MET adapts, makes deep cuts as curbside recycling cuts into revenue
The availability of curbside recycling in Tulsa has cost the Metropolitan Environmental Trust about 80 percent of its recycling business and a third of its annual recycling income.
But Executive Director Michael Patton wouldn’t be without the curbside service.
“I’m 100 percent for it,” he said. “The MET will find other things to do. We’ll change our (recycling) centers to meet the times.”
The organization, which has 13 recycling drop-off centers in Tulsa and its suburbs, will close one of its five Tulsa centers Thursday as a prelude to a series of deeper changes.
The MET plans to turn its focus in Tulsa from residential recyclers to commercial ones and from household recyclables to toxic materials and electronic waste. Drop-offs in other cities will be unaffected.
“We’re going to have to make drastic changes, but it’s important that we’re able to change,” Patton said. “My challenge is to find ways to stay relevant.”
About 110,200 of Tulsa’s 116,000 households have curbside recycling carts, and the program has collected about 70 tons of recyclables a day since beginning Oct. 1, city spokeswoman Liz Hunt said.
That has cut into what has been a sizable portion of the MET’s revenue since 1993 – selling recyclables left at its drop-off locations to companies that repurpose the material.
Monthly income from that practice dropped from $24,065 in August to $10,574 in November, and the organization projects that its annual recycling will fall from about 1,500 tons to 300.
That would shrink its annual recycling income from $300,000 to $200,000 and shave 8.3 percent off its $1.2 million budget, the organization estimates.
Plans to recoup the income include moving at least some of the remaining Tulsa drop-offs to locations near apartment complexes and commercial centers, which are not served by the city’s curbside program. The drop-offs at 2019 E. 81st St. and 3720 E. Admiral Place are most likely to be affected, Patton said.
The MET will also expand support for materials not collected by curbside crews – such as motor oils, batteries and electronic waste, which are already accepted by the organization.
“There’s always going to be a need to have some centers that take odd stuff somewhere in Tulsa’s future,” Patton said.
In the meantime, the losses have been painful.
The MET has cut two of its nine full-time employees since October and reduced the operational time of its drop-off locations from seven to six hours a day.
The seven part-time employees who work the recycling drop-off that closes Thursday – the west Tulsa center at 1502 W. 51st St. – have had to find work outside of the MET, Patton said.
Positions at the drop-off centers are filled by organizations that find work for people with developmental and physical disabilities.
“I’ve just had to cut everything,” Patton said.
The organization, a public trust authority, received $900,800 this year from 10 area cities and Tulsa County, including $603,390 from Tulsa.
Those entities reimburse the MET annually for recycling services, educational programs and a twice-a-year chemical and medicine drop-off at Expo Square.
As it settles into a new role, the organization will look to expand and more aggressively promote those programs – both to remain relevant and to increase private donations, Patton said.
Representatives of the city’s trash service said officials are unlikely to reduce support for those services because the MET can fill niches that the city cannot. The organization has been an important city partner since its founding in 1987, they said.
“There’s always going to be a need for the MET because they do such amazing outreach,” Hunt said.
Although Patton said he remains a strong supporter of the curbside service because it advances the MET’s goal of increasing recycling, he added that he keeps some recyclables out of his own curbside cart.
“Curbside recycling – I do it,” he said. “But I save my aluminum cans for the MET. I have this small group of friends, and that’s their pledge to the MET.
“We’re making three cents a can when times are good.”
Read more from this Tulsa World article here.