Recycling Rates Won't Change Until Market Changes

16 June 2016

It's midway through the year and the global recycling market remains in the doldrums.

This means that commercial trash haulers won't see any reduction in the county's $22.50 per ton recycling fee in the near future.

“Unless a miracle happens, I don't see any improvement in the next year or two,” Pete Bieniek, county chief of solid waste management, said Tuesday. “The bottom fell out quickly within a couple of months at the end of last year."

That forced the landfill to raise recycling rates from $4 per ton to $22.50 per ton, and also to implement changes to reduce a contamination rate of 21 percent reported due to mixing of trash with recyclables in plastic bags.

Changes also were implemented at the Homeowner's Convenience Center in the Central Landfill in January that stopped allowing disposal of televisions, computer monitors, small appliances, radios and cameras — again due to a bad market.

In January, Bieniek called it the “perfect storm” combining contamination rates with a crash of the commodity market and China not accepting as many recyclables as they once did. With a drop in gas and oil prices, it becomes cheaper to make new plastic than it is to recycle old plastic.

The good news, according to Bieniek, is that the county has reduced its contamination rate from 21 percent down to 5 percent, which is actually under the 8 percent acceptable level. But that by itself isn't enough to reduce tipping fees.

County Recycling Manager Tanya Adams said the increase is mainly due to transportation costs, which went up dramatically from the recycling companies.

“It still costs us $4 per ton to process the recyclables here, but we now have to pay an additional $18 per ton to transport it,” she said.

Bieniek said Cecil County renegotiated its contract with its existing recycling firm in Delaware and has about 30 months remaining on the contract, but other companies would charge even more for transportation because they are further away.

“The entire recycling process is running a deficit,” Bieniek said.

Markets for metal, vinyl and plastic have all dropped, he explained. But recycling is mandated so jurisdictions just can't stop doing it.

Frank Vari, a Chesapeake City councilman who has long been an advocate of recycling, is disappointed, but understands that the commodities market has to change first for things to improve.

“We're at least able to help pay our town's tipping fees through money raised by two 5K walk/runs each year,” he said.


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