Petersburg officials look at changes to curbside recycling program

RecyclingMonster - Markets for Petersburg’s recycled materials have not improved and borough officials think the borough assembly could consider changes to the recycling program for next year.

For more than a year it’s been costing the borough more to ship out co-mingled cardboard, aluminum, plastics and paper than to send that to a landfill with the rest of Petersburg’s trash. When the municipality first started curbside pick-up in 2016, it saved the borough money. But foreign markets for that material have been overwhelmed. Some waste companies are no accepting the recycled goods, others are paying less.

Public works director Chris Cotta said it costs the borough 125 dollars a ton to ship garbage out of town. A ton of recycled materials is now costing the borough 160 dollars.

“And you know that’s just the cost for disposal of the material and with recycling you have to add in the cost of the third truck that we operate, O and M (operations and maintenance) costs on that,” Cotta said. “So there’s definitely a cost to the program at this point and it’s significantly more than just disposing of garbage.”

Overall the value of a ton of co-mingled recyclables is now at 10 dollars. That’s down from a high of around 134 dollars a ton just a couple of years ago.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said it will likely be a decision by the borough assembly whether to continue with the program or make changes.

“I think Chris and I spoke, if we were to do something different in recycling where we’re not picking up curbside, you know we’re not going to get rid of the blue cans, we’ll tarp those over and save them and hope for someday that it comes back but this is going to be a big decision that the assembly’s going to have to wrestle with,” Giesbrecht said. “Do they want us to include the cost of recycling in a future rate study and spread that out over everybody so we can keep recycling or do we want to go to more of drop off situation for the higher value stuff?”

The sanitation department is planning to commission a rate study later this year and which may offer recommendations for the borough assembly to consider during the budget process next spring. That rate study could look at whether people who pay for garbage service should cover the cost of continuing with curbside co-mingled. Cotta explained one alternative could be dropping off sorted material.

“We wouldn’t be going out and collecting anymore but we would still be accepting material,” Cotta said. “We could then bale the segregated recyclables and those bales have a much higher value than co-mingled bales. We could do that until we have a container load and ship it south, as what’s called a mixed load. And then you get a much higher value for the stuff and it would be probably worth-while to do something like that if we find that our, there’s no way to modify our co-mingled program and make it pencil out.”

Cotta said other communities in Southeast have changed to a drop-off program. Private companies in much larger cities like Juneau and Anchorage still offer curb-side collection for a fee.

With state budget cutting, the borough could be looking at whether to end or change other sanitation programs as well. Those include a residential trash voucher program that offers an annual cheaper fee for dropping off a set amount of garbage at the borough’s baler facility.

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