Knoxville Launches Curbside Recycling

The first 20,000 city residents who sign up can have curbside recycling at no extra cost come October

Knoxville's Public Service department first started trying to make city-sponsored curbside recycling feasible about six years ago with the encouragement of then-mayor Bill Haslam, says Deputy Director David Brace. The idea itself has been around Knoxville since the '90s, when a brief pilot program came and went. But now its time has truly arrived: Single-stream curbside recycling will kick off in October for the first 20,000 city households that sign up for it.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but why now? Technology to separate single-stream components—which studies have shown is the only kind of recycling most consumers will carry out—has caught up at processing plants, and the commodities market has now matured to the point where selling recyclables, particularly aluminum cans, helps offset some of the collections costs, says Brace.

Another huge boon was a $700,000 federal energy block grant covering the capital cost of purchasing the bins.

Other fiscal measures that make the program nearly cost-neutral are the savings from diverting recyclables from the landfill; a modest increase at the Solid Waste Facility, which will now charge $35 a ton, up from $25; and the probability that some of the city's recycling centers will be closed at a later date, though targets won't be established until well after the program is up and running.

In May, City Council will also vote on a proposal to limit back door (versus curbside) pickup, currently established for 14,000 households, to only those who are eligible due to age or medical conditions, says Brace. The savings from that reduction would also be used to offset recycling costs.

The nuts and bolts of the program appear to be all good news for most city dwellers:

• Households in the city limits—renters and owners—that receive weekly garbage collection are eligible for the program. Though apartments of more than four units cannot receive the free program, there will still be some drop-off centers for their recycling.

• Current city-limits customers of the Waste Connections curbside recycling program are automatically included in the new free program without further sign-up, as are residents of the Central Business Improvement District. Brace says the most recyclers who were previously paying and will be automatically shifted to the free program come from the 37919 (Bearden), 37917 (North Knoxville), and 37920 (South Knoxville) zip codes.

• The pick-up schedule will be every other week.

• RecycleBank, which allows participants to earn points by weight of recyclables for discounts (like $20 off a $100 purchase at Earth Fare), will be available free to all curbside recyclers, even those who used to pay for it through the Waste Connections program.

• If someone moves, the service continues for the next owners or renters, but they're able to take their RecycleBank awards points with them. Even if they move out of the service area, the RecycleBank rewards can be used until they expire.

Brace says his group fixed the number at 20,000 based on successful programs elsewhere—it's about a third of all Knoxville city limits households. "Some communities mandate recycling, but we don't want to make people participate and we didn't want to expend money on capital items if people weren't going to use them."

In its first week, 2,573 people signed up for the program, and another 3,323 Knoxville residents had been automatically switched over, leaving around 14,000 slots. Citizens can sign up by visiting or by calling 311. m