In order to transform the U.S. recycling system for food, everyone in the industry needs to be engaged from the people and the municipalities to MRFs, says Keysha Burton, Community Program Manager, The Recycling Partnership.
The Recycling Partnership’s guide MRF Contract Best Management Practices explains how a favorable contract can be achieved by all parties.
About 79% of U.S. MRFs are privately owned, with the remainder, about 20%, publicly owned. However, Burton explains that the majority of curbside collection services are operated through a public agency.
“What does that knowledge base tell us is that there's going to be a lot of contracts develop, but also those contracts are going to be developed within a highly privatized MRF infrastructure system,” she says. “It's going to be very important for both the needs of the community and the MRF to be addressed within those contracts.”
The mutual goals of the contract should supersede any independent goals from the municipality or the MRF. While a community’s independent target may be predictability with recycling, the MRF’s focus could be profitability. The Recycling Partnership’s guide examines how both parties can meet in the middle to create a mutually beneficial contract. This will lead to stability, long-term vision, clear communication, and better material quality, Burton says.
Both communities and MRFs need to weather a rollercoaster of market conditions. A sustainable contract that benefits both parties is critical to ensure stability. Communication, a balanced approach and collaboration are key for success.
“You want to build into your contract mechanisms that allow for both the MRF and the community to be engage and check in with each other,” Burton says. “The community should be including in their contracts a check-in for their MRF on how things are going, what is the inbound contamination looking like for the community and also what's impacting the market?”
Clear expectations need to be set within the contract regarding the level of communication that will be required. From a MRF’s perspective, this means being clear about what materials are accepted in the program, what’s considered inbound contamination and the ability to be flexible and adjust as the markets for commodities shift.
“The primary question that you as a community person who's going to undertake developing a contract should be asking is, what are your community's goals and priorities,” Burton says. “Take some time to identify these goals by engaging with central stakeholders.”
Once critical stakeholders are involved such as budget, purchasing and elected officials, key perspectives can be taken into consideration. The goal is to align internally with what the community’s needs and goals are, Burton says.
“It's also going to be really critical to understand the link between a bid and the actual contract,” she says. “Your procurement department or your purchasing manager is going to play an integral role here because procurement and contracts go hand in hand. The design of your documents should anticipate the development of the contract clauses that are going to be reflected in the final proposal and bids that your vendor and MRF or your potential vendor and MRF are going to actually remit to you.”
Hear more from Burton during the session "How Does Your Program Measure Up? Utilizing Data to Negotiate Your Next MRF Contract," at WasteExpo Together Online September 13-14, 2021.