I know I talk a lot of trash. Today I want to talk about recycling. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but recycling fees have increased by about $1 a month. Recycling fees around the country have skyrocketed recently. I want to explain how our trash, yard waste and recycling program works, the challenges we face with increasing recycling costs, and then I want your opinion.
How our trash and recycling works
The City is part of the Mid Michigan Waste Authority. The MMWA began in 1991 by a group of Public Work Directors who were responsible for overseeing municipal services. They knew they could secure more competitive pricing if municipalities joined together. Today, 34-member communities in the region participate. While residents may see Waste Management trucks (the green ones) hauling away materials, it is the MMWA that coordinates the services. In the City of Frankenmuth, our residents receive weekly trash and recycling pick up each Wednesday, and in the Spring and Fall, weekly yard waste pick up (added in 2018). Your trash, recycling and yard waste is billed each month as part of your water bill.
Why is recycling so expensive?
For years as part of the MMWA our overall fees for trash and recycling were extremely low because our recycling program was profitable by reselling the materials you put out to the curb. The market for recyclable materials has drastically changed. This market disruption is largely due to China’s exit from the recycling market (known as China Sword). This is further impacted by higher levels of contamination in the recycle stream, which require separate transportation and disposal. This past winter, the members of the MMWA were faced with the decision to increase our rates or end curb side recycling. We decided to increase our rates. The Authority will seek a new comprehensive contract later this year. However, the new contract will not address the biggest cost of recycling – contamination.
How does recycling get contaminated?
My husband puts the greasy pizza box in the recycling instead of the trash. We put plastic bags in the recycling bin instead of reusing them or taking them back to the stores. I could go on and on. People who work with recycling and trash a lot call it “wishful” action. Even though we are unsure (or we know better) that something can’t be recycled we put it in the bin anyway, because we believe that our action of putting it in the recycling bin is still better than the trash. It’s not. In fact, we just made it worse. The whole thing is contaminated now. We have to do a better job of explaining what can be recycled and how. If we can decrease our rate of contamination, we can reduce the costs of recycling.
What happens next?
We are hoping competitive bids for MMWA services can provide some relief in costs or, at worst, remain flat. We are working on better communication and community education in order to reduce contamination. I personally think recycling is a valuable service. The City of Frankenmuth has one of the highest participation rates for recycling in the entire authority.
If we were to discontinue a service like this, it’s almost impossible to bring it back when the markets do rebound. We have worked hard for years to encourage households to recycle. Once we break a habit like that it would take a generation to get back to the levels of participation that we are at now.
What do you think? Is recycling important to you? Is it worth keeping if it’s $1 more a month? Do you want to see it continue? Let me know what you think.