The city of Ormond Beach may be cutting glass from recycling services, as Waste Pro seeks a processing fee increase due to changes in the market for recyclable materials.
With a current ban on 24 kinds of imported recycling materials in effect in China — a country the U.S. exports about a fourth of its recyclables — the City Commission explored the options available to the city as presented by Public Works Director Gabe Menendez during a workshop on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The city's current contract with Waste Pro will expire on Sept. 30, and the company is asking for a $77.50 per ton processing fee to balance the losses brought on by recent changes in the industry.
As a result, continuing services as is would mean a $1.54 increase in resident's monthly trash and recycling bill. Other options included suspending recycling services entirely, which wouldn't lower residents' monthly bills, reducing the number of routes from 10 to nine to save $1.16, and taking no action. If it chose the last option, Waste Pro expressed it would not renew its contract with the city, pushing Ormond to have to request bids for the service.
Most of the commission preferred the option that would retain recycling services, but eliminate glass because it is currently not marketable. That option would increase the current monthly bill by $1.24.
“If we continue to collect glass, even though there’s no demand for it, all we’re doing is increasing supply, no demand, and the market will never come back," City Commissioner Rob Littleton said.
Glass bottles make up 20% of the city's recycling collection. Another 25% is made up of non-recyclable materials, and 7% are mixed plastic food and beverage containers — all of which means 52% of the items being placed in the city's blue bins end up in the landfill.
Because the city has a 93% participation rate in its recycling services, no commissioner expressed wanting to suspend recycling, like the
city of Deltona recently decided. City Manager Joyce Shanahan also said Daytona Beach Shores has suspended its service, and, that New Smyrna Beach has decided to continue its service on a six-month evaluation, while bearing the additional costs for now. Cities like Daytona Beach and Holly Hill have not made a decision.
On a national level, most cities are not eliminating their recycling programs, but adjusting them, said David Biderman, executive director for the Solid Waste Association of North America. Glass recycling is another issue altogether. Biderman said glass is processed in the U.S. in designated facilities, and if a city neighbors one, recycling glass is cheaper due to the short transport of the heavy material.
“If the cost of recycling the glass is higher than the value that material provides, then some communities — not many, I should say, not many — some communities are temporarily limiting glass recycling," Biderman said.
What SWANA is seeing is cities narrowing their programs and making operational changes. Some governments have reduced the recyclables accepted at curbside as well, but continue to collect them at a centralized drop-off center to handle it more cost effectively, he added.
Biderman said the city deserves kudos for its high participation rate. However, having over half of the hauls be comprised of non-recyclable materials is not unusual.
"Many people aren’t good at putting the right stuff in the blue bin," Biderman said.
City Commissioner Dwight Selby, who said he wasn't keen on any of the five options, advocated for an education initiative to instruct the residents on what should and should not go into their recycling bins.
“I don't want to end to recycling," Selby said. "I want to keep recycling. But I don’t want to put stuff in the bin that isn’t going to get recycled — it ends up in the landfill anyway. That makes no sense, and I don’t want to pay for that.”
Some commissioners also raised the question of why the city has to take action now. Shanahan and Menendez explained that these options will likely not be available to them if they wait until the fall, and ultimately rebid the service, since Waste Pro is not interested in negotiating further.
Shanahan said the city went through a similar circumstance five years ago when it refused to negotiate a market-based increase to its contract with Waste Management Inc., and bids came back over $1 million higher.
She said this was part of the "give and take" that happens in the contractual process. Mayor Bill Partington said that the city loses some control when it goes out to bid, as well.
Ormond Beach could also choose, like New Smyrna Beach, to absorb some or all the cost of the service. If it chooses to, and moves forward with eliminating glass, the cost would be about $120,000 until the end of the budget year.
Partington said that how the commission ends up voting in February could change.
“The X factor is this a workshop discussion amongst us," Partington said. "We don’t have that resident input.”
The commission did receive some input at its meeting following the workshop. Ormond Beach resident Suzanne Scheiber recommended that the city create a sticker for recycling bins with a list of recyclable and non-recyclable items. She also said she would like the city to post the "Four R's" (refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle) throughout public facilities and businesses. Lastly, should the city continue recycling and eliminate glass, she asked that it contribute half of the cost increase.
“It’s the city’s chance to make a difference and stand out in Volusia County environmentally," Scheiber said.
Ormond Beach resident Linda Williams suggested coming up with other solutions to eliminate waste, such as encouraging people and businesses to use biodegradable items and perhaps creating a market industry in the city using glass and non-recyclables.
She also said she believed adding citizen input for other ideas could be beneficial.
“I think we just have a wealth of creative ideas, and that we might even could bypass that expensive system that we’re using and create a lot of excitement in the community," Williams said.
Biderman said education is the most important approach to improve the viability of local programs. And although Chinas import restrictions have disrupted recycling this past year, Biderman explained, there are "reasons for optimism on the horizon."
These include investments in domestic recycling, which will create new markets and purchasers for recyclable materials in the U.S. SWANA is also asking Congress to provide funding for recycling programs in the coming year.
And, communities are working to educate their residents.
“The message is getting through that a common citizen has an important role to play in making sure that recycling is done right," Biderman said.
This story was updated at 3:52 on Tuesday, Jan. 29, to include SWANA Executive Director David Biderman's comments on the issue, as well as the informational sidebar on recyclable materials.