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Columbia County recycling bottoms out

One person’s trash is not Columbia County’s treasure — not to the extent, anyway, that Greg Kaminski would like.

Prices for recycled goods have been so low, the county’s solid waste department took in less than $500 last month, Kaminski, the county’s solid waste director, told a County Board committee Monday.

And a more efficient system of sorting recyclable materials isn’t likely to help unless the going rate starts increasing for items like cardboard, metal, mixed paper, metal, aluminum cans and plastics.

According to the monthly recycling revenue report, Columbia County sold 43 tons of metal, 144.55 tons of mixed paper and 237.87 tons of cardboard for a total of $426.22 in May.

Cardboard has a going rate of about $45 per ton, according to Kaminski — and it costs the county about $40 per ton to process it.

Paper, meanwhile, is selling for $25 per ton, Kaminski said.

In May, the solid waste department held onto other recycled goods, including No. 1 plastics (clear beverage bottles) and No. 2 plastics (milk jugs and laundry product bottles) in the hope of getting better prices later, he said.

For the first five months of 2019, Columbia County has sold a little more than 2,500 tons of recyclables, for a little less than $275,000.

For the same time period a year ago, the county sold 2,581 tons of recycled material for $304,087.

Rock-bottom prices for recycled goods may prompt caution as county officials explore whether to invest about $2 million in increasing the efficiency of the semi-automated sorting system that the county has utilized for a little less than four years.

Kaminski told the committee that two Madison-based firms — SCS Engineers and Foth — have submitted proposals for designing and laying out the improvements and seeking bids for equipment. SCS initially offered to do the job for about $103,000, but revised the proposal for a lower cost of $39,000 — still above Foth’s proposal for $29,000.

The immediate plan, according to Kaminski, is for the county’s lawyers in the corporation counsel’s office to go over the Foth contract before presenting it to County Board Chairman Vern Gove, the County Board’s Finance Committee and the full County Board for consideration.

The improvements, if made, could pay for themselves, Kaminski said — but only if prices for recycled goods go up, to approximately $60 or $70 per ton for cardboard, the largest single source of the county’s recycling revenue.

Committee Chairman Mark Sleger of the town of Lowville asked for an example of how a new system would improve efficiency and allow recycling workers to process more goods in a shorter amount of time.

For one thing, Kaminski said, a new system could include a mechanism that can automatically distinguish between a flattened plastic bottle and a piece of paper; the current system often sorts the two together, forcing pickers (many of whom are work-release inmates from the county’s Huber Center) to sort the items by hand.

Another problem with the system, Sleger said, is that a lot of non-recyclable trash ends up on the recycling sorting line, particularly from people who dispose of their single-stream recyclables in plastic trash bags.

When recycled items come in the sealed plastic bags, pickers have to open them up as they come along the conveyor belt, and often have to sort through recyclable and non-recyclable items by hand.

Kaminski said he’s working on educational materials to outline, for single-stream recycling customers, what items the department will and will not take, and how they should be disposed of.

For example, noted committee member Nancy Long of Lodi, many people look at plastic food containers and see the triangular symbol indicating that the materials are recyclable — and they are, except there’s no market for them, so they end up in a landfill anyway. This applies to plastics with numbers 3 through 7 in the center of the stamped-on recycling symbol.

“This is a very difficult time for recycling,” Kaminski said. “I hope it starts to change soon. I hope we can get more volume and recover, as prices start to go up.”

Courtesy : www.wiscnews.com