North Ogden officials are in the early stages of deciding whether to toss the city’s curbside recycling program.
The concerns mostly come from increasing costs of recycling. Falling global oil prices has made it cheaper to make materials from scratch instead of reusing our scrap. Then, this year, China stopped taking certain materials from the U.S., deeming them too dirty to mess with.
Those things combined have caused a lot of confusion as citizens wonder what they can and can’t throw in their blue bins. Now, North Ogden City Council is putting the whole program under scrutiny.
“It just got thrown out there in our budget meeting — is it fiscally responsible to think about getting rid of it because of how the market’s changed?” said Public Works Director Dave Espinoza.
North Ogden contracts with Republic Services to collect both its garbage and recycling. Republic Services charges the city per can to haul garbage to the Weber County Transfer Station and to haul recycling to Ogden-based Recycled Earth. The transfer station and Recycled Earth then charge the city per ton of waste they process.
“The market used to be such that we would collect recyclable waste and when we’d dump it, it was either free or we’d get money for the waste,” said Finance Director Evan Nelson. “That’s all changed.”
These days, Recycled Earth is charging $36.80 per ton. That’s just 10 cents less than what the transfer station charges for garbage.
Representatives with Recycled Earth couldn’t be reached at the time of publication, but owner Amy Rawson recently told the Standard-Examiner that pricing would improve if residents were more careful about what they put in their recycling bins. A recent audit of Ogden City’s recycling found that nearly half of the stream was non-recyclable trash.
“If residents were more in line with proper recycling etiquette, then Recycled Earth would have a cleaner stream ... it would reduce the cost,” Nelson said. “How to make that happen is the biggest challenge.”
That’s partly because Weber County residents get mixed messages about what they can and can’t recycle.
The market is constantly shifting — take China’s recent rejection of the bulk of our plastic waste, for example. Now many recycling processors, Recycled Earth included, can’t find buyers for plastics No. 3 and higher.
Some cities still have outdated information online. Even Republic Services, the recycling collector, gives residents different information than Recycled Earth, Espinoza said.
“There’s just a ton of confusion, what’s good to recycle and what’s not,” he said. “Things like grocery sacks, they’re a No. 2 plastic and Republic and Recycled Earth accept No. 2 plastic, but they don’t accept that type (of bag).”
If the city cuts its recycling program, it could also renegotiate its contract with Republic Services. Right now, the company collects $3.42 for a customer’s first garbage can, $1.23 for the second garbage can and $2.24 for each recycling can each month. The city currently has 5,955 first garbage cans, 702 second garbage cans and 6,139 recycle cans (around 700 customers have two recycling cans).
On the surface, it seems cutting recycling could save thousands each month. But the analysis is a bit more complex, Evans said, because Republic Services would need to renegotiate its rates. If recycling goes away, there will be a lot more garbage filling those other cans.
“It’s a very complicated analysis we’re trying to do,” Nelson said. “We haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of it.”
Once officials are able to crunch the numbers, they’ll present them to the city council and solicit public input by conducting an online survey.
City Council member Cheryl Stoker stressed the recycling discussion is still in its early stages.
“It would be really hard to give up recycling. I think a lot of residents, myself included, would have a hard time with that,” she said. “It’s just a discussion — we’re gathering facts, input and we’ll see where it goes from there.”