Op-Ed: Recycling challenges and solutions
By Mayor Carlo DeMaria
As you may have heard in the news over the past year, the recycling market around the world has been volatile. Trade agreements, shipping costs, demand for recycled materials, and quality of recycling throughout the industry have forever changed the market.
In the past, the City of Everett took advantage of variable rate-recycling contracts, and recycling was a revenue source. However, in FY17, the market began to change, and the City expended approximately $30,000 for recycling. In FY18, the cost for recycling doubled to $85,000.
Today, China, our largest importer of recycled materials, is not accepting most recyclables and will not take any with the slightest contamination; as a result, the market has plunged. The City’s vendor’s prices per ton started to climb, and a new contamination charge began to be added to the bill; these new costs could have amounted to approximately $750,000 per year.
I immediately put a task force together to review all possibilities for dealing with the rising costs. These options included everything from glass removal to switching to a dual-stream (not comingled) collection practice, and to even bring back the City run sanitation division.
Speaking to Mayors across the Commonwealth, I found many communities also trying to deal with this recycling crisis. I then called Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and he told me the department was there to help and suggested we apply for a recycling IQ kit to reduce contaminants in our recycling. This fall, we obtained the $40,000 grant for public outreach and education in addition to staff to review contaminated recycling barrels citywide. We had also reached out to local communities and vendors.
I’m happy to say, we have stabilized our recycling cost and have reduced the amount of contaminants in our recyclables. Everett now has a locked rate of $79.00 / ton and through the MassDEP IQ grant program has reduced its contamination rate in the grant program areas by roughly 50%. These initiatives have saved the City approximately $30,000 per month as the market rate for recycling has climbed in excess of $100.00 / ton. At the most recent City Council Meeting, I introduced an ordinance to begin a discussion of banning single use of plastic bags in the City of Everett. These bags are the number one contaminant in our recycling stream. They tangle in sorting machines, which cause the machines to break and shutting down the recycling process for hours.
In this volatile Global Economy, I will continue to review our options in order to incorporate new disposal practices, evolve industry standards, and improve attentiveness in what enters the recycling stream. We are all in this together and I appreciate our residents’ assistance in cleaning up the recycling stream, protecting our environment, and helping to protect the bottom line.