OGDEN — Those soda cans, milk jugs, cardboard boxes and other items Ogden residents have been tossing in their blue recycling bins for pickup each week haven’t been making their way to processing facilities so the materials can be reused.
Rather, for the last several months, maybe as much as a year, they’ve been hauled away to be dumped in a landfill, in part as a cost-saving measure due to the higher cost of recycling.
“It’s temporary, we hope,” said Mark Johnson, the chief administrative officer for Ogden. “I do know we have to recycle, our community wants to recycle. It’s just finding a way that makes sense.”
Ogden isn’t alone. North Ogden stopped contracting with the private sector for trash collection as of July 1, handling the duties in-house instead and eliminating collection of recyclables as part of the change. Likewise, recyclables from Washington Terrace and South Ogden are also being landfilled per directives from leaders in the cites to do so if recycling costs exceed landfilling costs, according to David Rawson, operator of Recycled Earth.
Ogden-based Recycled Earth handles much of the recyclable household waste generated in Weber County, and the turn of events is frustrating for Rawson, who operates the business with wife Amy Rawson. The reduced value of recyclables on commodity markets and the corresponding increase in recycling costs “doesn’t change our social responsibility to recycle,” David Rawson said. “We have to be responsible for the environment.”
He argues that the public would be willing to foot the higher bill to pay for recycling. Indeed, he maintains that the increased cost over landfilling, averaged out to individual household, would be minimal, perhaps 9 cents per trash can per week. Whatever the case, the cost of recycling and whether to maintain programs has been an on-and-off topic of debate in several Weber County cities and beyond for at least the last two years or so as the market has weakened, reducing the market value of recyclables. As some cities have moved away from recycling, it puts increasing pressure on the Rawsons to find a way to keep Recycled Earth operational.
The Rawsons are “millions” of dollars in debt because of the initial costs back in 2017 to start the recycling operation, David Rawson said. Other elements of their business, like hauling of waste and other materials, helps subsidize the cost of the recycling operation, but it’s an increasingly tough balancing act.
Through it all, other Weber County cities have kept sending recyclables for processing and reuse, including Pleasant View, Roy, Hooper, Riverdale and West Haven, according to Rawson. And he said the market for recyclables seems to be on the rebound, which could make recycling a more viable and less costly option for the cities moving away from it. Johnson, the Ogden official, hinted that new negotiations on the matter may be in the offing.
The future of recycling, Johnson said, is “something that we’re talking about right now.”
‘A VERY MIXED BAG’In the spring of 2019, Ogden officials called for a temporary halt in processing of residential cardboard, cans, plastic and other recyclables, directing the material to be taken to a landfill instead. The city reversed course after just two weeks or so, resuming recycling operations. But sometime after that, the city shifted course once again, the end result being that recyclables — placed in blue bins alongside dark green bins containing trash — are again going to the landfill.
Johnson said the change has been in effect for “a few months” but David Rawson said it’s been more like a year. Likewise, Rawson said recyclables from Washington Terrace and South Ogden have been going to the landfill for about the same time frame.
Washington Terrace Mayor Mark Allen said the city’s policy calls for continued processing of recyclables as long as the cost to do so is the same as landfilling it, if not cheaper. He understood that the city’s recyclables were still being processed. But Rawson said Washington Terrace recyclables are, in fact, being landfilled.
South Ogden City Manager Matt Dixon said the city has been operating under a recycling policy similar to Washington Terrace’s. He deferred to Rawson’s assertion that South Ogden recyclables are also going to the landfill.
The rise in recycling costs “puts cities in a position to question to what extent are we still behind recycling,” Dixon said. The city polled residents last year on the subject, aiming to get a sense what sort of appetite there would be for increased fees to cover rising recycling costs, and the results were “a very mixed bag.”
In North Ogden, the city opted to start handling trash collection in light of an expected jump in costs if it continued with Republic Services, the contractor that had hauled its garbage. As part of the change, which went into effect July 1, recyclables are being landfilled, not processed for reuse.
“Our hope is the market will return and we can reinstate the (recycling) program,” said Mayor S. Neal Berube. More immediately, he said, North Ogden officials are considering placing a dumpster at a central location where residents can bring cardboard and paper for recycling.
In Plain City, officials will be doing away with the city’s current recycling program — which, like Ogden’s, calls for placement of recyclables by homeowners in blue bins so they can be processed. Instead, the blue bins will be used to collect green waste, like grass clippings, so it can be placed at the city’s landfill. At the same time, the city is planning to place dumpsters at possibly two locations to collect recyclables.