According to an announcement made by Santa Rosa County, recycling services will be at a standstill for at least four to six months, beginning Jan. 4. While the decision has left residents frustrated, the county says there was no other cost-effective option at this point.
The franchise waste haulers for the county, Waste Pro, Waste Management and ECUA, were contracted to pick up recycling and bring it to the collection point. The county then contracted with ECUA to transport the material for processing. ECUA did not charge the county and kept any revenue from the sale of recyclables. ECUA would transport the recyclables to a facility in Montgomery, Ala., iREP (Infinitus Renewable Energy Park) for processing.
A multi-million dollar processing facility, iREP was built in April 2014 and closed down without notice the first part of October. “It left us scrambling,” said Ron Hixon, director of environmental for Santa Rosa County. “But ECUA started hauling to Tarpon Paper Company in Robertsdale, Ala., but they are small and could only handle a small portion of our recyclables.” Tarpon also instituted a $12.50 per ton tipping fee on top of the $4 per ton charge, in effect tripling the cost to ECUA which collects 22,000 tons per year.
The circumstances have left the county without options. “There is no local regional market for recyclables. The next nearest center to us is Atlanta and it would cost more than it’s worth to transport it there,” Hixon said.
The recycling market
For more than a decade, most of the country’s recycling has gone overseas with a majority of it to China. But eventually China decided it didn’t want to be the world’s landfill so it changed its policy and brought forth what they called the “Green Fence.” According to Science, Tech and Environment, China would reject shipments if they were too contaminated with garbage. The United States’ shippers of the recyclables had paid money and put materials on a ship and the materials would be returned. That meant no revenue from selling the recyclables.
The fall in oil prices is having a substantial impact as well since plastic is often derived from oil. Many cities and towns could previously make money from sorting detergent bottles, milk jugs and other household plastic and resell it. With the decreasing oil prices, the price of virgin plastic essentially erases the recycler’s advantage.
The market changes are putting a tight grip on recycle centers and it has forced big changes in the business. It makes the sorting process longer to make sure everything is properly sorted to produce higher quality materials.
“You have to have clean material. We can sell metal and clean cardboard,” Hixon said. Not all cardboard is considered clean. For example, pizza boxes are considered dirty because they have oil and sauce on them. The revenue on the dirty recyclables is minimal if any. It is a much lower quality product.
“Until we can generate our own markets, we have to step back and say that we have to do the best we can. Take what can be sold and trash the rest,” Hixson said.
The Santa Rosa County commissioners reiterated their strong desire to have an active recycling program in our county and encouraged residents to continue to place recyclable materials out for collection as directed by their garbage service provider.
ECUA will be coming to the recycle rescue in mid-2016. “This is a temporary measure,” said Nathalie Bowers, the public information officer for the north county service provider. “ ECUA is building a local facility that will be located in Escambia County at the Perdido landfill. It will be large enough to accommodate materials from Escambia, Santa Rosa and other municipalities.” In fact, the equipment for the facility has been purchased and is on its way. ECUA expects delivery in mid-January. The building is under construction and will measure 330 feet long, 162 feet wide and 52 feet high.
In the meantime, recycling halts. Bowers echoes the comments of the commissioners to encourage everyone to keep sorting their recyclables to remain in the habit.
Residents who use the recycling drop-off at the Central Landfill and Jay Collection Center should plan accordingly because the containers will be removed Jan. 4.