Oct 05, 2023

New Orleans to expand curbside recycling, set solid waste master plan, with $5.48M in funding

Funding from the U.S. EPA and The Recycling Partnership will help New Orleans expand service to an additional 73,000 households and start making progress on a 25% recycling rate goal.

These projects are meant to help New Orleans become “a regional leader” for waste diversion efforts, according to the city’s grant proposal. Many areas of Louisiana have limited or no recycling access, and other major cities in the state have cut curbside programs and seen MRFs close in recent years. New Orleans was among the cities that paused curbside collection during the COVID-19 pandemic due to staffing shortages.

The EPA funding comes from a pool of $105 million in Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling grants (SWIFR) meant to improve community recycling and waste management systems throughout the country.

The City of New Orleans currently recycles less than 2% of its residential waste stream. By expanding its curbside recycling program, it expects to collect about 19,000 tons per year of materials that were previously disposed. As the program “matures,” officials estimate the program could help collect as much as 30,000 tons a year, according to the proposal.

New Orleans already offers an opt-in curbside recycling service to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings that have four or fewer units. The city wants to expand that program to cover all the eligible households that haven’t yet opted into the service. Grant funding will also go toward replacing 10,000 old or damaged recycling carts.

Expanding the curbside program is an important step in making recycling access more equitable in New Orleans, officials said in their report. Recycling opt-in programs “create participation barriers that disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities,” and a significant portion of New Orleans residents live in areas considered to be disadvantaged or are designated by the EPA as environmental justice communities.

The Recycling Partnership is expected to help develop related educational campaigns to help residents recycle correctly, including residents that have long had access to the program as well as new program participants, said Charlotte Pitt, director of grant development at the nonprofit.

The organization is already working on several recycling access projects in Louisiana. “We know how committed [New Orleans is] to ensuring all residents can recycle,” Pitt said in a statement. “Being able to provide recycling access and education to every single-family residential home is a great step towards that goal." 

Curbside recycling is just one part of New Orleans’ larger waste diversion plan. In December 2022, the city updated its climate action plan, Net Zero by 2050, which calls for major infrastructure and public education investments.

By creating a 10-year solid waste master plan, New Orleans will be able to formalize the strategies needed to meet its “ambitious, equitable and environmentally friendly climate agenda,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement.

The master plan will evaluate regional recycling processing infrastructure and capacity, research organics diversion opportunities and hone plans to help multifamily buildings and commercial operations to divert more waste. The plan is also expected to include reuse options and ideas for how to collect and process “non-traditional recyclables” such as construction and demolition waste and electronics, the city said in a statement.

The plan will undergo a public input process to gather feedback and buy-in from residents, Cantrell said. The plan could be ready by the first quarter of 2025, the city estimated in its proposal.