Council delays decision on recycling education contract because of high cost

The Lincoln City Council delayed for two weeks a decision on a three-year contract for recycling research and marketing after a number of citizens questioned the $850,000 cost.

Under the contract, two Nebraska companies, Carson+Co Global and Verdis Group, would promote recycling in anticipation of the ban on corrugated cardboard in the city landfill next spring.

The companies would first research the reasons why Lincoln residents and businesses recycle or don’t recycle and use that research in a marketing campaign, according to information presented to the council.

Council Chair Roy Christensen said he had heard from 12 people Monday who don’t like the contract because of the cost.

Councilman Jon Camp questioned the behavior change method being used, saying the approach sounded like “Big Brother is watching you.”

But Kim Morrow, with Verdis Group, said the approach, called community-based social marketing, is widely used in the sustainability community to encourage adopting more environmentally friendly policies. 

It is a social and psychological alternative to mandates, she said. 

Robert Way, one of the people who spoke at a public hearing Monday evening, pointed out the two companies plan to use direct-mail appeals to residents. “Are we going to send people mail to encourage them to recycle more?” he said.

Way and others also said they were surprised by the $850,000 cost of the contract.

That represents about $5,555 for every work week during the three-year contract period, said Richard Esquivel, a private citizen who spoke in opposition of the contract. 

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Council members Cyndi Lamm and Bennie Shobe said they would like to look at using incentives and positive reinforcement to promote more recycling.

The educational program will first focus on the city’s cardboard ban at the landfill, which will begin in April 2018.

Residents and businesses will have to divert corrugated cardboard by using curbside recycling provided by a local garbage hauler or take the cardboard to public recycling sites when the landfill ban goes into effect.

The goal of the educational campaign is to reduce the per capital disposal waste from 2,040 pounds per person to 1,940 pounds per person (based on total commercial, construction and residential waste), said Donna Garden, assistant director of the Public Works and Utilities Department.

The council included the money in the current two-year budget for the promotional program, and council members have said they are interested in more recycling education, she said. 

Most of the contract costs occur in the first year, when the cardboard ban begins. And about half of the first-year costs will be paid using a $250,000 state grant, according to contract information.

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