Trash Talking

Back when Indianapolis built its waste incinerator to generate energy, the move was applauded as state of the art, and it was. The “deal” made at that time required the City to provide enough trash to allow the vendor, Covanta, to produce steam used to heat downtown buildings.

But time marches on. As cities across the country have encouraged recycling, Indianapolis has persistently lagged the nation in the percentage of people doing so. (We are one of the few places that charges folks for the “privilege” of recycling, which might have something to do with our lackluster performance.)

Ostensibly to address that low level of participation, the Ballard Administration entered into an agreement with Covanta to build a new recycling facility. But as Carrie Hamilton of the Indiana Recycling Coalition has written:

This facility would move the city’s residential collection to a one-bin system that would mix waste and recyclables in the same bin. Covanta, which already has a contract to burn the city’s waste for energy production, has been contracted to separate recyclables from waste at the proposed MWP facility. In exchange, it gets a minimum $100 million contract putting it in charge of both waste and recycling for all of Indianapolis until 2028…..

There are a number of concerns about this plan, but at the top of the list is this: Covanta secured this contract – and the rights to the city’s recycling future – without having to go through a competitive bidding process.

The contract calls for use of a process known as “Dirty Recycling” –it allows residents to throw all their trash into one receptacle; actual separation is to occur at the Covanta facility. This is a process that is simply not suitable for use in many industries that purchase recyclable materials.

Among the many concerns raised by this contract are its length–it locks Covanta in until 2028– several “put or pay” provisions that actually penalize the city if residents recycle more than the contract anticipates, and the contamination of otherwise recyclable materials in a highly questionable methodology. But the major issue is, once again, the utter disregard of the process by which such agreements should be executed.

There are all sorts of arguments–legitimate and less so– to be made about the impact of recycling (see John Tierney’s Op Ed in last Sunday’s New York Times), but there is no legitimate argument for ignoring the legal processes intended to protect taxpayers against crony capitalism and/or intemperate decision-making.

If the contract with Covanta is good for the City, it would have survived the vetting that the law requires.

If the Ballard Administration were truly interested in protecting the interests of citizens and taxpayers, and genuinely interested in an environmentally-appropriate recycling program, there would be no need to bypass the public bid processes mandated by law.

Garbage isn’t the only thing that smells here.


  1. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve read about recycling yet. Throw all of your recycles and trash in the same bin? Wow.

  2. Bypassing competitive bidding process began in Indianapolis under – guess who – Goldsmith. He also practiced hiring sans contracts at times.

    The system of recycling has become more and more important with passing time; not everyone (myself included) produces enough recyclable material to warrant paying for the huge receptacle, which would be next to impossible for elderly and handicapped to roll to the street on recycle pickup days. I had to apply for the newer required smaller trash “cart” option the city now provides for regular trash pickup. An appointment was scheduled and an inspector from DPW came to my home to ascertain my actual age and handicap and need for the smaller (not by much) heavy “cart” I struggle with weekly. If you have a family and require more than on of the 96 gallon “carts”, you must pay for it. Are there any other large cities where trash pickup is a major issue for many residents. Those of us in my position would gladly participate in recycling our few items if it wasn’t an additional bill to pay from our Social Security and the receptacle was easy to handle.

    More and more plastic containers are being used by manufacturers; the fact that oil is used in the production of plastics and that plastic is not biodegradable and harmful to the environment is meaningless to big business. This includes the plastic bags used in almost all stores today; they are handy and can be reused but baggers often double-bag items. As someone pointed out to me just yesterday; they wished they would see more suggestions for resolving problems, I agree. Wish I had some suggestions to offer; but we are currently dealing with, rather than the GOP (Grand Old Party), the GOOP (Grand Old One Percenters) running the show who will continue operating in ways more costly to consumers and making more money for themselves.

  3. Why is a government contract that was entered into without having gone through competitive bidding legal? Is competitive bidding not a requirement? Can some lawyer out there explain this to me please?

  4. The last part of a sentence in your post says : “there would be no need to bypass the public bid processes mandated by law.”

    If Mayor Ballard and his administration have broken a law can’t they be sued by the citizens to dissolve that contract? I don’t understand why the citizens have to abide by a contract that did not follow the city law for obtaining services.

    Please explain……

  5. Sheila’s response shows just how important this mayoral election is…how important all elections are. We must remove as many Republicans from position of power as possible; the only way to do that is to VOTE. Brewer is another ex-Marine like Ballard; do you believe anything will change if he is elected? The only suggestion for resolving these problems is to VOTE and hope that wiser leadership will work to make necessary changes here. The appeal process normally moves slowly; let’s hope that is true in this case…election day is only a few weeks away, inauguration gives us more than two months to hope to rectify this situation.

  6. Science and data should be considered as well. Glad you mentioned John Tierney’ piece.

  7. Recycling is idiotic, reduces freedom and makes no economic sense.

    Sheila’s statement that

    “If the Ballard Administration were…interested in an … recycling program, there would be no need to bypass the public bid processes mandated by law.”

    Is correct, but Sheila is very late to the party complaining of the corruption of the Ballard administration. There’s enough corruption in this town and with this mayor to consume a full-time blog.

  8. OMG, do you live in Indianapolis?

    Ballard is profoundly corrupt, ignores every law and runs the city like a king, but Sheila rarely complains, though she sits in a publicly funded university on the edge of downtown, works in a department of the university dedicated to public governance, and she has a birds-eye view of the corruption and bad ideas.

    With the most pressing issue every day usually being some form of Ballard corruption, it often raises an eyebrow how Sheila chooses to comment on esoteric social issues that only mildly impact Indiana residents. Sometimes, it seems she’s part of the machine that deliberately directs attention elsewhere to let these dirty deals get passed without public objection.

