Residents of Isabella County will almost certainly be entirely unaffected by new processing fees approved for taking recyclables to the county’s Material Recovery Facility. Those fees apply only to licensed waste haulers.
Or, as Nicole Frost, Isabella County’s deputy administrator put it, if you don’t cross the scale that weighs your vehicle, you won’t get assessed a fee. That is, if you drop off recyclables at the facility’s main location at 4208 E. River Road, you won’t have to pay to do it if you’re a resident of Isabella County.
That also includes people who use curbside recycling throughout the county. That includes people who live in the city of Mt. Pleasant; the villages of Lake Isabella and Shepherd; the townships of Union, Rolland, Deerfield and Lincoln; the Saginaw Chippewa reservation; and on the campus of Central Michigan University. It also includes people who use one of the recycling center’s drop off points throughout out the county.
The fees apply to commercial waste haulers, who bring recycled materials in from outside the county. For those commercial waste haulers, the county’s board of commissioners voted last week to establish a two-tier fee structure based on the percentage of recycling materials that have to get thrown out because it is dirty or that the recycling center doesn’t actually take, like colored glass or plastic shopping bags. That stuff has to get hauled to the landfill as garbage.
Commerical waste haulers whose recycling is sorted and includes 10 percent of less garbage will pay a $60 per ton fee to use the MRP. Commercial waste haulers whose recycling is not sorted and contains more than 10 percent garbage have to pay $85 percent. The reason is simple, said Frost.
“The whole point of the two-tier system is to clean up our product,” she said.
To understand why, it’s helpful to not think of the MRF as not just a place to save the planet. It actually has to operate based on basic business principles, Frost said. Much of the recyclable materials have to be sorted by hand, and things like filthy pizza boxes can clog lines and generally slow things down. If there’s less garbage coming through the MRF, less time — and thus money — has to be spent pulling it from the the dual-stream recycling operation.
Dual-stream refers to the general approach to sorting the materials. One stream is set up for fibrous materials like cardboard and newsprint. Those things get sent down one like so they can get baled and shipped to a place that takes all of it. The rest — the clear glass, the plastic, the metals — get sent down another line. The metals are separated out with a big magnet, and a person has to separate the glass from the plastic.
Glass, plastic and metal containers that are still dirty — say have a green-tinged half quarter cup of milk in the bottom of the plastic jug — also get thrown out during the sorting process.
Once sorted, those materials are sold to various vendors. Nationally, a lot of American recyclables wound up in China, but last year China said it was done taking most American recycling. Other nations started to buy more, but the American market is glutted. So costs for recycling program have gone up while the prices for recycling products have gone down. That created the dilemma the county decided to address through the processing fee.
In his report to the county board, Jake Borton, MRF manager, said that Isabella’s facility is one of the only ones in the state that doesn’t currently charge a processing fee and that it did previously in the mid-90s.
The major haulers include companies like Allied/Republic, GFT Environmental, Granger, Republic and Waste Management. Frost that even with the fee, for most of them it’ll still be more economical to bring their materials to the MRF because trucking is even more expensive than paying the processing fee.
That could impact cities in Gratiot County that use Republic to pick up recycling, Frost said.