Washington County officials tour the Republic Services facility in Las Vegas Nevada, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Photo: Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News)
There’s been a lot of local news this year when it comes to recycling, but what’s happening in Washington County is in line with issues happening across the country.
With contractual conflicts, a halt in recycling and other recent changes, it’s a lot to keep up with. Here’s what’s gone on this year and what the county can expect when it comes to recycling in the next year.
What happened this year in Washington County?
Back in June, Rocky Mountain Recycling sent a letter to WCSW raising rates on recycling. Rocky Mountain had raised rates in the past, from $15 to $50 per ton since curbside recycling started in 2016. The last ask was for $78 per ton.
Washington County refused to accept the higher rate, and Rocky Mountain claimed force majeure on their contract. At that point, Washington County was left with no company to process the collected curbside and binnie recyclables in the region.
Starting in July 2019, recycling picked up by Republic Services was dumped into the county’s landfill. Washington County turned to Republic to also do the processing since the company operates a 110,000 square-foot facility outside of Vegas.
Republic charged the county $128 per ton of recyclables, and the district took on the additional costs, according to Schwendiman.
Also, making the switch involved building a “transload” station at the county’s landfill was necessary. The station would transfer recyclables picked up by Republic trucks to semi-trucks that would be shipped to Vegas.
The WCSW board voted in mid-September to approve a contract with Republic, plus the transload station. The agreement stated that Republic would cover the cost of building the station (which was around $114,500) unless in 2021 when the contract ended, the county chose to not sign a new contract with the company. If that happens, the county will have to reimburse Republic for the station.
Four months after the county stopped recycling, on Oct. 31 the county started actually recycling again.
“Unfortunately, the cost isn’t ideal,” Schwendiman said at the time in regards to the higher processing rates. “But the good thing is the material is going to be sorted better, it’s going to be handled better. I think it’s going to be a cleaner material to go on the market.”
But Washington County isn’t alone in having changes to recycling. Starting in 2020, the binnie recycling program in Cedar City will be discontinued. The binnie program, run by WCSW, was going to get more expensive for the city because WCSW was raising rates for the city.
“It’s so much more to recycle, we’re losing that whole benefit recycling comes from. It was a hard decision we didn’t take lightly,” Cedar City public works director Ryan Marshall said when the council voted in November.
Status of recycling worldwide
The issues Washington County and nearby Cedar City has faced when it comes to recycling – rising processing rates and not much profit – isn’t unique. Worldwide, recycling markets have hit a stalemate because in early 2018, global markets started getting a lot more expensive.
“The biggest cause [of recycling markets decreasing] is China pulling out of the game,” Beau Peck, the president of the Recycling Coalition of Utah said. “They accepted 50% of paper and plastic scrap.”
Peck said at its peak, China was buying subpar materials, but stopped collecting because there wasn’t a market for contaminated materials. This has left the world scrambling to find another place to send recycling, and recyclers looking for cleaner materials.
Today, some recycling processors have found markets for some things. At Republic’s facility in Las Vegas, where Washington County’s recycling goes, aluminum is sent to St. Louis, Missouri and plastic, newspaper, mixed paper and cardboard are moved to California, with some materials going to Indonesia or other international markets.
What 2020 holds for the county
In related news, starting Jan. 1, 2020, waste collection across the county will be going up 25 cents every month – so by 2021 residents will be paying $3 more for waste pick up.
But this monthly rate increase doesn’t have anything to do with what’s gone on with recycling in the county, according to Washington County Solid Waste district manager Neil Schwendiman.
“It was about a year ago August when we were looking at making all our contracts line up on the same date,” Schwendiman said.
Back in summer 2018, WCSW wanted to have contracts with waste collection services end in February 2021, the same as recycling services, Schwendiman said. The collection agreement with Republic for waste collection would have ended at the end of this year.
The original contract, signed years ago, had monthly increases built into them for waste collection, Schwendiman said. However, in the past, when the county took time to review if rate increases should happen, WCSW didn’t see a need to implement them. This coming year though, the county decided to implement the planned increases, according to Schwendiman.
The county’s contract with Republic for recycling is also set to expire February 2021. This next year will be spent negotiating contracts to find the best deal. Schwendiman said that he’s pushing for another opt-out period come 2021, but that’s part of negotiating contracts with companies.
He said the county will have to find out what the rates would be for the county for various levels of participation from residents. If only some residents opt for recycling, Schwendiman said, it’s important for residents to know that the rates for those choosing to participate will go up. But there’s still a lot to be ironed out before the future of recycling in the county is known.
“This is not an easy decision,” Schwendiman said of making these decisions.
Lexi Peery is the environment, politics and development reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News, a USA TODAY Network newsroom based in southern Utah. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @LexiFP.
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