The Grand County Solid Waste Management Special Service District is considering how to fund its recycling efforts in the future while dealing with a buildup of recyclable material.
The district lost $100,000 in 2016 and averaged $70,000 losses in the previous five years, said District Manager Deborah Barton. With the Community Recycling Center operating at capacity and the recycling operation in the red, Barton said it is time for the district to look at different models.
“We don’t really want to give up recycling because it ... keeps [material] out of the landfill,” Barton said, adding that less material going in the landfill saves the district money.
The district could find infrastructure funding to develop a larger recycling facility, she said, or a third party could take charge of the recycling operation.
“The district has goals in addition to pure economics in terms of waste reduction and waste diversion and so the recycling fit into that, but obviously ... there’s limits to how much we can pay to meet those goals,” said Kalen Jones, who serves as treasurer and Moab city representative for the Solid Waste District.
The district needs to find funds to scale up operations, Jones said. “We do not have a strategy at this moment but we will continue to be discussing it over the coming months.”
One option would be to charge user fees for recycling. Recycling, like taking trash to the landfill, is another form of waste management, Jones said.
“It’s higher up on the hierarchy than just landfilling things but it’s not free and so the [solid waste] board is discussing how do we pass those costs onto the waste generators so that we can afford to continue recycling, which is obviously valued by many members of our community.”
The most visible problem has been the mountain of cardboard accumulating at the recycling center, Jones said. The district has been short-staffed and faced equipment problems and Jones is hopeful that when those challenges are resolved, the backlog of cardboard will be processed.
While the pile of cardboard remains, Barton is concerned that people who pull boxes out of the cardboard won’t be seen by recycling center employees, who use large machinery to manage the pile.
“I’m afraid they may think that my guys are seeing them and my guys are assuming no one is in there and that is a concern,” she said. “We’re still looking at doing it safely.”
A delay in installing a new baler to compact and strap the cardboard has hampered the facility’s efforts to catch up on the backlog, Barton said. Center employees discovered that the concrete pad where the baler was to be installed was not poured to the correct specifications, she added. The recycling center is now in the process of retrofitting the pad so that the baler can be installed.
Currently, the recycling center has one working baler. Having a second operational baler will help them process material more quickly, Barton said.
“With some staffing and equipment challenges that we’ve been having, I was comfortable letting [the accumulation of recyclables] get resolved and just seeing if we can get our production up and ... if we can actually process materials faster,” Barton said. “But then if that’s not the case, we need to either plan for increasing our capacity soon or cut back on what we take in until we can [increase capacity].”
The changing global market for recyclable material is one reason the recycling center has less money than in the past, according to Barton.
“A lot of our materials go overseas to China. They are very ... irritated with some of the quality of material that the United States is sending to them because they do a lot of taking of material and they reprocess it and get it sent back as recycled material,” Barton said. “The contamination rates are so high that they are unable to recycle the material so they have put some very stringent requirements on materials going into China, which is having an impact on us.”
Glass, in particular, has lost value, according to an April news report in USA Today.
“In most American cities, the glass bottle you toss in the recycling cart is essentially worthless, and if it breaks, the shards may make the paper in a mixed cart worthless as well,” the article stated.
Another problem for Moab is the dramatic increase in material that the recycling center receives.
“If you look at it from the perspective of how much waste we’re diverting from the landfill things are going well,” Jones said. “But our capacity hasn’t increased to keep pace with that, hence the backlog of unprocessed materials at the center.”
In May, the district received 150 tons of recyclable material, nearly twice as much as it did in May 2016. Since then, there has been a decline in incoming material, officials said. In July, the district received 114 tons of recyclables, according to a graph provided by the district.
Because commodity prices are low for recyclable materials, the district receives most of its funding from user fees paid for trash disposal at the landfills, along with some support from the county’s transient room tax, Barton said.