Although the handwriting is on the wall, you might say, marking the coming shutdown of the Ravalli County Recycling Center with closing tentatively set for the end of the year, in the meantime the facility is still open.
“We voted to stay open until December 31 if we could,” said Board President Janice Lee. “But should the markets fail severely, or our vehicles fail, or the property sells, we may have to close sooner. Our goal is to stay open at least until the end of the year if we can.”
What they are up against, according to board member Chip Britting, is “ancient equipment, the potential sale of the property, and markets that have gone south.”
Cardboard recycling is two-thirds of the non-profit company’s volume of business. But they have been hamstrung lately by a disabled packing truck. Although it was tough to diagnose, the problem has recently been identified, but the solution would be costly and involve more downtime. Instead they are going to run the truck on half a tank of gas at a time to avoid the issue.
Then there is the potential sale of the property on which the facility is located. The non-profit has rented the property for the last six years at “a very reasonable rate.” But it was put up for sale this year and some people are looking at it, according to Britting. If the property sells they will have only 60 days to move out, he said. Britting described the potential sale of the property as “a big sword hanging over our head. We have nowhere to go.”
And then there is the market that has flown south. In 2017, the company made $40,000 selling recyclables mostly to Pacific Recycling in Missoula. In 2018, that fell to $16,000. This year they are looking at maybe $3,000 to $4,000.
“Or maybe a loss,” said Britting. They have had to quit accepting most plastics, and right now they are paying $25 a ton to have the magazines hauled away. The only thing besides cardboard bringing in any revenue at this time are the Bayern bottles and aluminum cans but the volume of those items is only half of what it was 16 months ago.
Britting said the recycling enterprise has only survived through donations and might still be able to survive with some public funding. He said the operation began with a grant that was obtained under the American Recovery Act which covered the purchase of the bins and the trucks. Since then the operation has been self-sustaining. But they have never received much assistance from the local government.
“We process about a million pounds of recyclables a year,” said Lee. “But the business we are in is not worth anything right now.” She and Britting speculate that if the local government could be pushed by public demand to help them out they might be able to weather these hard times, but without it, things look bleak. Currently they are just hopeful that someone might be interested in the cardboard account since that market is still strong.
“It would really be up to the public to push this right now with local government and see if we can keep it going,” said Lee. “We are hoping the public will step up, but if they don’t we are going to go away and we will be losing a very valuable public service.”