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Recycling contract review raises questions about what’s being recycled in DeKalb

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Recycling contract review raises questions about what’s being recycled in DeKalb

The DeKalb County Sanitation Department. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

DeKalb County, GA — For months, readers have been contacting us with suspicions that their recycling isn’t actually getting recycled, and a review by the county’s auditor is raising new questions about it.

DeKalb County’s recycling contractor is seemingly receiving less recyclable materials from the county than it has in previous years, and there isn’t any clear explanation.

Pratt Recycling, Inc. has contracted with the county for several years to process recycling materials. They charge the county $65 per ton for the recycling it receives.

A review from DeKalb County’s Office of Independent Internal Audit shows that the single-stream recycling tonnage has dropped by about 57% since 2018. The average annual recycled tonnage for 2021-2023 is about 6,691 tons.

The DeKalb Board of Commissioners is considering renewing the contract with Pratt Recycling. The contract was on the agenda for the Oct. 10 commission meeting and was deferred to the next public works and infrastructure committee meeting. The PWI committee meets next Tuesday.

On Sept. 21, the DeKalb County Public Works and Infrastructure Committee requested that the Office of Independent Internal Audit conduct a non-audit review of the contract. The review looked at whether the amount of money requested was valid based on the tonnage of materials recycled, and whether the contract stipulations were consistent with best practices, according to a memorandum from Lavois Campbell, chief audit executive in the OIIA.

“The agenda item cited an annual estimated quantity of 18,000 tons and received a unit price bid of $65 per ton, which yielded a total [quote] of $1,170,000,” Campbell wrote.

The review found that the amount was not valid and recommended the amount be revised to $390,000. The revised contract amount is about $780,000 less than the proposed contract amount.

“Our review showed that the agenda amount of $1,170,000 at $65 per ton supported a forecasted recycling tonnage of 18,000,” the memo states. “This 2024 forecasted tonnage is overstated compared to historical trends. According to the County’s records, single-stream recycling tonnage has fallen by approximately 57% since 2018, including a 30% decline from 2021 to 2023.”

The review also states that the county’s declining recycling tonnage is inconsistent with the solid waste tonnage and the recycling tonnage of other metro counties. The other metro county’s single-stream recycled tonnage remained constant between 2020-2022. The report however does not say which county DeKalb was compared to. From 2021 to 2023, DeKalb’s recycling tonnage decreased from about 8,200 tons to about 5,700 tons.

“This occurred while the county’s solid waste is expected to see a 4% net increase from 2021 to 2023, including a 12% increase from 2022 to 2023…,” Campbell wrote in the memo. “We also noted that the county’s population and housing units have remained relatively constant, from April 2020 to July 2022, as per the US Census Bureau.”

Further review would be needed to determine what’s causing the inconsistencies and identify a solution. The review only looked at the contract, and OIIA works to make sure contracts are based on need, Commissioner Ted Terry told Decaturish.

“We have no indication that our residents are recycling less,” Terry said. “The issue appears to be in the collections and what happens between the curbside and getting it to Pratt in Conyers. I would like to get it back to where we’re doing $1 million a year because that shows we’re actually sending 13,000-14,000 tons of recycling, whereas now we’re down to nearly 6,000.”

County sanitation crews pick up the curbside recycling and take it to a transfer station. The recycling material is further sorted and taken to the Pratt facility in Conyers.

“I believe the issue is on our end because Pratt’s only receiving what we give them. They are telling us you’re giving us half as much as you did pre-pandemic,” Terry said.

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