Update: Kentucky city suspends paper recycling

Update: Kentucky city suspends paper recycling

Lexington Recycle Center temporarily suspends the recycling of paper products.

May 16, 2019

With recent changes in the marketplace for recycled materials, the Lexington Recycle Center, Lexington, Kentucky, temporarily suspended paper recycling on May 14, according to a news release from the Lexington city government office.

“Outlets for paper products are accepting only limited amounts due to an overabundance of material in domestic markets,” says Nancy Albright, Lexington’s commissioner of environmental quality and public works. “The Recycle Center does not have the space to store the paper long-term or in large quantities.”

“You can’t be an environmental steward if you’re not a fiscal steward,” says Barry Prater, plant manager at the Lexington material recovery facility (MRF). “The decision was made, and we let the public know that, environmentally speaking as well as fiscally speaking, it makes more sense not to bring the material in rather than to pay a processing fee and added fee to throw it away.”

The city reports that it is actively seeking new recycling outlets for paper, Albright says. “At least three new nearby mills are expected to begin receiving materials by late fall of 2019.”

To reduce costs, the city says it is encouraging residents to throw office paper, newspaper, magazines, cereal boxes, paper towel rolls and similar products in the trash. “Central Kentuckians will be encouraged to once again put paper products in their recycle carts once a reliable outlet is in place,” Albright says.

Prater notes that the single-stream MRF still has been able to move some of its paper—about 75 to 80 percent of it—but the remaining 20 to 25 percent lacked markets. With the suspension of paper recycling, Prater says he still expects the MRF to receive some paper, but this should limit the amount coming in.

“If we reduce on the front end the amount of paper we’re getting, we can move it on the back end without having to stock oversupply and send it to landfill,” he says.

According to the city, Lexington does have a buyer for dry old corrugated containers (OCC). The city says it will continue to recycle residential OCC as long as it’s dry.

Over the past few months, Lexington reports that it has given away mixed paper and paperboard to avoid sending it to landfill. The suspension in paper recycling will affect the materials that Lexington Recycle Center receives from public and private waste haulers in Lexington and other central Kentucky communities, including Berea, Frankfort, Franklin County, Georgetown, Harrison County, Jessamine County, Madison County, Nicholasville, Paris, Versailles, Winchester and Woodford County. The city reports that it’s encouraging residents in all of these communities to refrain from putting paper products in recycling containers.

Prater says fiscal responsibility is particularly important for the Lexington MRF, as it’s a government-run facility that has a bigger impact on taxpayers. “We have to be more reflective and transparent because we’re the government,” he says.

Prater says Lexington first invested $5.7 million in 2009 and 2010 to open the first single-stream MRF in central Kentucky. The MRF is a regional operation serving about 600,000 people in Lexington and surrounding communities. With recent market conditions, Prater says the MRF has had to cut back on labor. Typically, the MRF used 46 quality control technicians, but now it uses about 28 quality control technicians.

According to the city, the Recycle Center will combine the paper products it receives and give the paper to recycling outlets when possible. Unclaimed paper will be landfilled. The city reports that this process will remain in effect until a reliable recycling outlet is available. Prater says he hopes to revisit this issue in a few months. 

Additionally, the city of Lexington reports that it is exploring improvements for glass recycling. The current single-stream recycling format is causing equipment breakdowns at the MRF and it does not produce a desirable glass product, the city says. As a result, Lexington is evaluating new equipment and the impact of collection changes.

“The industry is very troubled when it comes to paper,” Prater adds. “Our hopes, prayers and dreams are based upon the fact that we’ll be promoting that products and packaging are being designed to be sustainable. That’s the direction and hope this industry has here in Kentucky. Adversity leads to diversity, and diversity creates change. That’s what we’re hoping for in Lexington.”