LIMA — More and more of you are recycling than ever before. That compliance is a double-edged sword though.
While we’re keeping more and more material out of the landfill, there’s little to no money to be made by selling the recyclables.
Each county in Ohio has to form either a single-county solid waste district or go into a multiple county district. Allen County is part of the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District, which covers Allen, Champaign, Hardin, Madison, Shelby and Union counties. Auglaize and Putnam counties each have stand-alone districts.
“The effort is really good. It’s really exceptional in our district,” said Jack DeWitt, executive director for the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District. “We’ve done a lot of education over the years, and it’s really helped.”
Auglaize County has a recycling operation at its solid waste headquarters, north of St. Marys.
“The recycling has actually picked up quite a bit from when I started,” said Scott Cisco, Auglaize County Solid Waste District coordinator. “We went from about 4.5 million pounds to about 10 million pounds over the past five years.”
In Putnam County, people in Ottawa have curbside recycling, but residents throughout the county can also drop off their recyclables.
“We have bins out by the what we call the LP building, the ag complex on 2nd Street in Ottawa,” said Putnam County Commissioner Vincent Schroeder. “We have bins labeled glass, metals, paper and cardboard. Once the bins are fairly full, we dump them into an area, where it will be baled and sold on the market.
“The glass is different because there’s really not a good market in glass. We collect that and put it in a bigger container, a 40 cubic yarder, and ship it to Rumpke in Dayton, and we’ll sell that for just $2 per ton. Our expense on glass is more than what we get, of course. It’s a service for Putnam County.”
Things have changed
“When recycling first came in, I was the general manager of Waste Management,” DeWitt said, “and we were the first mandatory curbside recycling program. You source-separated everything at the curb. There were different departments in the truck. It took a considerably longer time to do that. Productivity wasn’t real great.
“They went to a dual-stream system, but they actually put that dual-stream into one 18 gallon container, and it was still tough for the guy out there on the curb because he had to take the paper products and put them in one compartment and then co-mingle.”
More changes were made to help improve efficiency.
“We put two bins out there, and it made it easier. One bin was for paper products, and then one bin was for the co-mingled material, and that is probably the better way to source separate,” DeWitt said.
In some cases, efficiency was traded for contamination of the recyclables.
“The bigger companies decided they wanted to go to a single-stream system, which is your cart,” DeWitt said. “Lima has that. Some have a 30 gallon, some a 64, some every week, some every other week,” DeWitt said. “The contamination rate has gone up considerably with the single-stream. We went from maybe 5% contamination when the bins were there, but when it went to the carts, that contamination figure went up to about 40%. It makes it easier for the resident and easier for the contractor/provider, but for the processing facility it becomes somewhat of a nightmare.”
Right now the contamination rate is about 17% with the single-stream system.
Most of the area’s recyclables go to the Rumpke site in Dayton.
“It goes through a process, and they pre-sort there, and then it goes to Cincinnati,” DeWitt said. “They have a lot of high tech equipment, and they’re able to reduce the employee ratio, and it makes it a little more profitable.”
Recycling isn’t profitable
“The Chinese stopped importing the recyclables, and when it becomes unprofitable is when your income is less than your expenses,” Schroeder said. “But then figure in all of the effort and the money saved by people not having to move their product to another county.”
The steep decline in recyclable prices is a factor in programs across Ohio.
“I’ll give you an example: cardboard,” DeWitt said. “A couple of years ago, we were getting about $170 a ton, and it’s now down to $35 a ton. If it wasn’t for some of the grant money that’s available out there, it would be really tough.”
That’s an issue in Auglaize County too, Cisco said.
“Right now the commodities market is way down, and about a year ago the price of cardboard and paper was way up, and we were able to basically carry ourselves at that point,” Cisco said. “Now that cardboard is down to about $45 a ton along with the paper, we’re struggling.”
Think of recycling as a service, rather than a profit center, proponents said.
“We’re trying to make an effort to make some money on it, but look at the service we’re providing to the people,” Schroeder said. “Our recycling is big. We’re one of the best counties in the state. I’d say we are the best as far as on metals; we’re like 99%.”
Some types of plastics have more of a market for them than others. Each type of plastic has a number between 1 and 7 on it, its resin identification code to identify the type of plastic and how to process it.
“The plastics industry has for about the last three or four years really took a hit, and so we’re forced to make different changes with the plastic,” Cisco said. “We never did take 3-5-7’s, but 1s and 2s are basically what we want and what we take.
“In our drop-offs, you’re going to get some of that unwanted material. Everybody thinks just because it’s got a triangle on the bottom of it, it’s recyclable. It is, but it’s just finding a home for it, getting enough of that material to find a home for it, and it’s pretty tough.”
Extending landfill lives
Despite the economic concerns, recycling programs remain useful, especially to avoid relying on landfills.
“Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard anymore. You talk landfill to anybody, and, boy, they really get irate,” DeWitt said. “They organize and everything, so that has taken a lot of the material out of the waste stream.”
NCO’s six counties recycled 77,300 tons worth of residential and commercial materials in 2017, DeWitt said. They handled another 192,000 pounds from the industrial sector.
“That’s a lot of space that is saved, and that’s why you don’t have companies trying to put the landfills in,” DeWitt said. “It saves that space in that particular one, and the reason that they don’t try is because of the opposition is just extremely aggressive toward not having a landfill in their district.”
Paper, cardboard and plastics await recycling at the Auglaize County Solid Waste District office, north of St. Marys.
Jack DeWitt, with the North Central Ohio Solid Waste District, looks over the piles of cardboard used to ship out recyclables from its facility in Lima.
Auglaize County sorts its plastics and bales them to send them to Rumpke in Dayton for further processing.
The market for glass has dried up, making it mostly unprofitable to recycle.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.