Chattanooga, Tenn. (WDEF) – The Orange Grove Center has provided work for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1988 in their materials recovery facility (MRF).
But changes to federal funding regulations have forced an end to their sorting of recyclables.
“We’ve been in recycling since 1988, but we started our partnership with the city in 1992 when the city started a pilot program for curbside recycling…We sorted all those recyclable materials. That partnership with the city has been ongoing since then and that’s the piece that is ending now. We will no longer sort that product,” says Heidi Hoffecker, the Director of Development at the Orange Grove Center.
The center receives 85% of its funding from state and federal Medicaid programs. It serves around 1,000 individuals in southeast Tennessee and north Georgia.
The change in the recycling program is because of new federal funding regulations.
“Medicaid dollars can only be spent supporting individuals when they are in an inclusive or integrated setting. So since we only employ individuals with disabilities upstairs in the MRF to sort the materials, that does not comply with the new rule,” Hoffecker explains.
Both the City of Chattanooga and the Orange Grove Center are facing changes. But the effect on the city is minimal. The recyclables will be processed elsewhere.
According to Justin Holland, Public Works Administrator for the City of Chattanooga, residents won’t notice a change in the city’s recycling program.
The city collects aluminum cans, cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper, plastics #1-7, steel, and glass.
“This actually won’t impact customers. We will continue to provide a great level of service for our customers. The only impact, really is on Orange Grove,” Holland says.
And that impact is felt at Orange Grove.
“I love my job. I love it here,” says Cynthia, one of the many workers at the materials recovery facility who sorts recycling.
But on July 25th, the sorting will end and the materials recovery facility will go quiet. That has Cynthia worried. “I don’t know….Mama says I’m skilled, but I’m nervous,” Cynthia says.
The new regulations aim to get individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities more integrated in the community.
“And that has always been the Orange Grove goal since 1953…to maximize the opportunities for the individuals we serve in their communities.” says Hoffecker.
After 24 years of sorting recycling, the center will help it’s workers find new jobs with the skills they have gained while working there.
The center will still manage the sale and marketing of recyclable materials and operate its Recycle Express program for local businesses.
For more information on the Orange Grove Center, visit their website at orangegrovecenter.org
For more information on the City of Chattanooga Recycling Program, visit chattanooga.gov.