The rising cost of recycling

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Recycling bins at one of Yadkin County’s convenience sites. – Photo courtesy of Yadkin County

Recycling has become part of everyday solid waste collection across the United States. Trashcans are accompanied by recycling containers in airports, at public venues and even within households. It is common for towns, cities and counties to provide recycling services to citizens as a part of their standard solid waste collection. Although recycling is extremely prevalent, the local governments providing recycling services are finding it more and more difficult to continue to do so. The trouble for governments comes from the rising cost in recycling services.

There are two major contributors to the rising costs that local governments are facing. First, the rate of exporting recyclable materials from the United States has drastically decreased. China, which until recently had been a large purchaser of recyclable material in the United States, has all but eliminated the import of recycled material. Other countries like India have begun to import some of our recyclable material, however they too are imposing restrictions. These restrictions are slowing the process of exportation of the recyclable material. This is causing companies to have an abundance of recyclable materials with nowhere to sell it.

Second, a great deal of recyclable material collected is co-mingled with garbage. Households are placing items in recycling that simply do not belong. This makes processing the material extremely difficult and sometimes not possible. During the sorting process machines have to be stopped and manually cleared, causing backups and inefficiencies. Ineffective processing increases labor and decreases the amount of material sent out driving the cost up.

Cities such as Deltona, Florida and Philadelphia,Pennsylvania are being forced to make difficult decisions due to the increased cost of recycling. Instead of raising fees for recycling to citizens, these cities are using alternative methods to get rid of recyclable materials. Philadelphia is sending portions of its recycled good to be incinerated. Deltona has halted the separate collected of recyclable materials all together. All of the waste collected in Deltona (including recyclable material) is now sent to a landfill. Several other cities across the country are examining how to properly manage their rising cost for recycling services.

The dilemma is not unique to large cities. Yadkin County is also facing a cost of recycling predicament. Currently, Yadkin County provides single stream recycling for residents at all convenience sites. The County also provides recycling collection at all schools and the Agricultural and Educational Building at the Yadkin Center. The rate for recycling services is approximately double that of municipal solid waste (garbage). It is currently costing the County approximately $40,000 more per year to recycle than it would be to send the material to a landfill. Future projections show that the additional cost of recycling will rise even higher.

Other jurisdictions within the County are attempting to curtail the rising costs of recycling for their citizens. The Towns of Jonesville and Yadkinville for instance, provide recycling services for residents. Both are examining ways to help keep the cost of solid waste and recycling services down. Managing the financial troubles currently associated with recycling can be challenging. Because of this, some communities are attempting to curtail the volume of waste all together. Programs aimed at eliminating items such as plastic grocery bags and plastic straws are gaining traction across the county. Local entities are seeing benefits in overall waste reduction from both an environmental and fiscal point of view.

As the recycling conundrum continues to unfold, towns, cities and counties must explore various options for disposal of recyclable material. Yadkin County is examining multiple options and taking every effort to be fiscally responsible to its citizens. Although the problem is complex, governments across the country, including Yadkin County, will make the best decisions for their citizen’s longevity and welfare.

Drew Hinkle is the assistant county manager for Yadkin County.

Recycling bins at one of Yadkin County’s convenience sites.



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