Where does Moab’s recycling go?

Behind the scenes, shipping costs are considerable

Bags of cans sit behind the Moab Recycling Center off of Sand Flats Road. Recyclables like these are being held at the recycling center in hopes that their prices will eventually return to normalcy, but for now, they are historically low.
Photo by Carter Pape

This story is one of two this week about recycling challenges, global and local. This story focuses on local challenges; the other focuses on large-picture challenges and how they affect Moab.

Experts and community leaders discussed high-level problems and solutions regarding recycling, as well as some of the particulars of the process of recycling in Moab, during a League of Women Voters-hosted event at the library on Monday, March 11.

The organization wanted to give people an opportunity to hear more about the complex topic of recycling and ask questions of those who might have answers.

Local entities represented on the panel were Monument Waste Services, the City of Moab and Solid Waste Special Service District 1, which services Grand County and parts of San Juan County.

The promise of Denver’s recycling center

Dan Kirkpatrick is the managing partner at Monument Waste Services, the waste management company that recently renegotiated its contract with the City of Moab to include curbside recycling.

Kirkpatrick expressed excitement about the “innovative” material sorting being done at Altogether Recycling, the facility where Monument will ship its recyclables. The materials recovery facility, which accepts loads of recyclables then sorts them out to be sent to materials brokers to be sold and then reprocessed, is located near the heart of Denver and run by Alpine Waste & Recycling.

The process of sorting recycling can be fraught at times; workers may handle shards of broken glass or sharp cans, and for many reasons, some recyclable materials that end up at sorting facilities don’t end up getting recycled, including plastic bags and electronics.

However, Kirkpatrick said that Alpine was different than most facilities.

“We think they’re one of the more innovative companies and MRF [material recovery facility] processors in the country,” Kirkpatrick said. “They’re always at the cutting edge on everything they do.”

Kirkpatrick said partnering with Alpine would make for an experience that was “user-friendly” for Moabites, who are already starting to request their recycling services.

Kirkpatrick told The Times-Independent that city residents interested in getting recycling services early can call Monument Waste at 435-259-6314 to request their bin. He added that the city was planning to send out letters with information about the new waste services as early as next week, including how residents can opt out of recycling services.

Commodity prices hurting county

Bales of cardboard sit in storage at the Moab Recycling Center, waiting to be shipped to brokers. These bales of cardboard have sat at the recycling center for much longer than normal as local officials await a jump in their price.
Photo by Carter Pape

Although recycling will soon become easier for many citizens in Moab as curbside services roll out, getting recycling into the hands of people who want them is a considerably harder task given the current economics of recycling.

Evan Tyrrell is the manager of the Solid Waste Special Service District 1, which runs two landfills and a recycling center, all of which serve Grand County and parts of San Juan County. Tyrrell came into the job only about two months ago and has worked to smooth out operations at the center, which handles recyclables differently than Monument Waste.

The Moab Recycling Center is a source-sorted facility, where residents bring their recycling to the center and put it into different bins, depending on what the item is. There are bins for mixed paper, cardboard, different kinds of plastic, cans and more.

According to Tyrrell, there are “pros and cons” to both source-sorting and single-stream. At a high level, single-stream recycling offers convenience, while source sorting offers a higher quality recycling stream so that recyclables can be sold at a premium rate.

However, despite the premium rates offered for source-sorted materials, the market for recyclables is suffering. According to Tyrrell, the price of cardboard has plummeted in recent years, which particularly hurts because it is the recycling center’s bread and butter. According to Tyrrell, the price dropped from $180 per ton of material last year to $80 per ton this year.

Cardboard represents the center’s largest stream by weight, but it has recently opted to hold onto its cardboard with the expectation that the market for cardboard will recover. Bales of cardboard – large cubes of the material held together with wire – currently sit in the yard of the Recycling Center on Sand Flats road, awaiting a time when the market will accept them.

Once they’re shipped off to brokers, the material will go to the highest bidder, who might be overseas. Tyrrell said that it is an “unfortunate” reality that some of the materials that leave Moab may end up on long, expensive, consumptive trips between continents, but it is hard to know where exactly the recycling goes, as brokers are typically constrained in their ability to share information about buyers.