Curbside paper recycling will return to Lexington in March after center overhaul

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Curbside paper recycling, which has been suspended since May 2019, is expected to resume in March, Lexington city officials announced Monday.

The city will begin a $4.2 million overhaul of its Thompson Road recycling center in December to make it possible to recycle paper. Lexington — and many other cities across the country — suspended paper recycling because the product the center produced was too dirty to sell. Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton included the money in this year’s budget for the improvements.

The new equipment and upgrades to existing devices will allow the center to:

  • Sort paper collected curbside more effectively and produce better quality paper.

  • Increase the capacity of the center to produce higher quality recyclables to sell.

“Both of those outcomes allow us to restore curbside paper collection and improve the overall performance of the facility,” said Tracey Thurman, director of waste management. “The changes will also improve how we sort glass, and this will reduce the damage glass breakage does to our equipment.”

However, the city will have to shut down the center for 13 weeks — from roughly Dec. 13 to March 14 — while the new equipment is installed. The center has been plagued in recent years with shutdowns due to equipment failures and upgrades.

“The recycling industry is in a time of change,” Thurman said. “We are aligning our sorting and processing systems to keep up with industry changes. Recyclables come into the recycle center in a single stream, all commingled together. The new equipment and modifications will create a better-designed processing system to sort the recyclables, allowing us to get them to end markets to support jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries.”

Recycling will not stop.

The city is looking to hire a private contractor to haul and process city residents’ recycling during the time the center is shuttered, city officials said.

When curbside paper recycling was suspended in 2019, the city placed multiple yellow recycling bins around town that allow residents to recycle presorted “clean” paper. The city will evaluate whether those yellow bins will remain after curbside paper recycling restarts, city officials said.

Since January 2021, Lexington has collected more than 246 tons of “clean” paper from the yellow bins, which is more than 12 tractor-trailer loads.

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