Officials say the change in profitability is due to changes in the global recycling market and in turn, a change in what Chandler’s recycling contractor can accept from residents. City Council approved Feb. 27 a renegotiated contract with Chandler-based United Fibers that carries a higher processing fee and a new contamination fee per ton of recycling.
“We’re just trying to keep that recycling program alive in Chandler,” Capps said.
Traci Conaway, recycling coordinator for the solid waste division, said the city hopes to educate its residents on what is acceptable in their blue bins so that it may help drive costs down.
Contamination is trash, officials said, and includes any materials that are not explicitly accepted in the blue bins and items that have not been cleaned of food or liquid contaminants. Those contaminated materials end up in the landfill.
The one-year contract extension with United Fibers is in an amount not to exceed $1.2 million. United Fibers requested in this contract the processing fee be increased to $80 per ton from $67 per ton and requested the implementation of a new waste disposal fee of $40 per ton for the disposal of contaminated materials. Chandler officials project that of the 19,800 tons of recycled material collected in the city per year, 19%, or 3,762 tons, is contamination, but officials hope to decrease that contamination rate by educating residents.
“Contamination, or items that aren’t accepted, are now going to have an additional fee, so it’s more important than ever that people are only placing the items that we accept in their bins,” Conaway said.
Erin Jordan, a public information officer with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said the change in the global recycling market is affecting not just Chandler, but all cities and counties in Arizona and across the nation.
“China used to accept everything in recycling bundles, which allowed the U.S. to be able to send highly contaminated bales for recycling,” Jordan said. “China has since changed their policies and will not accept contamination. To meet the new requirements, there are now increased processing costs due to high volumes of contamination in the recycling bins. And, the materials formerly accepted by China are now left behind. Cities and counties in Arizona are doing their best to continue their recycling programs, but it will take some time to build up end markets that can take the additional baled material and turn it into a product.”
In Chandler, Conaway said materials that can be recycled include paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, aluminum or steel cans, and plastic bottles and jugs.
“The more citizens don't know about their local recycling program, the more likely fees and other monetary adjustments will be put in place to deal with contamination in the recycling bins,” Jordan said. “It's very important that we all ‘educate so we don't contaminate.’ This will create a cleaner product that is more desirable to end markets and could help drive the creation of more end markets in the future.”
At United Fibers, the recycled paper collected is turned into insulation and then sold to contractors. The other materials are sorted by about 30 people who sort through the recycled materials to get rid of the trash and materials they do not accept. Then those materials are bailed so they can be sold to companies and countries that are looking for that material to create their products.
Capps said the recycling contractor in each municipality dictates what can and cannot be recycled in any given city.
“If a company isn’t making a product out of that [recycled] material, it’s going to be disposed of anyway,” Capps said.
Conaway said there will be a push in the coming year to educate residents about recycling in order to reduce contamination, thus reducing the overall cost to the city.
“It’s a hard concept for people because they want to recycle as much as possible, and we encourage that,” Conaway said. “But we don’t want people to ‘wishcycle,’ where sometimes people want it to be recycled or hope it can be recycled and they put something in the bin, and it’s not able to be recycled and they are just hoping that we’ll find a way and, unfortunately, we kind of let that go for a bit and it wasn’t important, but now fiscally it is important to the city and therefore our ratepayers.”
City Council Member Mark Stewart said one broken glass jar can ruin an entire ton of recyclables. He said he hopes the city will work toward sustainable solutions in the next year before the United Fibers contract is up again in 2021.
“We have to figure something out,” Stewart said. “We have to find innovative solutions to creating sustainability stories. The great thing about Chandler, and something that benefits the community, is everybody pitches in, everyone takes a role in it. We can lean on school districts and nonprofits and educate the community and have fun. We used to make money from recycling, and now we aren’t, and I want to fix it.”