Calculating the fiscal benefits of recycling can be complicated.
When Joe Dunlop of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs advocates increased attention to recovering recyclables in his state from a fiscal responsibility viewpoint, he often sums it up this way: “Each year we spend $90 million to bury $250 million worth of materials.”
Dunlop, part of a panel on funding government recycling programs at the Southeast Recycling Conference & Trade Show, which took place in mid-March in Orange Beach, Ala., says officials in his state are taking measures to change that equation.
The state’s first step was its 2005 waste characterization study, which sampled loads heading into municipal solid waste landfills. Among the findings: 39 percent of the material was paper, 16 percent was plastic and five percent was metal—materials with solid recycling end markets in place.
Subsequently, the state has identified and is testing methods to divert material in rural areas to regional collection hubs and at special events, as two examples, in order to meet new landfill diversion goals.
Part of the state’s message, though, is not landfill diversion, but rather the importance of the collected materials as feedstock to manufacturers right in the state of Georgia, including paper mills, fabric and carpet makers who use plastic, and metals producers.
Two other presenters on the same panel helped demonstrate, though, that even with improved secondary commodity pricing, municipal programs can feel the pressure of tight government budgets.
In northern Florida, Darrel O’Neal of the New River Solid Waste Authority had to reduce staff—including letting a long-time recycling coordinator go—in order to lower the cost per ton the public agency was spending to procure recyclables.
In the 2006-2007 budget year, the agency collected a record amount of 1,200 tons of recyclables, but spent $396 per ton to do so. After reducing staff and selling off some equipment, the agency is calculated to spend $102 per ton during the next fiscal year, according to O’Neal.
The rural nature of the three counties in the district means drop-off centers must be served by trucks engaged in fairly long routes, and curbside collection is out of the question. “I don’t know that we even have any curbs in our three counties,” quipped O’Neal.
In Escambia County, at the western end of the Florida panhandle, Jim Howes is also facing challenges to keep recycling viable.
As with the New River district, Escambia County depends on drop-off centers, although Howes considers it one of his goals to introduce curbside programs to parts of the county, and surveys show he will have public support.
Such support will be needed, as landfill tip fees in the $28 per ton range do not provide a landfill diversion incentive to promote recycling. Howes says he finds hope in the public support, however, as well as in recycling support coming from schools and from retailers like Wal-Mart, which has expressed an interest in hosting recycling drop-off sites in the county.
The Southeast Recycling Conference & Trade Show, hosted by the Southern Waste Information eXchange Inc., took place March 11-13 in Orange Beach, Ala.