Published July 02, 2019
This interview is part of a series of interviews with NRC members. The purpose is to provide insights into materials management programs and best practices of member municipalities, businesses, and service providers.

Earl (Spud) Rowley is executive director of Keep Kimball Beautiful and manager of the Kimball Recycling Center. He has been in this position since February 2017. Recently the City of Kimball Board of Public Works compiled data about the city-owned landfill and compared it with data from the Kimball Recycling Center to calculate the savings or loss their recycling program provided to taxpayers in 2018.

In order to provide the best analysis, they calculated not only direct operational costs at the landfill, but also the annualized value of the landfill space not needed because of recycling. Then, they subtracted the costs of operating the recycling center, including the City’s contributions of labor, equipment, and utilities. The recycling program provided a net savings of nearly $22,000 in 2018. A total of 622,031 lbs. was collected and processed at the recycling facility, saving 2.25 years in landfill space valued at $298,084.00. Considering the challenges recycling programs have weathered in recent times, this is truly impressive. It counters the prevailing notion that it’s cheaper to landfill. 

NRC:  Tell me about your recycling program, what it looks like, and how the City of Kimball supports it.

SR:  We offer Single Stream recycling for our residents. Instead of curbside totes, we place a communal bin in the middle of each alley and City staff empties them once per week. The bins are repurposed ISB totes (the big square totes with a metal housing and a hard-plastic liner often used for ag chemicals). This makes recycling easy and convenient for residents and saves time and money on the collection end. It takes City staff 4 hours per week to collect the recyclables.

Materials accepted are all plastics, cardboard, mixed paper, scrap metal, tin cans, and aluminum. The largest material streams are cardboard and paper board, plastic, tin, and aluminum. They also accept glass in the residential bins, and this hasn’t caused any major problems. Recycling Center staff collects recycling from businesses, glass from local bars, and miscellaneous materials like paint and electronics, which are stored until there can be a collection event.

The City of Kimball does a good job of educating residents and providing financial support for the Recycling Center. They distribute recycling flyers at every household and send a letter each year to intercept new residents. The County collects a $2 fee from every county resident to pay for recycling. Of this approximately $48,000 revenue stream, the Recycling Center receives a cash contribution of $2,000 per month. The City keeps the remaining $24,000 per year to offset labor and operating costs of collection and Recycling Center overhead.

NRC:  You made changes to the program you took over in 2017. What were these changes, and what prompted them?

SR:  It’s been a journey, but I helped develop an efficient, workable system. The City began to do the recycling hauling because they had the staff and equipment to do this and they felt the program was justified because of the data they were getting from the Recycling Center.

NRC:  What were the most difficult aspects of implementing the program and how did you handle them?

SR:  Establishing trust with decision makers and addressing the city’s concerns over funding and program costs. I emphasized the need for reporting and documentation, and this made all the difference.

NRC: Were there any unexpected challenges?

SR:  Nothing yet 😊

NRC:  Were there any unanticipated benefits?

SR:  The level of community participation was surprising. We provide an easy, convenient, cost-effective single-stream program.

NRC:  What have you done to engage the community and elected officials?

SR:  It’s important just to show up. I’ve had many one-on-one conversations with community leaders and attended many meetings. I have worked for the city in one position or another and have seen solid waste management and recycling from both sides. It was my recommendation that we do an economic analysis.

NRC:  What are your biggest concerns going forward in your program?

SR:  Commodity prices and grant funding cuts. We need money to leverage more money (through grants). But we provide the best program possible with the money we have.

NRC:  Clearly, you and your counterparts in the City of Kimball realized that measurement was important. What prompted them to collect data from the landfill and the recycling center in the first place?

SR: I had been providing collection data, and our city officials took the time to look into it. It happened because it was discussed at many meetings and in informal conversations. It also benefited that a representative from Kimball’s utility council sits on Keep Kimball Beautiful board.

NRC:  Do you have any thoughts about how to improve recycling in rural areas of Nebraska?

SR:  Provide the services people need, measure results, and look at the system as a whole.

NRC:  If you had the power to change anything in the overall system of materials management, what would you do?

SR:  Make everything have an end-market within the community.

NRC:  Why did you join NRC?

SR:  I felt that I had the experience and something to offer to the rest of Nebraska, and NRC provides insights into what the rest of Nebraska is doing.

NRC: Thank you very much, Spud! Congratulations on building a successful program in partnership with City leadership.