Kingsport 'pausing' its recycling program

Matthew Lane • Apr 22, 2020 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport will soon be suspending its recycling program for the foreseeable future.

The change will go into effect on May 1, and until further notice all material will be picked up on the same day by one truck. City officials say they do not know when the recycling service will resume.

The reason for this “pause” in recycling is because the bottom has dropped out of the mixed paper market and the material would be going to the landfill anyway. Regardless, city officials are asking residents to keep up the habit of recycling, separating items and using the blue bins for when the service eventually resumes.

All of this information and more was presented to the Board of Mayor Aldermen during a work session on Monday afternoon.


For nearly 30 years, Kingsport has offered free curbside pickup for recyclables, such as paper, plastic and aluminum cans, hauling in more than 3,000 tons in a given year. Due to a lack of demand, the city stopped accepting glass three years ago.

And now, there's been another, more drastic change in the recycling industry. It all started earlier this year after Kingsport approved a measure extending a contract with West Rock Company of Knoxville — the company that Kingsport pays to accept its recyclables.

In March, West Rock sent Kingsport an unexpected counteroffer, which excluded certain plastics and added an additional $35 a ton tipping fee. Deputy City Manager Ryan McReynolds said this amounted to an additional cost of $115,000 to the city's sanitation budget.

Kingsport makes no money on recycling and typically spends about $500,000 a year on program.


The bulk of Kingsport's recyclables is what's called “mixed paper,” McReynolds said. Three years ago, mixed paper traded at $88 a ton. Today, it's trading at negative $3.75 a ton. That basically means you'd have to pay someone $3.75 a ton just to take the material off your hands.

“The bottom dropped out on (mixed paper) and (West Rock) was not going to be able to manage our contract as we presented it,” McReynolds said. “We sent the contract to West Rock to have it signed and when we got back the counteroffer, that was a surprise.”

As a result of this increase, the BMA voted Tuesday night not to accept the contract, which essentially pauses the city's recycling program beginning May 1. Since West Rock would be sending the material to the landfill anyway, McReynolds said it didn't make sense for Kingsport to pay two, three or four times as much just to have West Rock handle the recyclables.

“At the present time, we do not have an indication as to the duration of the ‘pause,’ ” McReynolds said. “We will monitor the recycling market and specifically the mixed paper market to understand when the proper time to reenter will be.”


Even though all of the material will go to the landfill, McReynolds told city leaders on Monday the city is asking residents to keep up the habit of recycling, separating items and using the blue bins for when the service eventually resumes.

“We don't need to throw the towel in on the service. It's a pause and we're allowing the price to rebound,” McReynolds said. “And we want the habit of recycling to remain the same, for there to be a seamless reintroduction. We don't want to struggle to reintroduce this system back to the residents.”

In the meantime, Kingsport plans to do the following during this “pause” in the recycling program:

— Prepare a request for proposal to partner with a third party to manage the marketing of the city's recyclables.

— Provide a cost benefit analysis between using a third party and the city marketing the material.

— Evaluate any other possible options to provide recycling services to the citizens.

“Kingsport has a long history of being a leader in recycling so it goes without saying this is a decision we do not take lightly,” said City Manager Chris McCartt. “During this pause we will look at all of our options while at the same time closely monitoring this business on not only a national but international level to determine our next step.

“Our pause in this service does not diminish the importance of recycling.”


Sullivan County collects recyclable material at its two transfer stations in Kingsport (1921 Brookside Lane) and Bristol (804 Raytheon Road), as well as a number of drop-off sites across the county.

These sites can be found at the Blountville Middle School, at Colonial Heights (101 Lakecrest Drive), Holston Valley Middle School, Sullivan Middle School, Piney Flats Food City, Northeast State Community College, Indian Springs Elementary School and at 635 W. Industry Drive in Kingsport.

According to Sullivan County Recycling Coordinator Kristen Evans, you can drop off cardboard, aluminum, paper and tin at these eight sites. The two transfer stations accept the same material, along with scrap metal. Sullivan County does not accept plastic or glass for recycling.

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