Trash piles, county's recycling pressures grow after West Lafayette drop-off center closes

LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The growing pains at Tippecanoe County’s drop-off recycling sites in the month since West Lafayette removed its bins was apparent Monday morning at Southwestern Middle School.

Best Way Disposal had left a fresh, roll-off container for glass, paper, plastics and cardboard in a parking lot just off the entrance to the school. Left behind was a collection of boxes and bags that didn’t fit and was left on the asphalt at the Tippecanoe School Corp. middle school along County Road 800 South.

With it all was a small, chest freezer – clearly not recyclable and problematic even for regular trash.

“Was it a pickup-size load, maybe?” Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tracy Brown asked, sizing what sort of cleanup a county crew was in for this time at one of three drop-off sites the county manages.

“What we really need help with is, look, if you pull up at a site and a bin is full, the answer is not to just drop it off there,” Brown said. “One, that is not good for our partners who, out of the goodness of their hearts, decided to host for us. And, in turn, we have to send someone out to pick that stuff up.”

Unmonitored sites, including Southwestern Middle School and East Tipp Baptist Church on County Road 300 North, have been an occasional problem in the past, when people have used bins for recycling as a dumping ground for spent appliances, tires and everyday trash.

But the county finds itself monitoring bigger messes since the 24/7 drop-off center overseen for decades at the West Lafayette Street Department closed May 13 to make room for an expansion of the city’s trash hauling and maintenance fleet.

The reoccurring scene at the county’s other drop-off sites hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“It has become abundantly worse since the West Lafayette recycling faculty has closed,” said Tiffany Lorton, a West Point resident who said she’d been using the recycling bins at the school for years. “There is an obvious need for recycling on the south side of the county given it is being utilized this often. … However, the decline in management of the recycling container and the surrounding area is a disgrace.”

Lorton shared a snapshot of piles around the bin – way more than a pickup load, in that case, a week ago – as a call to arms that has been repeated often on social media sites, including the NextDoor app.

“Picture yourself dropping off your child or grandchild to school with this disgraceful sight welcoming you each day,” Lorton said.

Sue Scott, spokeswoman for Tippecanoe School Corp., said Southwestern Middle School has noticed what she called “an uptick” in unwanted and larger items left among the recycling.

“We’re talking a grill, a mattress, that sort of thing,” Scott said. “It’s not only an eyesore, it’s a safety concern.”

Scott said the school corporation wants to be involved and encouraging to recycling. In fact, the drop-off center at East Tipp Baptist Church – which also has had to deal with its share of bins spilling over – will move to TSC property at Hershey Elementary or East Tipp Middle School in a matter of weeks, Brown said. And Scott said that whenever principals call the county to bring commissioners’ attention to a mess, someone from the county is there quickly to clean it up.

“So, that’s not the problem,” Scott said. “It’s just become more noticeable in the past month.”

The West Lafayette the drop-off center on South River Road, while housed and maintained on the city’s street and sanitation property since the early 1980s, actually was a Tippecanoe County service, aimed primarily at residents outside Lafayette and West Lafayette who don’t have residential recycling pickup.

The site was popular, drawing hundreds of visits a week, at all times of the day and night. The county had paid West Lafayette $41,000 to house and run the site. West Lafayette was able to get whatever markets would bear by selling what was dropped off. In recent years, as the recycling markets tanked, managing the site became more problematic. But the markets weren’t given as the reason for getting rid of the drop-off site in a town that has had curbside recycling for at least 30 years. Getting roofs over snow plows and other vehicles and equipment was.

Since West Lafayette signaled the pending closure at the New Year, the county has been scrambling to find more drop-off sites and working out a managed location at the Tippecanoe County Transfer and Recycling Station, 2770 N. Ninth St.

A week ago, county commissioners agreed to pay $1,000 a month to Best Way Disposal to rent two compactors to squeeze in as many recyclables as possible before they are taken to be sorted and then sold.

Larry Guentert of West Point said he used the West Lafayette drop-off site on a regular basis, as he drove from his home to work in West Lafayette. He said that using the trash transfer station has taken some getting used to – starting with a limited set of hours, rather than the around-the-clock availability in West Lafayette.

“They’re not duplicating what they had – or at least they’re not making it clear, if they are,” Guentert said. “Maybe it will get better and we need to be patient. … There are a lot of people like me who are working to do it. People are trying to save the planet, but they’re really making it hard.”

Brown has been warning that there will be an adjustment period.

“What we’re sort of waiting for is a normalization, so we get a better feel for how many people are actually going to the trash transfer site, with the hour restrictions they have compared to the 24-hour operation we had,” Brown said. “How many people are going to adjust their schedules to drop off there as opposed to going to one of our remote sites. Volume will tell the story.”

If there’s one clear message, Brown suggests it’s this:

“I think it’s clear the community expects it,” Brown said. “The voices have been heard. … We just need to keep working at it.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: After the West Lafayette drop-off site closed in May, Tippecanoe County has four sites with drop-off recycling bins:

?Tippecanoe County Transfer and Recycling Station, 2770 N. Ninth St. Hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; and 7 a.m-1 p.m. Saturday.

? Town of Stockwell.

? Southwestern Middle School, 2100 W. County Road 800 South.

? East Tipp Baptist Church, 5300 E. County Road 300 North.

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