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Recycling costs drive up solid waste bills

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By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly

Friday, November 30, 2018

HERTFORD — With the cost of processing aluminum cans, glass and plastics rising, Hertford officials are debating whether the town should continue collecting the recyclable materials from residents.

Waste Industries, the company Hertford contracts with to collect residential solid waste, is seeking a monthly increase of about $2 per residential customer, citing the rising cost of processing recyclable materials.

At a meeting earlier this month, one Hertford councilman questioned if the town should still offer recycling.

“Maybe we would be better off not recycling,” said Councilman Sid Eley. “I don’t have any proof, but they may be just dumping it in the landfill.”

Hertford could reject the rate request because its current contract with Waste Industries doesn’t expire until mid-2021.

But some councilors fear if the town rejects the rate hike request, Waste Industries could ask for an even higher increase when it comes time to renew the current contract. Plus, there are few competitors to take over if Waste Industries decides not to bid on collecting Hertford’s solid waste or submits a high bid.

“There are not a whole lot of other competitors,” noted Ben Gallop, the town’s attorney.

There is a provision in Waste Industries’ contract that allows the company to request a cost-of-living adjustment at the start of each fiscal year in July. Waste Industries’ last cost-of-living adjustment request was for 16 cents, raising the monthly residential bill to $10.03.

The firm’s new request is over and above a cost-of-living adjustment.

Waste Industries first made the request for a $2 increase in September and the Hertford town board has been debating it ever since. The board again delayed action on the request on Nov. 19, saying it would be discussed at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting.

Councilors are hoping to receive input from citizens by then on whether they are willing to pay more to recycle.

“I recommend we ask people how they feel,” Councilman Frank Norman said.

The fact is most Hertford residents don’t recycle. The town only purchased 250 blue recycling containers after receiving a grant to pay for them. By comparison, the town has 954 black garbage containers that are in use.

Officials say dramatic changes in the recycling market are driving Waste Industries’ request for the higher rate increase. Not too long ago, solid waste disposal firms could make money from collecting recyclables like aluminum cans, glass, plastic and paper. The revenue usually was enough to prevent county and town governments from having to pay landfill fees.

Today, recycled aluminum and steel still have some value, but the other materials do not, waste officials say.

The bottom has fallen out of the recycling market largely because China, once an importer of foreign recyclables, has all but banned them. China said it’s done so, particularly with recyclables from the U.S., because they claim the materials are contaminated with other waste.

Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath agrees the recyclables market has flipped.

“I think most people see a societal benefit in recycling, but the markets in China have dried up,” Heath said. “We used to get paid for recyclables, now we’re having to pay” to have someone take them.

Heath noted the county has a solid waste disposal contract with Republic.

While talking about getting out of the recycling business is easy, actually doing so could be problematic.North Carolina law mandates a long list of items that cannot legally be placed in a landfill. The list includes aluminum cans and seven different kinds of rigid recyclable plastic containers.

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