From WENK-WTPR on-air radio news story and website Oct 17, 2013
By Shannon McFarlin
WENK/WTPR News Director
Cottage Grove, Tenn.-The state of Tennessee’s smallest incorporated city–Cottage Grove, Tennessee–is at the forefront of Henry County’s recycling efforts.
Thanks to a county-city partnership that began seven months ago, Cottage Grove is the only community in Henry County to participate in a curbside recycling program. The pilot program began seven months ago and Mayor Mike Waddey said 57 percent of Cottage Grove’s residents and non-profits consistently recycle and buy bags from the city. ? Not bad, he said, “considering we just now started to really push the program.”
Both Waddey and Henry County Solid Waste Director Ron Watkins call the pilot program a “win-win” for both the city and county and both laud the program as an example of what can be accomplished with cooperation between governmental entities.
The curbside program is also an example of how city governments can transform a negative situation into a positive one. Waddey said the inspiration for the program came after the county removed the city’s recycling convenience box because too many people who were driving through the town thought it was a garbage receptacle and began throwing trash in it.
When the city’s newly-elected officers took office last fall, Waddey said, “We sat down and decide to think outside the box. We needed a way to bring revenue into the town and notoriety. Our town is not a town of businesses anymore; we’re a town of non-profits. We decided we want to be the greenest, smallest town in Tennessee.”
Pursuant to that end, city leaders began talking to Paula Flowers, who serves as a consultant for the TVA and she suggested Cottage Grove begin looking as all aspects of being green.
Waddey said city council adopted a vision statement that is four-fold: that the city would practice green policies in solar energy, solid waste, greenspaces and education.
When the city lost its recycling privileges, many townspeople were upset, Waddey said. “I talked to Ron Watkins about it. People here enjoyed that convenience and there are people in Cottage Grove that are big recyclers. Ron’s first idea was that he would give two 64 gallon recycling bins to the town.”
The problem with that, Waddey said, is that townsfolks placed more recyclables than could fit in the bins; the bins were placed at the fire department and could be utilized twice a week. “The talks between Ron and I evolved into the idea of a ‘Pay As You Throw’ program,” Waddey said.
Watkins said, “Mayor Waddey liked the idea and we worked together to come up with the pilot project. Cottage Grove would sell recycling bags from the city for a fee and Henry County Recycling would pick up the material one day a week.”
Watkins noted the pilot program is a “win-win” for the county “because we were interested in collecting only desirable material from the community and this program motivates the users to put only desired material into bags because they are paying for the service.”
The program is a “win-win” for Cottage Grove, which reaps some financial benefit from the sale of the recycling bags, it promotes a greener city and it provides convenience for residents. “The beauty of it is that residents don’t have to sort their recyclables,” Waddey said. “They can put them all in one bag.”
Watkins said his truck was in the area already because of picking up recyclables at businesses nearby.
The city of Cottage Grove “has not regretted its participation at all. Ron’s great ideas led us in a great direction,” Waddey said.
Waddey said he is especially proud of residents since until this week, the curbside recycling program was not advertised. “It was just word of mouth, “he said. “We didn’t start taking around flyers until this week.” The city has a recycling committee made up of high school students from Cottage Grove School: Nick Smetak, Hannah Atkins, Manuel Jimenez and Katherine Jimenez. ?and I’m very proud of them,” Waddey said.
Watkins noted that the county would be unable to have such a program in a larger community, but since Cottage Grove has a population of 85, “it seemed like it was a great project to try. It is working well for us and collection rates are increasing there.” Watkins said he appreciates Waddey’s “cooperation and willingness to think of the community and what recycling means for our county. It helps our environment by reducing the amount of material going into our landfills, it helps the county earn revenue to offset the cost of our recycling program and creates a renewed sense of community spirit and pride.”
With revenue from the program, the city of Cottage Grove will have a community movie night October 26 at Cardinal Park, Waddey said. “We want to thank everyone for what they’ve achieved,” he said.
And Cottage Grove has a goal of being the record holder for cities in Tennessee with the highest collection rate of recycling material per capita. With over 4000 pounds already collected there since early summer, Cottage Grove is on the way to achieving that goal.