Above: Equipment operator Marcella Ramirez moved a load of cardboard at Eureka Recycle on Friday, November 15, 2013 (Renee Jones Schneider)
A local non-profit company will soon begin sorting and selling Minneapolis' recyclable materials, after the city opted not to sign a new contract with the nation's largest waste company.
The City Council voted Friday to sign a five-year contract with Minneapolis-based Eureka Recycling to process the plastics, metals, paper and bottles produced by the city's residents. The recycling contract is one of the city's most significant, though sale of the materials has traditionally more than offset the costs of processing.
The city currently works with Texas-based Waste Management, which has a plant in Northeast. Waste Management vied against Eureka for the new contract, spurring environmental groups to highlight Eureka's treatment of workers and committment to reducing waste.
City staff recommended Eureka on financial grounds, however, because the company proposed a lower processing cost and agreed to forego revenues when costs exceed the value of materials.
"There’s obviously some incredibly high expectations in the community and there’s a sense that Eureka can do amazing things," Council Member Cam Gordon said at Friday's City Council meeting. "And can do more than just market and process our recycling, but maybe be a great partner in helping us accomplish our zero waste goals.”
Those financial arrangements are particularly important in today's recycling climate, in which weakened Chinese demand for materials has erased profits cities historically used to keep rates low for consumers.
It remains unclear precisely when Eureka will take over the service. The company also serves St. Paul, which is simultaneously mulling a new contract, as well as Roseville, Lauderdale and some trash haulers who lack their own processing facilities.
Waste Management is the country's largest garbage firm, with facilities spanning from coast to coast. Its opponents in Minneapolis highlighted that the company operates more landfills than recycling facilities -- including several around the state.
The firm has declined to answer questions about its local operations, such as whether it uses temporary labor to sort the materials as claimed by Eureka supporters. Eureka uses full-time employees, who have benefits such as health insurance and sick leave -- the latter of which is a hot topic these days in Minneapolis and St. Paul politics.