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Omaha recycling contract in limbo

Posted at 6:45 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 19:45:57-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Corah Johnson and her friend Cate Kelly with Students for Sustainability are a bit worried.

"We are cutting edge medical care, we are the college world series, we are the woodmen tower, we are everything. Being the home of what we are, it's surprising that Omaha would want to rob it's young people of its future,” says Johnson.

The city of Omaha will be looking for a new recycling contract this fall, if the cost is too high, the city council could opt to not fund recycling.

"It's just crazy that in 2019 you'd be taking away recycling in the city,” says Cate Kelly, who’s president of Students for Sustainability, a local activist group made up of high school and college students.

The two girls told the council their opinions Tuesday during the budget hearing. Mayor Jean Stothert budgeting any extra recycling costs for 2020. But the recycling processor for the city says they need more money.

"Prices have been falling steadily for the last several years,” says CEO of Firstar Fuber, Dale Gubbels.

Firstar Fiber sorts out all of Omaha residents reusables and then sells them.But the returns are netting less than in the past, largely due to actions by China, among other factors. At the same time, materials like plastic and aluminum are getting lighter.

So they need to process more items to get the same profit.

"so our costs have gone up, the price has gone down,” says Gubbels.

Firstar told the city they need roughly $1.7 million per year, which amounts to about $1 to $1.50 per household, to even turn a profit.

At least until things turnaround.

"When prices come back and we start seeing profit again, we'll share that with the city,” says Gubbels.

It seems like the city is on board.

City councilmember Aimee Melton was surprised when the students spoke up this week. She doesn't plan on canceling the recycling contract.

"I don't believe from the mayor's office down to the city council office that there is any interest at all in canceling recycling,” says council-member Melton.

While the extra cost isn't budgeted, she was told the city can absorb the extra cost for one year. If that proves not to be the case, they'll be hearing from the Students for Sustainability.

"I think a lot of citizens would be quite angry to be honest,” says Kelly.

"We mean business, we're serious, we're not going away, we're here to stay and until we see the changes in Omaha that we'd like to see, we're not going away,” says Johnson.