VP of Plant Operations Bill Easterling describes operations at the Montgomery Recycling and Recovery Facility operated by RePower South.
The company that runs Montgomery’s state-of-the-art waste disposal and recycling facility is asking the city to charge a $2-per-customer monthly recycling fee while it operates at a loss.
People in Montgomery throw all their trash into one container, and it’s separated and sorted into re-sellable goods at the $37 million facility at no cost to the city. But RePower South, which handles the process, said the resale prices have plummeted since China banned the import of American recycling.
Now, it can cost the plant $50 to process a ton of trash into materials that can be sold for $35.
“It’s hard to overcome that,” said Bill Easterling, vice president of plant operations.
RePower South CEO Justin Converse told city leaders this week that the company remains committed to the facility, but that the loss is steep. He asked the Montgomery City Council to consider imposing a $2 fee for each sanitation customer, one that would go away as commodity prices rise.
The council took no action but plan to visit the facility next week. Converse said the company is willing to let the city audit their financial records.
It’s not a unique problem. Recycling centers across the nation have been requesting local fees since China changed its policies, and the leaders of the American recycling industry itself have debated changes to their business models.
But Montgomery’s recycling facility has a unique history.
A different operator called IREP opened it in 2014, when it was one of the most cutting-edge facilities in the world. But a lack of trash volume and concerns about the quality of the process scuttled their business model, and a dip in commodity prices sunk them. The facility closed.
It sat empty for three years, and the city was without recycling until 2019.
That’s when RePower South reopened the plant and poured $10 million into upgrades. That allowed them to start producing alternative fuel with a new process. The plant also broadened its reach of customers and now takes in trash streams from as far away as Florida.
City officials have said the facility extends the life of local landfill cells by 75 years, saving the city the millions of dollars it would cost to build new ones.
The facility reopened last year with 45 employees and had plans to add a second shift of workers.
A year and a half later, 39 people work there. Plans for the second shift are still on hold.
Easterling has been in the business for decades and said he’s seen plenty of ups and downs in commodity prices. He said he’s sure they’ll bounce back, and he’s hopeful the city will agree to the recycling fee in the meantime.
“The alternative isn’t good,” he said.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brad Harper at email@example.com.
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