City staff in Union and Washington said earlier this week they have no plans to abandon recycling programs in response to reports of the rising cost of recycling.
According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report, Kirkwood announced it was no longer going to continue operations of its single-stream recycling program. The city cited rising recycling costs as the main factor in its decision.
Union and Washington officials said Kirkwood’s change likely would not impact its recycling programs.
After reading reports about the city of Kirkwood ending its recycling, Alderman Jim Albrecht asked at Monday’s parks, buildings, development and public service committee meeting if Union was considering doing the same.
City Administrator Russell Rost said, at this point, no change is imminent.
Rost said he was aware of Kirkswood’s decision and has been briefed on the rising cost of recycling. He also stated China, which has been a big purchaser of recycled material, has pulled back.
The decrease in demand from China has led to an increase in cost, he said.
“The problem with recyclables is, China for one has stopped accepting U.S. recyclables,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s part of the trade problem, but they’re not taking it right now and they were the biggest customer.”
That increase has yet to be passed along to the city of Union. The city is under contract for its recycling program until August 2019.
Rost said when that agreement expires, he does expect the city will be charged more to recycle. Even with higher rates, he doesn’t expect the city to have to suspend its operations.
Rost said the city has long paid to recycle, but it’s usually at a much cheaper rate than hauling to a landfill. As long as recycling is more affordable than a landfill, he said the city would likely consider the recycling program.
“When started, we got a check for the sales of the recyclables,” he said. “Since then, we’ve been paying to get rid of the materials, which sounds bad, except we pay a lot a less for the tonnage we take there versus the tonnage we take to the landfill. It’s a big difference.”
There’s still a lot of time between now and when the contract ends so things may change, Rost said.
“I do expect an increase, but maybe the market will change and recyclables will have more value again,” he said.
One issue he wants to keep an eye on is contaminated loads. With a decreased demand for recycling, he said dropoffs are rejecting more contaminated loads.
With single-stream recycling, all the goods are mixed together and then sorted. Rost said some loads that have contaminates, things that aren’t’ accepted at recycling centers, can be rejected.
“If they have to spend a lot of hours on it, then they will reject the entire load and we have to go to landfill,” he said.
Rost pointed out the city has information on what can and can’t be recycled and encouraged residents to be mindful when filling bins.
In Washington Monday, Councilman Joe Holtmeier questioned the city’s plans after reading the same report.
John Nilges, Washington public services director, commented that Washington’s recycling operation is not the same scale of Kirkwood’s and the city would not be hit as hard.
Nilges also pointed out China no longer is purchasing as much American recycling because consumers are combining trash with recyclables.
“The value of the recyclables has gone down,” he said. “They are not accepting it to as high of a standard.”
As was the case for Kirkwood, instead of receiving $5 per ton for recycling, it paid $35 per ton.
Nilges has reached out to distributors and is still investigating any impact that may have on Washington.
“There is no alarm per se,” he noted. “We aren’t getting rid of recycling.”
According to Nilges, single-stream recycling trucks are graded when they enter centers.
In Washington, residents put recyclables into bins, while in Kirkwood they use larger tilting containers.
“It’s easier for someone to throw a pizza box and five pieces of pizza in — we do not have that problem, at least to that level,” Nilges said.
When there is too much trash in the recyclables, it is possible a municipality is “blacklisted” upping the cost to get rid of the material.
If Washington were to be blacklisted, it would not have as great of an impact as if Kirkwood were to be blacklisted.
Nilges estimated Washington collects about 10 tons of recycling per week. He explained landfill tipping fees are $80 per ton and the city only utilizes 20 percent of the landfill.
“It still might be cost beneficial for the city to continue down this path,” he said.
Reporter Gregg Jones contributed to this report.