I grew up in Franklin, Tennessee, thirty minutes south of Nashville, where recycling is a part of the landscape. Most people there are careful to sort out their blue bags however they need to in order to make environmental sustainability a reality for their community. When I moved to Jackson in 2015, though, it seemed no one could give me information on where and how I could recycle, something that I imagine comes as a shock to many who move to the area. You can’t buy blue bins at Lowe’s, and even Home Depot’s selection is extremely small. There isn’t even public curbside pickup available in the city, and I haven’t seen any recycling dumpsters throughout the community.
Well, I thought that I hadn’t.
One day last summer, I went to the Westwood Gardens Community Center, hoping to swim. The pool was closed, but as I had made an effort to leave the house when I had nothing else to do, I set out to explore across an open field. You don’t just give up once you’ve made it out of the house on a lazy day, and I’d never been to this part of town.
A hundred yards past the community center sit two large, industrial green bins, doors open to the elements. It’s apocalyptic, these metal canisters scarring a desolate, dry landscape with nothing else in sight—no buildings, no fence, and no sign saying what the bins are for, outside of minimal instructions printed on fading stickers. If you look closely, you can see remnants of the chipped blue paint that once clearly marked them for recycling, but from what I can tell, they now look identical to the dumpsters behind every other building in Jackson.
“That’s what the city of Jackson offers as far as recycling goes,” a West Tennessee governmental member told me. “There’s nothing keeping me from going and dumping a ton of paint cans or a ton of whatever in there. I think it probably gets used more as a dumpster.”
There is no active governmental oversight at this location or at the other two drop-off locations: one near North Side High School and another near South Lowe’s. The entire population of Jackson, Tennessee—sixty-five thousand at the last census—is expected to recycle all of their plastic, cardboard, and other paper products at a handful of dumpsters placed in sporadic, ill-lit sections of town.
I called Waste Management (WM), the company that picks up garbage for the city of Jackson, hoping to speak with someone to find out how much it would cost the city to offer a recycling program. They did not offer me this information, as I’m not a part of local government.
In a voicemail, however, a representative from WM said “We do provide optional recycling inside of the city of Jackson. [The city] offers blue bags for recycling that can be tied up and put in your garbage can to be removed. The blue bags are free and available at several locations.” The representative also said that these blue bags would be picked up at the same time as regular trash.
This was what I’d been looking for. Jackson’s website says, “For questions regarding recycling bins, please contact Linnie Todd,” so I did.
Todd answered after a phone rings, a friendly tone to her voice.
“Hi,” I said, “I’m calling to ask where I can get the blue bags for recycling.”
I heard her sigh on the phone. “I don’t know why it still lists those online,” she said. “We haven’t had any blue bags in years. Probably fifteen years at least.”
I thanked her for her help and decided that I needed to go directly to the source: the Jackson government and All Fiber & Scrap Recycling (AFS), the private company which takes care of the recycling from the blue bins.
I sent an email to Mayor Jerry Gist on February 27, asking if he would be willing to speak in person or over the phone about the issue. As of March 14, his office has not responded. I sent a similar email to the head of AFS Recycling, which handles these three recycling bins. Nobody from AFS has replied. The last email I sent was to Kathleen Huneycutt, the director of Health and Sanitation for Jackson. She returned my email, and we set up a phone call for the next week.
Huneycutt answered after a couple of rings, and we spent a few minutes talking about the basics of recycling in Jackson. She brought up the three recycling drop-off locations and mentioned that these locations accept cardboard, paper, and plastics.
“Is there a place for glass recycling in Jackson?” I asked.
“Are there plans to install a service
“Not as far as I know.”
After a few minutes, we began to talk about the crux of the matter: the lack of curbside recycling in Jackson and the embarrassing lack of knowledge that the community has about the existing three bins.
“Mayor Gist did not want to make it a requirement that people recycle because not everyone wants to do it,” Huneycutt said. “That’s why we offer the drop-off locations.”
Huneycutt’s tone sounded confessional at this point in the conversation, admitting that although WM offers recycling, the Mayor and his staff haven’t chosen to participate, as the contract would be expensive.
“So,” I asked, “everybody in Jackson proper would have to recycle if we had a contract?”
“Yes, to make it feasible.”
Feasible. Our local government does not think it feasible to spend money on recycling in Jackson, as it costs more money. Instead, they put a half-dozen, unsupervised bins throughout the city and hope that sixty-five thousand citizens will (a) figure out where to recycle, (b) have the means of transporting their recyclables to these bins, and (c) know how to properly sort and recycle their paper and plastic. This cannot go on.
In the end, Jacksonians can still recycle—it just takes a little more effort. I spoke with some representatives of Green Earth Curbside Recycle, the primary private recycling company in the Jackson area. Not only are they extremely friendly, but their rates are affordable, generally speaking; it costs $6 for initial setup, then $144 for every year of recycling, plus $1 a month for glass. $156 is a fair price to pay in order to save the bit of the world we call our home.
Jackson is a truly special town. One day, I hope to be able to show it to my kids, tell them stories about my time here, and let them explore the city. That can only happen, however, if the city is taken care of by both the city and its residents. I recognize that the government can only do so much without the impetus and help of its citizens, but I hope that this account can encourage both private and public entities to take better care of our community.
Clark Hubbard is a Political Science and English double major at Union University. He loves all kinds of writing, especially short stories, screenplays, and political essays. Clark also participates in a ludicrous number of extracurricular activities for which he has no time, including debate, improv, and making coffee as a barista on campus. Clark's spirit animal is John McClane from the Die Hard series.