Above: Equipment operator Marcella Ramirez moved a load of cardboard at Eureka Recycle on Friday, November 15, 2013 (Renee Jones Schneider)

Updated at 8:38 p.m.

A local nonprofit 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 tossed out by the city’s residents. The recycling contract is worth more than $1 million a year, though sale of the materials has traditionally more than offset the city’s costs.

The city currently works with Texas-based Waste Management, which has a plant in northeast Minneapolis. Waste Management vied with Eureka for the new contract, spurring environmental groups to highlight Eureka’s treatment of workers and commitment to reducing waste.

The two companies are among four firms seeking a five-year contract with St. Paul, which is now serviced by Eureka. That city has not yet made a decision.

“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 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.”

City staff members had recommended Eureka on financial grounds, however, because the company proposed a lower processing cost and agreed to forgo revenue when costs exceed the value of materials. Those financial arrangements are particularly important in today’s recycling climate, in which weakened Chinese demand for materials has erased some profits cities have used to keep rates low for consumers.

“Currently, recycling materials markets are depressed, and they offer limited revenue,” David Herberholz, the city’s solid waste and recycling director, told a City Council committee last week. “And, unfortunately, there’s not really a good forecast for improvement this year. So, therefore, securing an agreement with the lowest proposed processing fee limits the city’s risk during the term of this agreement.”

City staff members did not respond to an inquiry Friday about when Eureka will take over the service. The city’s request for proposals outlined several possible start dates, the earliest of which is November 2016.

In addition to St. Paul, Eureka now serves Roseville, Lauderdale and some trash-hauling companies that lack their own processing facilities.

Waste Management is the nation’s largest waste-processing firm, with facilities across the country. Its opponents in Minneapolis highlighted that the company operates more landfills than recycling facilities, including several around Minnesota.

Proponents of the switch to Eureka also highlighted the nonprofit’s use of full-time employees — rather than temporary labor common at other plants — who receive benefits including health insurance and sick leave. Minneapolis and St. Paul are studying measures that would mandate that private companies offer sick leave.

Eureka representatives wrote on the company’s Facebook page on Friday that they are “humbled by the community interest in the Minneapolis recycling processing contract and have been wowed by the outpouring of positive support.”

Council Member Kevin Reich, chairman of the council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, will co-host an event with Eureka on Feb. 17 to discuss how recycling impacts the local economy. It will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Northeast Library.

 

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper