Cost of recycling shoots sky high

Familiar blue and green bins are shown in a Fulton yard, one for recycling and the other for normal garbage. Recycling costs are driving city officials to discuss options.

The responsibility to dispose of recyclable materials doesn't end at the curb.

The problem of where they go from there is erupting worldwide, especially this year when China enacted much stricter standards in what the country accepts. Once considered a steady market for America's throwaways, China has been imposing tariffs and new restrictions on recycled paper, plastic and metals.

That problem has now come home to roost for Fulton residents. Costs to dispose of local recyclables have increased from $10 to $120 per ton, and there's no telling how high that number will go.

According to City Administrator Bill Johnson, a contract between the city and Federal International Recycling center in Jefferson City ended, and that firm has not agreed to a new contract clearly defining costs to dump.

"When our contract with them expired, they were not interested in renewing," Johnson said.

So, the dumping fee for recyclables is no longer $10 per ton.

"From January to April, it was $23 a ton," Johnson said at Tuesday's City Council meeting. "From May to July, it was $24.50. August was $48.50, September was $50 and October was $120 a ton."

The fee for regular garbage that goes to the landfill is $32.50 per ton. Johnson said the city dumps about 200 tons of recyclables a year - and at the non-guaranteed rate of $120 a ton, that's $24,000, up from $2,000 per year.

"China is not taking our (the United States') recycling," Johnson added. "There is no market for recycled materials right now."

In August, China issued a 25 percent tariff on American cardboard, scrap paper and fiber packaging, a response to the Trump Administration's new tariff and restrictions on Chinese goods shipped to the U.S. According to reports from news sources and industry leaders, China is toughening environmental standards and rejecting contaminated materials.

"For example, a pizza box is not recyclable," Johnson said. "That's the example everybody uses."

According to reporting in the trade magazine Recycling Today, scrap imports this year into China from the U.S. have fallen by more than 50 percent compared to 2017. Further import restrictions will take place next month, and next year. Americans recycle about 66 million tons each year with about a third exported overseas - mainly to China.

The increase of fees is leaving  council persons struggling to find a way to justify paying them.

"It's really nice to recycle, but if we can't afford it, it's not really nice," said Ballard Simmons, who represents Ward 1.

One solution is eliminating the recycling program - tossing that debris into the regular garbage collection.

"There are many communities in Missouri doing just that - taking cans and dumping them into the regular garbage," said Ward 2 council person Jeff Stone.

In Holts Summit

The city of Holts Summit doesn't operate a solid waste department, according to City Administrator Matt Harline. He said residents' garbage is collected by Republic Services, and residents pay their own bills.

Recycling services in Holts Summit are served by Callaway Recycling, and collection centers are set up. Harline said that community pays $2,100 per month for Callaway Recycling to manage those containers, including pick up and drop off.

Expect the topic to be discussed again at the next Fulton City Council meeting Nov. 27.