Kirby officials consider recylcling rate increase
Rarely does one draw a connection between economic and environmental developments in China with items on a Kirby City Council meeting.
But that’s exactly what happened March 28 when Tom Armstrong, municipal sales manager for Republic Services, told city council that it has a decision to make on its recycling effort. He said the city is going to have to agree to a price increase or just stop the recycling program altogether.
Armstrong explained that China announced last summer it would no longer accept “foreign garbage” as part of a sweeping anti-pollution campaign. The country now only accepts materials such as cardboard, plastic, glass and scrap metal with an impurity level of 0.5 percent, a mark that Armstrong said most U.S. recycling stations cannot meet. The previous mark was 5 percent.
“It’s putting us in a tough spot because we weren’t ready or prepared for it to happen,” Armstrong said.
“But it did need to happen. China has historically had huge environmental issue and it’s good that they are addressing them and cleaning them up,” he added. “Unfortunately, it’s going to put us in a tricky situation in the states for awhile.”
About half of all Kirby households participate in the Republic Services recycling program. But contamination — from grease on pizza boxes, to dirty diapers, to “wet contaminants” like mayonnaise and peanut butter jars — slows the process once the goods reach the company’s facility.
“When everything goes through our sorters and all the contamination is pulled out of the recycle stream, we can get that contamination rate down to 5 percent,” Armstrong said. “Getting it to the new one-half of 1 percent, you would literally have to slow the conveyor belts down so slowly, and having people pick every tiny piece out, that it’s just cost-prohibitive to do that.
“We could process less, and it would cost us more,” he added.
Armstrong said the city is looking at an 83-cent per household cost increase just to keep the company’s recycling effort at the break-even point.
“Every Kirby resident pays for recycling. It’s not just the 800 or so people who recycle, it’s everyone who pays for it,” he said. “That’s what the city must decide: do we want to continue charging everyone for a service that‘s going to be costing (our residents) more, even if they don’t participate.”
He said the city’s choice is to pass along the cost increase, or drop the recycling program and return to solid waste collection only.
Mayor Lisa Pierce said city participation in recycling has never been higher than it is now. She said the city would have to weigh interest with cost increase to see if the added cost would affect that participation.
He suggested the city perform a survey of residents, or of its recycling members, to gauge the interest going forward at the increased cost.
“We’ve always charged a small amount for the collection of the recyclables. Then with the return on the commodities, we’re able to make a profit on it, where it makes sense,” Armstrong said. “We’re able to do it for a very low amount. What’s going to happen is we’re going to have to charge more for recycling service.
“That’s the way the model has always been, but we’re seeing that change, and it may continue to change,” he added.