County Provides Update on Recycling Prices, Processes

By Paul Ploumis

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Somerset County recently updated Bridgewater Township officials on matters pertaining to recycling in the municipality.

Somerset County Director of Public Affairs Paul McCall addressed the township at the May 16 meeting, discussing how the county collects recyclables in a myriad of ways.

“It’s still a dual-stream system,” he said of Bridgewater’s recycling.

He said the county now puts out recycling totes that it later picks up, instead of the older blue buckets. The county also uses roll-off containers in picking up items such as cardboard, which he said is the most valuable recycling product.

The totes enable recyclables to stay dry, and to get better value for them in domestic markets, including paper, glass, various plastics, aluminum, tin and steel.

McCall said some municipalities still employ single-stream recycling, in which recyclables of all types are mixed together or co-mingled, which can lead to contamination of the items.

The county recycles paper and newspaper, which McCall called the “cleanest recycling in New Jersey,” with that material usually going uncontaminated. Loose fibers and any bailed material are shipped away.

As for pricing, McCall said the market is volatile, and that vendors bid on recycled materials. Funding sources include municipalities and commodities (recyclable materials), along with state recycling grants.

Monies generated are used to pay such areas as operating expenses, along with recycling staff salaries.

Conditional costs, along with the recycling totes, are paid for by the county, in a 50/50 share with the municipalities, plus recycling employee benefits. The county also has recycling contracts with 20 of its 21 municipalities.

Councilman Howard Norgalis asked who actually owns recyclables, once they are put out for collection.

McCall said the county hasn’t yet pressed charges against anyone who may have gone through other’s recyclables, but that recyclable items officially become county property once they are put out on the curb.

Councilman Timothy Ring said Bridgewater residents always ask when they will be getting totes. McCall said it is a four-year rollout program that hasn’t been helped by the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID did hurt us,” he said.

McCall said it is now a matter of getting vehicles, hopefully within a year’s time, as totes are not as difficult to obtain as vehicles. He also mentioned that the county requires 30 vehicles in all to handle its recycling efforts, including training.

As for totes, there are two types available, one with a yellow lid that is used for paper-type recycling, and another with a green lid for glass-type collection. Some entities might require larger totes, which are available up to 96 gallons.

Ring asked how much recycling material is usually discarded.

McCall responded that the county only processes paper and cardboard, and can’t bail and stockpile those materials. He added that Keasbey, located in Middlesex County, has a warehouse to ship out materials.

“Cardboard and paper, you get paid for,” said McCall, although he admitted that single-stream recycling takes up time.

Council vice president Michael Kirsh said that he doesn’t have exact figures, but that the (cost) split between municipality and county is almost 50%. He said the tote system works much better “without a doubt.”

McCall said the county is paid to dispose of commodities, about $75 to $90 per ton, although there is no end market. He also said that recycling legislation in China the last few years had led to a “nosedive” outside domestic markets.

McCall said he hopes things will balance out if the market stays strong, and that the county doesn’t want to raise municipal rates “unless absolutely necessary.”

Kirsh brought up the county’s administrative recycling fee of $90, which has been a sticking point for the council for some time. He asked for an explanation, and why the county couldn’t absorb such an “illogical” cost.

McCall said that, to submit recycling tonnage to the state for reimbursement, a sign-off has to be done by a recycling professional. He said the county had signed off for some municipalities, who worked about two to three hours at an hourly rate for each.

“I can understand where it’s an irritant,” said McCall of the fee. “It’s something we can revisit, and work together.”

He said he also thought it was a service the county could offer to municipalities, without realizing it might be a thorny issue for some.

Ring said the county is charging Bridgewater a fee to audit paperwork that the township itself supplies. McCall said the tonnage goes back to the municipalities, including rubber and tires, and that the county does not keep the fees.

Kirsh asked when the recycling rates were set. McCall replied it was a period of one year, from October to October, to give townships time to prepare to put them into their municipal budgets.

“We’re looking at every dollar,” said Kirsh, who hoped to see a formal resolution as soon as possible. “The earliest advance notice is valuable.”

McCall said the county has tried to keep the rate the same, and might have waited a little too long in trying to do so.

“We will definitely try to get a resolution out earlier this year,” he said.