Market crunch could impact Jacksonville’s recycling program

Glass and some plastics could be eliminated from Jacksonville’s Area Disposal recycling program.

Alderman Lori Large Oldenettel said Area Disposal has approached her and city hall staff about modifying its five-year recycling contract that began in 2018 to eliminate glass bottles and jars and plastics 3 through 7.

The city council will need to review the contract and discuss community feedback to determine next steps, she said.

“No decisions have been made and we really just need to work through it as a city, as a council, (and) get some more feedback (and) figure out what next steps are,” she said.

The city pays $6,885 a month to provide free recycling service to residents, Oldenettel said.

More than 2,000 households are currently participating in the program and, in the past 12 months, 480 tons of recycled materials have been diverted from landfills, she said.

Area Disposal’s proposal is a reaction to the market for recycling commodities, which has seen a “drastic” decrease in prices, Oldenettel said. Unfortunately, she added, the city can’t control what the market does.

“We don’t want things to go to the landfill,” she said, “but by the same token, if there’s no market for it and it’s going to the landfill anyways, then we have to look at things differently.”

Matt Coulter, vice president of Area Disposal, said recycling programs across the United States are being ended or changing what they’ll accept in the recycling waste stream because the market to buy those commodities after they have been collected has shrunk.

He said it’s an industry problem. Prices have fallen to the point that “you’re extremely lucky if you’re breaking even.”

“Everything about recycling is great, as long as you have markets to get rid of the product,” Coulter said. “And the problem is — with 3 through 7 plastics and with glass — there’s little to no market in central Illinois. So, when you have little to no market — no value on those products, if not negative value — and then you have logistics and transportation costs to get those products to where they need to go, it offsets the cost of recycling and makes landfill the viable option.”

If the terms of the contract were modified, the company still would accept plastics 1 and 2, which make up 80% of the plastics recycled in the U.S., Oldenettel said.

Coulter said No. 1 plastics are PET — including water bottles and beverage containers — and No. 2 plastics are HDPE — including milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles and household cleaner containers.

Companies are eliminating unmarketable and hard-to-handle products — such as those Area Disposal is asking to get away from — or raising prices or stopping the collection of recycling altogether, Coulter said. The company already has eliminated glass in a number of city contracts and plans to address it with each of its contract holders.

The company’s aim is to keep recycling viable.

“We don’t want to stop doing it,” he said. “We think recycling is the right thing to do. We want to preserve the communities and the areas that we serve, but you also have to be honest with your customers and let them know that, unfortunately, these products, there’s just no market for them.”