The Recycle Tricycle 

Man peddles his way to environmentally friendly recycling initiative.

Riverpoint Home Owners Association president Isaiah Costner says he hates throwing things away that could be re-used. Because he lives on Mud Island, however, he doesn't have access to the city's curbside recycling program.

"We've been looking into recycling programs for a while," Costner says. "We kind of dropped the issue after we got bids from a number of companies to include it in garbage pick-ups."

The neighborhood contracts with a company for garbage pick-up, but currently, individual residents have to pay for their own service. The homeowners association wanted to get a contract that covered the entire area — and included recycling pick-up — but it proved to be cost prohibitive. They assumed residents would have to continue taking their recycling to the drop-off center at the end of the island.

And then Adrian Chelaru and his tricycle came around.

For about a month, the U of M engineering student has been picking up aluminum material on Mud Island via an industrial tricycle.

"We have traditional pick-up, but we use trikes that have a mini-trailer behind them," Chelaru says. "I've been all around the world and you see these trikes pulling two or three people at a time."

He isn't making a lot of money yet, but he hopes his idea will both increase the city's rate of recycling, save money, and do it in a more environmentally friendly way.

"The city is servicing too little [of the population], and it costs too much to do it," he says.

To collect recyclables, the city of Memphis uses a fleet of about 70 trucks that go door-to-door down streets with single-family households. The city doesn't pick up recyclable material from apartment complexes or homes on private drives, such as the residences on Mud Island.

"That's why we have drop-off centers," says Andy Ashford, deputy director of the city public works department. "We set them up in areas of town where we have a high concentration of multi-family homes and private developments."

Chelaru estimates that almost half of Memphis residents don't have curbside recycling. He says he isn't interested in being in competition with the city but in tapping an unserved market.

"Either they recycle themselves or it doesn't get done," he says. "Most of the time, it ends up in the garbage, which snowballs in garbage and landfill fees."

Chelaru's system could also prove to be more environmentally friendly than the city's fleet.

"Instead of being done house by house with large diesel trucks, it's done by tricycles," he says. "In a neighborhood, you might have 15 miles of linear streets. The city travels each of these streets."

Chelaru has one tricycle right now, but once he raises more capital, he wants to add a specially designed trailer for materials, several tricycles, and a large truck.

Several human-powered tricycles would be unloaded in a specific neighborhood and travel up and down the city streets, picking up recyclables. Once its bin was full, the trike would go back to the trailer, where the material would be sorted. To save space, Chelaru also plans to have a chipper for plastics and a crusher for aluminum right on the trailer.

If Chelaru's system could be implemented on a wider scale, or even one day replace the city's trucks, it could reduce carbon dioxide emissions and noise pollution and save the city money in fuel and vehicle up-keep.

In the past, the city has gotten paid for its recyclable materials. When the city recently renewed its contract, the processor wanted to charge a fee for taking the material. In the end, the city and the company reached a compromise in which the city doesn't get paid anything for recycling, but it doesn't have to pay anything for it, either.

"It depends on the market conditions when the materials go to market," Ashford says of the possible revenue stream. "The luxury we have is not having to pay for the processing of the materials."

But the city does have to cover the cost of collecting the materials, both for the equipment and the drivers. A solid-waste fee collected each month as part of residents' utility bills pays for the recycling program.

In the meantime, a third wheel might not always be a bad thing — especially since Chelaru doesn't charge for the service but keeps what he makes selling the recyclable material.

"Right now the only other option we have is to drop off [recyclables] at the end of the island," Costner says. "This program is a lot more convenient for residents."

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