Municipalities grapple with surging costs to recycle; price more than to haul garbage

Apr. 5—Facing a dramatic increase in recycling costs, the manager of Newport Twp. recently made a controversial and rushed announcement on the municipal website for residents to just throw glass in the garbage instead of recycling bins.

Wilkes-Barre increased recycling rates this year and will soon get out of the single-steam model and mandate that glass, plastic and aluminum be separated from cardboard and newspaper.

Kingston started charging residents for recycling for the first time in 20 years and also is asking residents to drop off glass at the municipality's public works headquarters rather than place it in their bins.

Municipal leaders say they are required by law to recycle, but it actually costs more currently to recycle items than to send them to the landfill.

Newport Twp. manager Joe Hillan said the township's recycling fee with Municipal Recovery Inc. in Wilkes-Barre is $65 per ton to haul away with glass compared to $25 per ton without glass.

That's why he posted on the township website that it would be better for residents to throw glass in the garbage and any recycling bins with glass would not be picked up by municipal public works crews.

Following community backlash, the township quickly abandoned the recommendation.

"It wasn't the right thing to do, so we did some regrouping. We are going to weigh our options, but you don't want to put more burden on the taxpayer," Hillan said. "Recycling is not like it used to be. Everybody used to want it. Now, nobody wants it."

Hillan said the township may explore doing something like Kingston in which they set up a separate glass drop off bin.

Newport Twp. charges a set annual fee for garbage and recycling. Some municipalities have separate fees. Others charge a per-bag fee for garbage and a separate recycling fee.

Paul Keating, Kingston's municipal administrator, said Kingston was paying about a $100 per-ton "tipping fee" to haul away recycling with glass, but reduced the rate to around $52 per ton by eliminating glass.

Keating said municipal leaders have found a "small market" of those interested in glass only and Kingston will pay to provide the glass to an interested vendor.

Kingston hasn't charged for recycling in 20 years. For most of that time, the sale of the materials generally offset the costs, officials said. In recent times, the municipality paid more than $225,000 annually to haul away recyclables, they said.

Recently, the municipality announced it was instituting a $30 recycling fee per residential unit and banning glass from being included in recycling.

"It's still way less than if we continued to pay for single-stream and did nothing. We lowered our costs considerably," Keating said.

Keating said he knows there's no guarantee all residents will drop off glass at the public works garage and some people will just toss it in the garbage.

"If they opt to throw it in the garbage, that's their choice," Keating said.

However, those who throw glass in the garbage will pay more since Kingston charges per garbage bag, he said.

"There are great benefits to recycling. Our residents are well-trained in recycling. They are fond of recycling and not landfilling," Keating said.

In his 2021 budget, Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown sought to double the city's recycling fee to $100 annually, which has been $50 for 13 years. After a political spat with city council and a veto by the mayor, the rate was raised to $75.

Additionally, Wilkes-Barre officials decided to end single-stream recycling for dual-stream recycling, meaning residents will soon have to separate paper and cardboard from other recyclables, like aluminum, plastic and glass.

Brown said the switch to dual-stream recycling will save the city between 25% to 35% than what it was paying.

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570-821-2055; @cvbobkal