A proposal from Metro staff could lead to the creation of a new grant program aimed at supporting innovative ways to manage garbage and recycling.
The proposed Innovation and Investment Program could award grants of up to $500,000 to businesses and nonprofit organizations that are involved in the region's garbage and recycling industry.
Details of the program are still being fleshed out, but Property and Environmental Services staff sought feedback from Metro Council at its Oct. 31 work session.
Paul Slyman, director of Property and Environmental Services, told the council that recent changes in recycling markets are just one reason to focus more energy and resources on building a more robust local garbage and recycling industry.
"The (waste) facilities that we rely on to process the region's materials are, in some cases, one expired lease, one market shift away from disappearing or severely curtailing," Slyman said. "This leads to a lack of certainty in our system and … we as a regional government have the opportunity to bring about that certainty by encouraging new ideas and helping innovative new players build a more resilient system that we're all proud of."
The program would make available $3 million in grants annually, with the money coming from the Solid Waste Reserve Fund. It would be reevaluated after three years.
"As staff, we are routinely asked what we could do to financially help new or innovative ideas that don't immediately pay for themselves," Slyman said. "That's where this proposal comes in. ... We might consider supporting activities or actions that simply won't or don't occur with some level of public help."
The department is proposing two types of grants: a rolling program with grants ranging from $10,000 to $50,000 that would help pay for personnel, operations or equipment costs needed to get innovative projects off the ground, and a more competitive program that would support larger capital projects. Those grants would range from $50,000 to $500,000.
Slyman says the department would be looking for projects that are consistent with the forthcoming Regional Waste Plan, the long-term blueprint for managing garbage and recycling that's in development right now, and the department's efforts to create economic opportunities for people from communties of color as part of its plan to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion.
Under the grant program, a selection committee made up of public employees and community members would score the applications before Council makes the final decision.
Kevin Six, a senior management analyst in PES, said previous attempts at a grant program failed because the process was too bureaucratic and required businesses to disclose too much of their business plans.
Six said the department could begin soliciting applicants as soon as late spring 2018, but in order to move forward, staff would need to bring code changes and a budget amendment before council.
Councilors gave staff direction to begin defining the details of the program, though some had concerns.
"There's some real work here that needs to be done before I'm going to be comfortable with this," Councilor Kathryn Harrington said. "But you're on a great track."
The councilors were largely supportive of the proposal, but some concerns were raised about the $3 million-a-year amount being too high for the initial rollout and needing more details about how the funds would be spent.
"I love the responsiveness to our DEI objectives and … to this changing market where we really do need innovation and new ideas," Councilor Sam Chase said. "I like the overall framework and I also like that you're not bringing it to us fully-cooked to the point where it's hard to adjust or move the bar."
Metro offers several large grant programs, ranging from supporting community organizations improving access to nature, to helping cities pay for the planning needed to build new homes. The Property and Environmental Services Department has two main grants, both to offset the community impacts in the areas around the Metro South and Metro Central transfer stations.