    This Blue Indy deal is one of the most corrupt scams ever tried in any city in American history.

  9. ALG, the facility already separates your trash, anyway, because there’s already a lot of recycling going on at the plant to reclaim things that have value. If it has worth, they reclaim it, and they’ve been doing it for years.

    Separate bins are needless; you simply like the feeling of piety.

  10. “A lawsuit has been brought. The trial court tossed it,”

    As a lawyer, Sheila, why don’t you ever do a piece or a book on the Indiana Courts’ abuse of Motions to Dismiss.

    Practicing law in Indiana is unlike anywhere else in the country. Big players in Indiana are frequently shielded from ever having to go through discovery.

  11. OMG; trash recycling in the city of Indianapolis is already done by Republic. It is the ADDITIONAL $120 MILLION contract with Covanta to change the trash collection system already in place. Please note the operative word is ADDITIONAL. This cost will be passed on to residents; we are still waiting to learn what this year’s storm water tax fee will be as it was not included in our annual property tax statement. Citizens Energy Group; who now owns the Indianapolis Water Company which includes our sewer bills, is trying to raise the sewer bills (separate from storm water sewers). The absorbing of water company into Citizens Gas was to save residents money; we haven’t seen this due to annual rate increases since the consolidation. Why are you questioning the fact that trash recycling is an issue today? WHO are you to question the issue in this blog on any day?

    As for Gooper; I won’t dignify his usual rambling nonsense with a response. Obviously I did read it to be aware of it’s worthlessness.

  12. GOPPER must not be paying attention since you’ve frequently commented on Ballard administration problems. As to his contention that recycling reduces freedom and makes no economic sense, I’d much prefer the freedom to recycle sensibly, sanitarily, and economically and to live in a city with cleaner air, water, and landscapes and fewer landfills.

  13. The City Council has the purse strings .It has to use it to control lack of competitive bidding and lack of transparency.
    The Council, one of the branches of government , has to be a check and balance on any Mayor and executive branch regardless of the actions of courts. . It needs to use its oversight power for the public and its taxpayers.

  14. Ahh at last an engineering problem. Hallelujah!

    Engineering problems are simple. Black and white like all science. Your knowns and unknowns. Calculations. Comparisons.

    So, we got take, make, waste. All well understood.

    The problem is maximizing (recovering the most from) the value of community solid waste. Got to consider costs including logistics, recoverable energy content, recoverable material content, cost to hide what’s left over, and what’s already availible to you.

    Here’s where to start. Benchmark. Find other US cities about the same as yours and rank them from worst to best by value from household solid waste recovered. Good IU project Sheila.

    Ask yourselves if there is any reason why Indiana shouldn’t be the new top of the list. Establish an economic goal.

    Don’t worry about public vs private. They’re the same except for bottom line sometimes, due to financial details. Finding the best technology and deal is the name of the game. Sometimes competitive bidding determines the best deal sometimes not.

    You need expertise to do this analysis. Hire it. Don’t rely on amateurs you can’t afford them.

    Watch the experts turn the crank and reveal the best deal.

    Nice to be concerned as Sheila is here but it really doesn’t find the best deal. That’s work.

    Buy that work done until you have a viable plan that meets your economic goal.

    Do it.


  15. If it was a crooked deal, maybe our new mayor can put some butts in some jail cells. That would be refreshing.

  16. Ballard and the City County Council are not interested in any way shape or form concerning the 99%. Their only interest is running various scams that benefit the Crony-Capitalist Elite. Our Elected Officials on the City Council have let Ballard run rampant. The Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches of Government in Indianapolis are part of the same Unofficial Political Party known as the Republicrat Party.

    Sadly also our McMega-Media in Indianapolis promotes these schemes through various acts of commission and omission, i.e., no over sight or investigative reporting. The motto of our McMega-Media is Go Along, To Get Along.

  17. A good resource for those willing to take the time.

    Solid waste take, make, waste even in relatively backward states like Indiana has become a significant revenue stream as recovery technology has improved. Thanks engineers.

    So people like Gopper who apparently value their freedom more than government cost effectiveness would apparently rather invest their time whining about government than improving it.

    Anyone surprised?

  18. Single stream is a huge logistics money saver as long as separation technology is adequate. It will become the preferred technology over time as the means to separate mature.

    One positive aspect of solid waste management is that land filling is very expensive as well as just an all round bad idea. Anything that can be done to extract material in order to minimize landfill is long term smart in my book.

    Next challenge is energy recovery from sanitary waste.

  19. Talking trash, waste management, and the inevitable partisan party venting are favorites among the posters when discussing what to do with garbage, their own garbage.

  20. Acting stupid in a civics way is only one of the kinds of stupid that we can no longer afford. Science is another way.

  21. In 1974, my late husband and I loaded our belongings into a U-Haul truck and moved cross country to our first graduate professional jobs in Virginia Beach, Virginia where he joined the City of VB Planning Dept as the Director of Operations and where we were treated to the VB Dept of Public Works joint effort with the US Dept of Health’s establishment of Mt Trashmore, a one of a kind solution to waste management in a booming metro area. From Mt Trashmore I to Mt Trashmore II, we were always amazed at the engineering creativity and the receptivity of the VB residents.

  22. And, thinking back to my 25+ years in Virginia Beach, I cannot remember that any City Council person or any candidate for Mayor was ever presented, advertised, or elected as a member of any political party. Seems that much more was accomplished w/out the taint of a political flag or label. For that reason, I find Indiana rather strange, rather parochial in collective outlook, and rather given to arguing, to splitting hairs rather than getting a job accomplished, any job.

  23. The job of government is to solve the problems of we, the people. I don’t know Indiana first hand but second and third hand they seem to be more interested in party than solutions. And they don’t seem to notice that that doesn’t work.


Comments are closed.