By Dennis Minich
For years the idea of recycling has been promoted as a way to help the environment by taking the load off landfills and help stop such problems as the island of plastic which currently floats in the northern Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the problem becomes what to do with those recycled materials.
The city of Belton was recently informed by its solid waste service, Jim’s Disposal, that recycling would be discontinued in the city. Instead of a separate truck picking up the sorted plastics, papers and metals, everything would be collected by the standard refuse trucks.
The announcement caused concerns not only in Belton, but in other cities served by the company. The city of Raymore announced on its website on April 26, its recycling service from Jim’s would continue as always.
The statement said, “City officials met with the owner of Jim’s Disposal to discuss ongoing service issues. City officials negotiated an agreement and have been assured that recycling services will continue as usual for Raymore residents.”
Jim’s Disposal was one of three companies bidding for the service in Harrisonville in 2017, but the city opted to award the contract with Municipal Waste Services. Last weekend, during the citywide cleanup, Bryan Moore, the president of Municipal Waste Services said the company will continue to operate its recycling program with the city, but said he is sympathetic to the issues Jim’s Disposal is facing.
“Once upon a time we could sell our recycling product,” Moore said. “But now it’s really hard to sell anything because there is no market.”
Moore explained how the recycling system works. His trucks pick up recyclable products, paper, cardboard, plastics, tin and aluminum. Since customers are not required to sort the products, it is taken to a material recovery facility (MRF) where it is processed.
“When recycling started, we could get paid about $10 a ton for our product (plastics and paper). Now we have to pay $40 per ton, which is the same price we pay for our normal trash. For our scrap metal, like tin, we used to get $160 to $180 a ton, now it’s down to $80. The whole market is down,” he said.
Part of the problem, he explained, stems from trade issues with China.
“I am sure the current tariffs might have an impact, but it really goes back to Green Planet thinking which started with President Obama. A lot of what China took was simply incinerated. There was a lot of pressure put on them to stop burning so when they stopped burning, they stopped buying,” he said.
“The plastic, the paper, the MRFs could sell all that, but now there is no market,” he said.
Although recycling has become a financial hardship, Moore said he knows there is a need to continue.
“Our landfills are filling up fast and in the next 20 to 25 years our landfills will be full. We ideally would want to be able to put dirt over the landfills and use the land again, but we can’t if they are full of plastic,” said Moore.
He added finding places for new landfills is difficult because of the regulatory process.
“It used to be a company had to monitor a landfill for 25 years after it was full. Now you basically have to monitor it forever,” Moore said. “It’s going to become harder and more expensive and that is just a cost that will come back on us all.”
Currently the trash collected by Municipal Waste Services goes to a landfill near Sedalia.
Moore said it is vital new ways to recycle plastics be found.
“We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and hope something can be done. Even plastic products that are made from recycled plastic only have a small percentage of recycled material. It just doesn’t recycle well. There are very few things, like cardboard and newspapers which can be made from 100 percent recycled product,” he said.
To give an idea on how much recycling is on the market, Moore said about 60 to 70 percent of the customers in Harrisonville recycle. That generates 12 to 15 tons of product a week.
While little can be done to help with the glut of products, Moore said there are some things customers could do to help solve some of the issues.
“One of the issues we deal with is sorting through the recyclables. What makes it even more expensive is people putting things in the recycling which doesn’t belong there.
“Some people think they are a second trash bin, but they are not, they aren’t even picked up by the same truck. We find diapers and feminine hygiene products, shoes clothes and everything else in the recycling bins,” he said.
“And some people think they are for yard waste, but they aren’t.”
Moore said the trash bins with the blue tops should only be used for recycling. The company could refuse to pick up bins with other products, but he said that usually just generates customer complaints, so they pick the items up and facilities have to sort them out all of which again raises the price to consumers.