The Community Recycling Center is severely understaffed and the global market for recyclables is changing, putting the Solid Waste Special Service District, which manages the recycling center, in a tough position. Many have heard that the solid waste district has reduced the recyclables they accept at the recycling center, as well as reducing the hours of the center. Now, after the injury of a key employee, they are reducing hours even more.
At the same time, the City of Moab is developing a request for proposals for waste management that may include recycling. If Monument Waste or another provider began to offer recycling, it would mean big changes for the recycling center.
The solid waste district—including the landfills and the recycling center—had to shut down by noon on Saturday, July 21. The recycling center began closing early on July 7 due to personnel shortages, according to a press release from the solid waste district. Moving forward, the recycling center will be closed on Wednesdays and Fridays “because of personnel shortages and to work on the backlog of material to be processed for recycling,” according to the press release. In addition, the dumpster that has been at the drop point will no longer be available for trash or other unrecyclable materials.
The district is trying to find ways to raise salaries and attract personnel, but their options are limited. “Salaries are needing to be higher because the cost to live in Moab is much higher than you would expect for a small facility or a small town,” said Deborah Barton, manager of the solid waste district. But where will the money come from, when the market for recyclables is plummeting?
It started several years ago when China, the main market for recyclables, instituted the Green Fence initiative, Barton said. The initiative demanded a 0.3 percent contamination rate, much cleaner than the recyclable materials the U.S. had previously been sending. Barton said that international outrage sparked China to lower the bar, and accept a 0.5 percent contamination rate, but some countries did not take the requirement seriously.
Then in May, China announced the Blue Sky policy. “For 30 days they did not accept a single load. They would not even let you load out to send to China. They said, ‘you didn’t take us seriously. We’re serious,’” Barton said.
Now China is accepting recyclables again, but the prices they will pay are going down. Cardboard, for example, costs the recycling center $195 per ton to bale and ship. “[The price] went from $145 to $130 [per ton] in the last ten days … it may drop even further,” Barton said. The recycling center has kept cardboard recycling and eats the financial loss because of the high level of greenhouse gas saved by recycling cardboard rather than throwing it away. But they haven’t been able to keep everything. Plastics numbers three through seven are no longer accepted. Neither is mixed paper, or newsprint from non-commercial sources. With China considering banning even more recyclables, the outlook is not rosy, Barton said.
The silver lining is that the recycling market may have to change for the better.
“It will force us as a society, I hope, to really look at what you toss out whether for trash or recycling or reuse or repurposing. If it says flattened, no plastic, no food, we mean flattened, no plastic, no food. Because it costs money and right now residents don’t pay unless they’re subscribed with Green Solutions…We can no longer have that. That is not a sustainable model and it hasn’t been for some time. We as a district have been able to underwrite the cost through our landfills but we can no longer sustain that kind of model,” Barton said. The problem is that if landfill fees get too high, people start dumping outside of the gates or in the desert, Barton said.
With the recycling center in chaos, Green Solutions’ days may be numbered.
“These changes have been a tough hit for my business,” said Brad Woodford, the owner of Green Solutions, a private business that provides curbside recycling. For a fee, Green Solutions picks up recyclables and brings them to the recycling center weekly. “For the past six years, since I acquired Green Solutions in 2012, it has been steadily growing at 10 to 20 percent each year. However, with the decrease in materials recycled at the recycling center (glass, plastics and paperboard products) I have seen a decrease in residential customers of around 15 to 20 percent. Additionally, to maintain as many customers as possible, I did lower my price back to $10 per month rather than $12 per month. With the decrease in number of customers as well as the decrease in monthly fees, my business is down in revenue without a significant decrease in expenditures. We still have the same operational costs, the only decrease is a few less hours of employee wages.”
Woodford hopes the community can move toward single stream recycling, in which consumers throw all their recycling into one bin and it is taken to a larger materials recovery facility. “That will substantially increase the participation rates of recycling in Moab, and the volume of waste diverted from our landfill. It will free up the Solid Waste District to focus on other waste diversions such as composting and providing more drop-off times for E-Waste while removing the burden of baling and shipping out recycling,” Woodford said.
At the same time, Moab City is developing a RFP for solid waste disposal that may include recycling, since the city’s solid waste disposal contract expires this fall, according to Rosemarie Russo, sustainability director for the city.
“The city intends to implement a waste minimization program for city offices, workplaces, and facilities, residents and businesses that places a high emphasis on diverting more material away from landfill disposal towards recycling, as well as systematic reduction of the overall waste stream,” Russo said. “The current diversion rate of 13 percent is well below the national rate of 35 percent, and per-capita trash volumes exceed the national average by nearly 50 percent. The RFP may have recycling because as a community (i.e., city, county) it is important to implement a system that will strengthen the economy and optimize capital investments.”
Nationally, Russo said, a “hub and spoke” system has been found to work best, and that is what the city RFP aligns with. Such a system would center on one facility mechanically sorting material rather than hand-sorting like occurs in Moab.
The RFP will be released in the fall for approximately three weeks, Russo said. Dan Kirkpatrick of Monument Waste said that his company might be game to provide single-stream recycling for Moab. As the current provider of solid waste disposal in the community, he is familiar with its needs.
“Moab is kind of a unique area where everybody wants to recycle but there’s just not enough volume here to sustain a large program. We’re hopeful the city will have some kind of mandated recycling component in the RFP that will provide the base, if you will, to get a sizable program going. Our hope is the program will evolve into a single-stream program to make participation easier for the users, the residents and the commercial businesses. Right now it’s far too cumbersome for folks to recycle,” Kirkpatrick said.
In the meantime, individuals can help the community produce less waste. “First off … refuse to buy it,” said Barton. “Eat all your broccoli … Don’t throw it away. Eat your leftovers, wisely, like in the old days. [Use] second-hand stores. If you have to have it ... then purchase something that can be reused locally.”
If anyone is interested in employment with the solid waste district, they can contact the district office at (435) 259-3867. Job applications are available.