As teachers and students prepare to return to classrooms, DeLand’s greenwise ambassador Skip D. Landfill has been on a fact-finding mission, gathering information about recycling to share at area schools.
Simultaneously, one West Volusia city has suspended its recycling program due to rising costs.
Other cities and Volusia County are in the process of re-evaluating their practices and pricing.
At its regular meeting Aug. 1, the DeBary City Council voted to immediately suspend its residential recycling program, based on the fact GEL Corp. in Orange City had proposed charging — effective that day — for the previously free processing of the city’s recyclables.
Interim City Manager Ron McLemore told council members that the city’s cost for taking recyclables to GEL could rise from zero to anywhere from $80 to $120 per ton monthly, requiring an additional $31,200 to be added to the budget.
“You now have a cost, in your cost for solid waste, that you didn’t have yesterday,” McLemore said.
That cost amounts to 86 cents per household per month, for recycling, McLemore told The Beacon in a follow-up interview Aug. 7. It would be 36 cents if those materials simply went to the landfill, a $6 savings per household annually.
“We were paying nothing, and then [we] get a letter from GEL saying it’s going to cost,” he said.
Council members discussed a “worldwide collapse” in the recycling market, which is prompting price increases across the nation and around the globe for recycling service.
China, previously the world’s largest importer of recyclable materials, has thrown a wrench in the industry as of late.
The country is now refusing to import items such as unsorted paper and some plastics, steel waste, used auto parts, old ships, and other materials, according to a April 2018 CNN report.
As a result, GEL — which markets to companies that sold to overseas buyers — is asking Volusia County and participating cities to sign contracts, agreeing to pay $80 per ton for processing, Director of Sales Jacqueline Kerr said.
Volusia County contracts with Republic Services to provide a “two-sort curbside recycling collection program” to more than 46,000 residents in unincorporated areas, according to Jena Robinson, a staff assistant with Volusia County Solid Waste.
Newspaper and cardboard go in one bin; containers, including aluminum cans and plastic bottles, are placed in the other, she explained in an email.
Weekly, Republic Services picks up the material, and offloads them at GEL.
Since 1997, Volusia County has contracted with GEL to process and market its recyclables. The current contract was renewed in 2014 and ends in 2022.
Under the contract, the county pays $35 per ton.
“A proposed increase to the recycling processing fees will be presented to the County Council for consideration in September,” according to Kate Sark, spokeswoman for Volusia County.
As a result of the downturn in the recycling industry, the county has seen a decline in recycling revenue, from $75 per ton in July 2017 for mixed paper, to zero in May 2018, according to Robinson.
When recycling paper paid, GEL was able to give rebates, according to Kerr.
The cities of DeLand and Port Orange piggyback on the county’s contract with GEL for recycling service.
“We’re in this,” Kerr said. “If the market changes and everything goes back to the way it was a year ago, the county and cities will get a rebate from us. But right now, I can’t give them a portion of nothing.”
It costs GEL money to process the materials, which are becoming less marketable as the U.S. is flooded with previously exported materials, and the company has to charge something in order to stay in business, she said.
GEL representatives will meet Aug. 13 with the City of Deltona, which also processes recyclables through the Orange City company, to discuss establishing a contract and fee for the service, Kerr added.
Orange City contracts with waste collector WCA, which hauls the city’s recyclables to Sanford Recycling and Transfer Station, operated by Waste Connections, according to Orange City Finance Director Christine Davis.
Recycling costs — collection and hauling — are part of the annual fixed fee the city pays to WCA, Davis said in an email.
The amount Orange City households pay could go up, however, from the current recycling rate of $14.28 per year.
“We have heard that the recycling market is not good,” Davis wrote.
Should Waste Connections’ costs to WCA, and ultimately to the city, increase, WCA would have to petition the city and provide proof supporting their request for a rate increase, according to the finance director. A request would be subject to approval by the City Council.
But that’s a-ways down the road.
“Our current residential rate is currently fixed … through Sept. 30, 2020,” Davis wrote.
Should WCA try for a rate hike in 2020, tied to the consumer price index, it could not be an increase of more than 4 percent, she stated.
Indeed, strict processing and quality requirements for recycled material to be sold and exported are driving the processing costs higher, according to Robinson, of Volusia County Solid Waste.
In a phone interview Aug. 8, GEL’s Kerr said she met with DeBary officials who, she said, “would rather throw it away.”
Kerr said GEL offered to “take it for free” temporarily in order to give DeBary more time to decide whether or not it’s prudent to pay, and to keep the city’s portion from going to the landfill.
“It’s so disheartening to do all of this, and when it’s not free, and not a revenue stream for them, it’s like, ‘Forget it,’” she said.
“We try to get every single thing we can to [be processed],” she said. “That’s the only way we make money.”
It costs $35 per ton to throw it away, she added.
If all of GEL’s contributing partners followed suit with DeBary, it would mean more than a thousand additional tons going to the landfill each month, Kerr said.
She wondered aloud what that ultimately would cost residents, and the environment.
For Kerr, whose family has long been in the recycling business, it’s a great feeling to look around at bales and bales of items headed for reuse — as opposed to forever filling the earth. It’s a heartbreaking feeling to think that all of the awareness-building for recycling will go out the window over a 50-cent-per-month fee to recycling residents.
“Just look at what the City of DeLand did in six months that stayed out of the landfill,” Kerr said.
Between January and June of this year, DeLand’s recycling efforts sent 99 tons of mixed paper and 143 tons of commingled plastic to GEL, according to a report provided by Kerr.
The savings breakdown: the equivalent of 445 energy kilowatts, 1,259 barrels — or 52,885 gallons — of oil, 1,815 cubic yards of landfill space and 277,000 gallons of water, Kerr reported.
But they, too, might reconsider how they manage their materials.
For now, the City of DeLand will continue using GEL’s services, according to Public Works Director Demetris Pressley. He said that previously, the city has not paid for processing, due to the offset provided by the rebate.
“Processing costs either zeroed out, or we made money,” Pressley said in a phone interview Aug. 8. “At this point, we’re just waiting to see if there’s approval of the change in the County’s contract, and we’re checking into alternatives — other companies to possibly use.”
DeLand residents pay $12.26 monthly for WCA to provide bins and haul recyclables to GEL, Pressley said.
“At this point, there won’t be any change in our rates,” he added. “Once I hear about the County’s official change, I will meet with GEL and bring the findings back to the commission to get direction.”
Either way, DeLand will lean green.
“The City of DeLand will continue our recycling program and continue our ‘Rethink Waste’ initiative to promote clean recycling,” Pressley said.