By Tran Longmo
Saline residents may experience major changes in the way they recycle.
China upended the world recycling market when it announced new, strict standards on the materials it accepted. China reports a 56 percent drop in scrap imports for the first half of 2018. As a result, the cost of processing and separating recycled goods has skyrocketed – even as the market for these materials has shrunk.
Officials from Waste Management, which hauls away Saline’s trash and recyclables, spoke with Saline City Council Monday night. Brian Conaway, public sector representative for Waste Management, said the cost of recycling has jumped from $6 a ton to $95 a ton. Conaway said Waste Management is asking the City of Saline for some relief. The city’s contract with Waste Management expires in June of 2019.
“We know it’s a big ask. But we’ve experienced extraordinary changes,” Conaway said.
Mayor Brian Marl said he understood Waste Management’s position and would be making the same ask if he was in their position. He was non-committal Monday, saying city council would discuss the issue at its Aug. 6 council meeting.
Members of City Council took the opportunity to ask questions of Conaway.
Councillor Linda Terhaar said the increased cost was more breathtaking than she expected. She asked if there are other countries accepting recycled materials. Conaway said India, Vietnam, South Korea and Thailand also import goods – but they too have requested recycled materials with lower contamination and/or are accepting less material.
TerHaar asked if Waste Management would abandon single-stream recycling and ask residents to sort out their goods. Conaway suggested that what might happen is a reduction in the number of recyclables accepted. For example, residents today can fill their carts with all grades of plastic – from number “1” through “7,” using the Society of Plastics Industry code. In the future, residents might only be able to recycle “1” and “2,” Conaway speculated.
TerHaar asked about other recyclables – like paper, glass and cardboard.
Conaway said there could be changes there, too.
“If paper is soiled with coffee, they don’t want it,” Conaway said.
The same would be true of a greasy pizza box.
For years, the city and its environmental commission has been working to increase the city’s “diversion” rate – the amount of waste diverted from a landfill for recycling. TerHaar suggested the new focus should be on sorting – to keep recycling affordable.
Councillor Dean Girbach, noting the $95/ton recycling cost, asked how much it cost to dump trash in the landfill. Conaway said it typically costs around $30.
Councillor Christen Mitchell said the city might have to consider putting more waste in landfills.
“Nobody around this table is not for recycling, but when the market changes, the market changes. I’m open to a lot of solutions. I don’t want to look at using the land fill more, but we’d be foolish to not consider it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said she was frustrated by the situation.
“I feel as though this is an issue the country could have forecasted. I feel like we should be taking care of our own and that we should have systems in place,” Mitchell said.
DPW Director Jeff Fordice said the city has used Waste Management for 20 years.
“They’ve been a good service provider and a community partner that supports our events,” Fordice said.
Marl asked Conaway to let the city know what other communities are doing. Whatever the solution, Marl said the city will communicate changes with residents.