Ballard Administration entered into an agreement with Covanta to build a new recycling facility. But as Carrie Hamilton of the Indiana Recycling Coalition has written:
This facility would move the city’s residential collection to a one-bin system that would mix waste and recyclables in the same bin. Covanta, which already has a contract to burn the city’s waste for energy production, has been contracted to separate recyclables from waste at the proposed MWP facility. In exchange, it gets a minimum $100 million contract putting it in charge of both waste and recycling for all of Indianapolis until 2028…..
There are a number of concerns about this plan, but at the top of the list is this: Covanta secured this contract – and the rights to the city’s recycling future – without having to go through a competitive bidding process.
The contract calls for use of a process known as “Dirty Recycling” –it allows residents to throw all their trash into one receptacle; actual separation is to occur at the Covanta facility. This is a process that is simply not suitable for use in many industries that purchase recyclable materials.
Among the many concerns raised by this contract are its length–it locks Covanta in until 2028– several “put or pay” provisions that actually penalize the city if residents recycle more than the contract anticipates, and the contamination of otherwise recyclable materials in a highly questionable methodology. But the major issue is, once again, the utter disregard of the process by which such agreements should be executed.
There are all sorts of arguments–legitimate and less so– to be made about the impact of recycling (see John Tierney’s Op Ed in last Sunday’s New York Times), but there is no legitimate argument for ignoring the legal processes intended to protect taxpayers against crony capitalism and/or intemperate decision-making.
If the contract with Covanta is good for the City, it would have survived the vetting that the law requires.
If the Ballard Administration were truly interested in protecting the interests of citizens and taxpayers, and genuinely interested in an environmentally-appropriate recycling program, there would be no need to bypass the public bid processes mandated by law.
Garbage isn’t the only thing that smells here.