Days after taking office, District A Councilwoman Susan G. Guidry signed up her office for recycling pickup. It was her first attempt to jump-start a City Hall-wide movement for an overhaul of the city's defunct recycling program. Guidry keeps a blue bin in her office, thanks to the service provided by Phoenix Recycling. "I pay for that myself," she says.
Guidry has long supported recycling. She promoted Phoenix Recycling as president of the Parkview Neighborhood Association and as a customer, and she publicly announced her candidacy for the District A seat at a November 2009 meeting for NOLA Recycles, a campaign urging city officials to resume municipal recycling pickup, which disappeared from city services following Hurricane Katrina.
In January, both Guidry and then-mayoral candidate Mitch Landrieu endorsed NOLA Recycles' six-point plan: Reintroduce citywide recycling, prevent illegal dumping, accommodate safe disposal of hazardous waste, recycle construction and demolition waste from city projects, put the Department of Sanitation in charge of promoting and overseeing recycling projects — and begin a recycling program at City Hall.
Guidry and Landrieu wrote to Sierra Club environmental justice organizer and NOLA Recycles campaign coordinator Darryl Malek-Wiley to show their support. Guidry wrote: "I wholeheartedly will support the next mayor in implementing the return to curbside recycling, taking action against illegal dumping, and the rest of the NOLA Recycles Six Point Plan."
Landrieu wrote that he is "eager to restore a curbside recycling program. Our citizens want it, and city government is the only way to make it happen. To that end, upon taking office, I will scrutinize the city budget and work to eliminate waste and inefficiency. Securing funding for this program is our biggest hurdle. ... I will also work to make sure City Hall offices recycle their waste and use recycled products."
The rest of the council members now support Guidry's efforts to institute a council-wide recycling program. "We've put in an informal bid quote, where we've asked a number of companies we understand do some level of recycling, to provide a quote to recycle for all of City Council — the seven council members and their central staff," she says.
Guidry met with Landrieu as he entered office and discussed a citywide recycling plan. "I strongly recommended we start recycling at City Hall, that it would be a message to our citizens as well as the rest of the country that we're moving on to the 21st century," she says. "He was very supportive of it."
"She's definitely taking a leadership role on the recycling effort at City Hall," Malek-Wiley says. "We applaud that and other efforts to get recycling back in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.
Former Mayor Ray Nagin's sanitation director Veronica White dodged recycling during that administration, citing budget constraints. Guidry acknowledges it will be hard to transform the status quo, or "what has been done by the previous administration that is going to be so difficult for us to try to dig ourselves out of it," she says.
Meanwhile, the councilwoman looks to Baton Rouge. Recycling projects there have reduced landfill waste by 25 percent. In 2006, the capital city adopted a single-stream curbside recycling service (meaning different recyclable materials can be mixed in the same bin), which provides 64-gallon bins to residents and makes weekly pickups. Baton Rouge also contracted with Natural Resources Recovery, which collects and composts yard waste at two facilities, then sells its compost under the label Nature's Best Organics.
New Orleans had a recycling program before Katrina, but it needs the incentive to reinstitute it, Guidry says. She looks to national models and companies for ideas so her efforts won't end with just the City Council recycling. Guidry says she and her staff have researched Recycle Bank, which company spokesperson Melody Serafino explains is a "recycling rewards program." The company partners with cities and waste haulers to provide residents with recycling bins equipped with GPS or ID-reading technology so each bin is matched to a household. Trucks equipped with Recycle Bank's technology perform single-stream pickups and measure how much each household recycles. That data is converted into points. "It's like a frequent flyer program," Serafino says. "The points go into your Recycle Bank account, which you can access online or you can call us up and we'll give your points, and you can use those points and redeem them with local and national partners. We always, always have locals (where you can redeem points) — a lot of mom and pop shops in our program in every city we're in."
With programs in 300 communities in 26 states and the U.K., Recycle Bank partners with the city's hauler and updates its equipment with Recycle Bank hardware. But Recycle Bank operates only as an incentive program, and New Orleans has no municipal recycling service or recycling hauler. Guidry says, however, she can see the program working for New Orleans once the rest of City Hall gets onboard — a decision that ultimately rests with the mayor's office.
"I can't go further than that right now and get the mayor involved and all," she says. "We're getting the information we need to assist them on that." As for Recycle Bank's benefits to New Orleans, Guidry says "the municipality ends up saving more because it has less garbage, less cost in pickup and landfill fees and disposal fees. The citizens get coupons, depending on how much they recycle, for a grocery store, that type of thing. They're incentivized to recycle. It sounds like a wonderful program. We're just going to do the research and hand it over to the mayor and see if we can make it work."