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Communities struggle as recycling costs skyrocket

By Paul Ploumis

MERRIMACK - Southern New Hampshire communities are struggling to find money so their residents can recycle, even as the cost in some towns approaches double that of regular trash disposal.

In Merrimack, the cost of recycling is expected to dramatically increase when its current contract with E.L. Harvey expires in December.

While it currently costs $71.50 per ton to dispose of regular trash, town officials are predicting it will soon cost $140 per ton to dispose of its single stream recycling.


“It is a huge change,” said Kyle Fox, director of public works. “We have been protected from these price changes for the last six years.”

With its contract expiring, however, town councilors must now weigh different options on how to deal with the large cost increase.

Fox said there are four options: continue the current single stream recycling program and absorb the extra cost, convert back to a recycling program where all of the material is sorted, implement a hybrid recycling program where glass is separated or suspend the recycling program altogether and treat everything as trash.

The town typically recycles about 1,500 tons per year. Since it implemented single stream recycling in 2010, nearly 14,000 tons of material have been recycled in town.

“The urge for people to recycle is there -- they want to do it,” he said.

Still, the anticipated price tag to recycle, once the contract expires, could cost the town an additional $120,000 a year to dispose of its recyclables, according to Fox, who said the town has sought estimates from numerous vendors.

China enacted the National Sword Program in 2018 to reduce the amount of waste being sent into the country. Prior to the ban of more than 20 materials that were previously permitted to enter China as recyclables, China had purchased almost half of the world’s scrap paper, according to Reagan Bissonnette of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, a recycling non-profit that was founded 40 years ago.

In 2018, the average cost per ton to dispose of recycling was $38, said Bissonnette, noting most contracts are now more than $100 per ton for tipping fees.

The processing costs for mixed paper have jumped from $60 a ton to $95 a ton, she added.


Merrimack is not alone in its challenge to fund recycling.

Last year in Nashua, the city’s recycling program was set to overspend its budget with three months left in the budget cycle. Although $400,000 was appropriated for the city’s recycling program in the previous budget, a supplemental appropriation of $120,000 was necessary to continue the recycling program in the Gate City.

Nashua collects about 5,000 tons of recyclables each year, with about six loads per week that are hauled away by a vendor.

In Bedford, the town opted in 2018 to ask residents to separate glass materials from their recycling as a cost-saving measure.

The change enabled Bedford to save about $100,000 in recycling fees; Bedford processes about 100 tons of recyclables per month.

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