Recycling is broken: County learns of problems

Published 11:20 am Thursday, August 1, 2019

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People love to recycle.

It makes them feel good about doing their little part to help the environment.

But as Davie County commissioners learned at their July meeting, the recycling business isn’t profitable any longer. It’s been that way for about the last two years, according to Tony Krasienko, municipal sales manager for Republic Services.

In fact, his presentation to commissioners was titled, “Recycling Is Broken.”

Republic has a contract with the county to provide recycling services through 2023. The company is asking the county to re-consider what it pays for the service. As Krasienko put it, “You can eat that elephant all at one time (2023), or you can eat it several bites at a time.”

He presented a proposal that would have the county and Republic split the costs associated with market fluctuations – whether in the county’s favor or not. County Manager John Eller said he would bring back several options on recycling for the commissioners to consider.

Currently, county residents do not individually pay for recycling. That cost comes from county funds.

Krasienko said requirements from China, which takes a lot of recyclable material from the United States, spurred the change. Before two years ago, product with up to five percent contamination (materials other than that being recycled) was bought by China. The country reduced that allowed contamination to 1.5 percent. He called that percentage “undoable.”

China also banned all mixed paper products, he said.

Because more of the product is being put on the domestic market, the prices paid dropped. In many cases, companies are paying recyclers to take the product.

He estimated the per household cost for recycling went from $1.50 per month to $3 in the past two years. While they received some $180 a ton two years ago from recyclers, that price is now at $55 a ton.

“Some of that is laziness on the consumer’s part. Residual (non-recyclables in recyling containers) is a controllable item, but it takes a lot of education and re-education to the public as to what is recyclable and what isn’t,” Krasienko said.

“We’ve gotten into a culture of wishful recycling. People are adament. We have trained third graders really well and they hav gone home and beat their parents into submission. Sometimes, we get a little too wishful.”

They’ve found everything from bowling balls to satellite dishes in recycling containers. “You name it, and everybody tries to recycle something that shouldn’t be there.”

While glass is still accepted in Davie, it costs more to collect and process it than received for recycling. And they’re fewer places recycling glass because the profit isn’t there. Still, Krasienko said, glass is more environmentally friendly than plastic if going into a landfill. “Honestly, if we didn’t have wine and beer bottles, we wouldn’t have glass at all in the commodity system.”

He urged people not to bag recyclables. A bag filled with recyclables ends up as trash. Containers must be free of all food. “Leave it loose, leave it clean and leave it dry,” he said.

“Ours is more of educating people on what is recyclable … and getting rid of that idea of wishful recycling.”

He gave Amazon as an example. The company went from mostly cardboard packaging to more bubble wraps, which isn’t recyclable. Consumers protested, and the company is switching back to more cardboard.

Krasienko said the added costs will be added to the county whether paid incrementally over the next few years, when the company’s contract expires, or in one big lump sum. All waste and recycling companies are facing the same costs and situations, he said. “It comes home to roost either way.”

Eller said he appreciates the company’s willingness to work with the county, to offer a model that has both sharing in financial successes and failures.

“The model we have is unsustainable,” Krasienko said. He estimated the per household loss on recycling in Davie County at $3 a month.