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After a very tough couple of years, some recycling is out of the red, due in part to an unusual suspect: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The worldwide pandemic has spurred an increased need for paper products, GEL Recycling Financial Controller Jacqueline Kerr said.

GEL Corp. in Orange City is the local facility that receives recyclable material from DeLand and much of Volusia County.

“The market skyrocketed,” Kerr said. “Everyone was looking for toilet paper.”

The recycling market had been greatly affected in 2018 when China, the largest importer of recyclable materials from the United States, tightened restrictions on the materials it would accept.

That increased the costs of processing for facilities like GEL Corp., and eliminated the rebates cities had been getting on recyclables.

In early 2019, some cities, including Deltona, opted to either suspend or completely drop recycling programs, while others, like DeLand and DeBary, slightly increased recycling fees.

DeLand also embarked on a public-education campaign, launched a recycling app, and created a mascot, Skip D. Landfill, to raise awareness about how to recycle properly to reduce contamination.

“When this pandemic started, what happened to the U.S. was that we began creating more products locally, which caused [the value of recycled] paper and paper products to go back up,” Kerr said. “It’s not where they were, but it’s going back up.”

Before the tightened restrictions in China, facilities could expect a $100 to $120 return per ton of mixed paper material. The market drop threw that number into the red, and for more than a year, there was a negative return.

For the past three months, however — since the pandemic — the return on mixed paper has remained relatively steady at around $10 to $15 per ton, Kerr said. The revenue from other paper products, like cardboard, also has increased.

“Cities are starting to get back small rebates,” Kerr said. “I know it’s not turning the world on fire or anything, but it’s a cool story.”

DeLand is now getting approximately $300 to $500 a month, according to Kerr. The city had not seen any rebates at all for almost two years.

“It’s not offsetting like it once was, but we’ve gotten small rebates for the past three months,” DeLand Public Works Director Demetris Pressley said.

The county overall receives a 70-percent rebate, or $10.50 per ton, on recycled materials picked up in the unincorporated parts of Volusia County. The cost of processing the materials, however, is still about eight times that amount.

“We’re encouraged to see that the recycling industry appears to be moving in a positive direction,” Volusia County Solid Waste and Recycling Director Regina Montgomery said. “While there is still quite a net cost associated with processing recyclable material for unincorporated Volusia, any rebate or credit back helps to offset that cost.”

“We know that reducing, reusing and recycling are effective alternatives to disposing of waste in landfills, and anything we can do to further those key initiatives is a step in the right direction,” she added.

GEL Recycling Plant Manager Paul Roach said the company’s owner has reminded employees at the plants that their work is helping the country deal with the challenges of the pandemic, by helping supply needed products.

Roach said he is “very proud of the facility, very proud of the people.”

The need to dispose of materials and the opportunity to reuse them is a constant, Roach noted.

“It gets in your blood, once you do garbage and recycling, because it’ll never go away. Garbage and recycling will always be there,” he said.


What to recycle

GEL Corp. uses a dual-stream system. Customers in unincorporated Volusia County and participating cities are provided two bins: one for paper materials, and the other for plastic, steel, glass and aluminum.

Paper products include newspaper, cardboard, beverage cartons, glossy inserts, magazines, cereal boxes and pizza boxes.

All glass and all aluminum and metal food containers can be recycled, as well as empty aerosol cans. Plastics coded 1 through 7 are also recyclable.

For a full list, visit https://www.volusia.org/services/public-works/solid-waste-and-recycling/recycling/

DeLand residents can also download the smartphone app Recycle Coach, which has information on the disposal of hundreds of household items, and can provide reminders and updates for trash and recycling pickup.

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