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County, city won't rule out future waste fee hikes

120118recycling

The recyclables compactor at the Pasquotank County Convenience Center on Welfield Road is shown Friday afternoon.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Pasquotank County and Elizabeth City are prepared to absorb rising recycling costs, for now, but can't rule out increasing residents' solid waste disposal fees next year.

In interviews this week, both county and city officials said their solid waste vendors have asked $100 a ton or more to process both governments’ recyclable materials. That's a big change from when collecting recyclables made a profit, they said.

County Manager Sparty Hammett and Solid Waste Director Brad Gardner said this week that Bay Disposal has informally agreed to charge $75 a ton for recyclables. That’s a reduction from the $120 a ton Bay Disposal had first proposed charging the county in October. The increase would take effect in December, and it could cost the county $20,000 to $30,000 through June 30, the end of this fiscal year.

After that, Gardner said the county might have to look at raising its annual solid waste fee from $144 by either $1 or $2.

City Manager Rich Olson said Waste Industries is charging the city $100 a ton to process its recyclables, which cost the city around $60,000 a year. The city's solid waste fund cannot pay that indefinitely, he said, adding a $1 increase to solid waste fees would cover the cost.

City staff will present the matter to City Council, who will decide what course the city takes, Olson said. He noted, however, that the city has invested heavily in buying recycling containers for households.

Gardner stressed that rising recyclable costs are no fault of county or county residents. The international market for recyclables is in a downturn — and across most kinds of recyclables. The downturn is due in part to China clamping down on the recyclables it will accept — it does not want to be the “dumping ground” for contaminated materials, Gardner said.

Gardner added that communities across eastern North Carolina are wrestling with the same problem, and it's not clear when the recyclables market will improve. Companies are researching better ways to improve sorting lines and improve the quality of recyclables.

Hammett said it's now cheaper for Pasquotank to dispose of recyclables no differently than other trash — though that's not an environmentally-friendly option, he noted.

As citizens continue to recycle, Gardner urged them to make sure they provide only clean, well-separated materials. Waste companies wrestle with “wishful recycling,” where people dump wet cardboard or other unacceptable materials and hope others will figure out what to do with them.

Gardner also noted that, if people are recycling paper products, they should recycle only tearable materials. Plastic or metal clips or binders should be removed, including for spiral-ring notebooks, and recyclers cannot accept tough, hardcover books.

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