By Peter H. Milliken
Unfavorable market conditions may inflict major changes on Mahoning County’s recycling program.
Those conditions are reduced dumping of out-of-state waste at Republic Services’ Carbon-Limestone landfill in Poland, together with reduced demand for recycled materials, according to Lou Vega, county recycling director.
Republic funds the curbside recycling it provides to 95,000 Mahoning County homes through a $1.50 per ton surcharge for dumping waste originating outside Ohio in its landfill, Vega explained.
“They’re bringing in far too little out-of-state waste to pay for the program on its own,” Vega said.
Out-of-state waste dumping into the landfill dropped from more than 1 million tons in 2006 to less than 500,000 tons in 2014, never having recovered from the recession-induced slump, he noted.
Vega said Republic officials have expressed concerns to him about the company’s rising costs of providing curbside recycling.
Mike Heher, landfill manager, said curbside recycling here is not now in jeopardy due to reduced out-of-state waste dumping in the landfill and that Republic officials were simply discussing with Vega the market conditions and uncertainties affecting recycling.
If any changes are forthcoming in curbside recycling, Heher said Republic would give county officials and the public at least a few months’ notice.
“We will do all we can” to minimize any disruption in curbside recycling, he said.
“All the commodities are still down in price,” Tom Yanko, president of Associated Paper Stock, a North Lima recycling company, and a member of the county’s solid waste policy committee, said at a recent committee meeting.
“Right now, everything from copper to brass to steel to fiber (paper), it’s all very, very sluggish,” Yanko recently told the committee.
That’s because of an economic slowdown in China that has reduced its purchases of recycled materials, Vega said.
Demand is now low for recycled plastic, which is an oil-based product, because of low oil prices, which make it cheaper to use virgin, rather than recycled plastic, he added.
If the current curbside recycling arrangement isn’t sustainable, bids could be sought for waste and recyclables collection for the entire county or the matter could be turned over to individual communities, suggested Tim Tusek, an assistant county prosecutor.
Yanko gave his opinion as to how the system should work. “Somebody’s got to pay for recycling, so, if a hauler has a route, he’s got to pick up the garbage, and he’s got to pick up the recycling, and somebody has to pay,” Yanko said.
Another complication in the local market is the uncertain future of Waste Management Inc.’s transfer station on U.S. Route 224 in Poland, to which Republic takes the recyclable materials it collects from curbside and from the county’s drop-off recycling centers.
Waste Management takes the recycled materials it buys from Republic from there to an Akron sorting and processing center.
If the Poland transfer station closes, Republic might take the recyclables to either its Pittsburgh area or Lorain-area sorting and processing center, which could make Mahoning County curbside collections cost-prohibitive, Vega observed.
The future of the Poland transfer station could be jeopardized if a company other than Republic or Waste Management would win the county’s next drop off center recycling collection contract and decides to use a facility other than the Poland transfer station, Vega said.
In that case, the Poland station could lose about one-third of its business volume, Vega said.
The scenario Vega laid out is “a legitimate concern,” Todd Brady, Waste Management solid waste supervisor for northeast Ohio, told the committee.
“Certainly, if we lose a significant amount of the volume that comes in there, I’m sure there would be a business decision on whether it makes sense to keep it open,” Brady added.
“We have this perfect storm of events that are happening here in Mahoning County that could potentially jeopardize the curbside (recycling) program,” Vega told the committee.
The county will advertise within the next few weeks for bids for a new contract to collect recyclables from its drop-off centers, effective in June 2016.
The county’s solid waste policy committee authorized Vega to advertise for that contract without including collection of recycled glass bottles.
Vega said he would prepare the bid specifications with, and without, glass bottle collection to determine cost savings that might be achieved by excluding glass bottles.
The county’s solid waste plan does not require the acceptance of glass at its recycling drop-off centers, said Mary Gresh, county recycling division coordinator.
“Forget glass,” Yanko urged the committee, explaining that glass damages conveyor systems in recycled material processing facilities.
“Eventually, we’re going to phase it out of the curbside (collection) as well,” Vega said of glass-bottle recycling.
“I’m not trying to create a scenario where the sky is falling,” Vega told the committee.
“What I’m trying to do is look ahead, see what’s happening, and try to plan for the worst,” Vega concluded.