Chittenden Solid Waste District Raises Recycling Fees
Instead of paying county trash haulers $7 a ton to bring recyclables to its sorting warehouse, Chittenden Solid Waste District soon will charge them $17
Blame this reversal on the global financial crisis, which has dried up the market for recycled materials, CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau says.
Brokers were paying more than $130 a ton for old newspapers this summer. In October, the price nose-dived to $40 a ton. The price for PETE, the plastic used in soft drink bottles, plummeted from $370 a ton to $20 a ton Monday.
Overall, the blended price for recyclables will drop from $128/ton earlier this year to $42/ton from now through June, the district estimates.
“Two weeks ago Friday the bottom just fell out,” Moreau said. Prices began falling so fast, “you almost can’t keep up.”
It is not clear whether or when the new $17-a-ton fee — $22-a-ton for material delivered from outside Chittenden County — will show up on the trash bills paid by businesses and households.
“We’ve made no decision,” said Joe Fusco, vice president at Casella Waste Systems of Rutland, which has trash routes in Chittenden County.
In Burlington, “I’m not sure what it will mean for us,” Burlington Public Works Director Steve Goodkind said. The city collects residential recyclables and hasn’t budgeted money to cover the new CSWD fee. The cost could top $60,000 a year, he said.
The city covers its recycling costs by charging trash haulers $3.10 a month for each customer they serve. Goodkind said no decision had been made whether to raise that fee.
A disappearing surplus
The waste district owns the Materials Recycling Facility in Williston and pays Casella Waste Systems $33.19 a ton to run the sorting operation. The district and Casella split the revenue from selling recyclables; CSWD counts on that income to cover Casella’s fee.
Between July and October, prices for recyclables had climbed so high that CSWD had piled up a $287,000 surplus.
“We expect to burn through ... our current surplus, even with our proposed tip fee change,” CSWD project manager Brian Wright warned the district’s executive board last week.
“This substantial tip fee increase is necessary in order for the MRF to remain economically viable,” Wright told trash haulers in a letter last week.
That letter told haulers the new fee would be $20 a ton; this week the district revised the price to $17.
If there is any silver lining to the recycling cloud, it is the simultaneous drop in oil prices, Moreau said.
“The good news is, diesel fuel is not quite half of what it was in June,” he said. “The new tip fee is an unexpected expense for haulers, but they also are benefiting from fuel costs going down.”
China stops buying
Fusco, the Casella vice president, compared the cave-in of recycling prices to recent declines in the stock market.
“A lot of souffles have collapsed over the last few months,” he said. “China was such a huge source of demand, especially for paper. We’ve seen that demand shrivel and dry up.
“We have never seen such a dramatic, swift drop. Two weeks ago, people were worried whether there would be a market for anything.”
With little demand, the outcome was obvious, he said: “It’s Economics 101. Where there is no demand, the price drops.”
Demand will recover sometime in the future, Fusco predicted, because Earth does not have an unlimited supply of oil or other raw materials.
“Recycled materials are too important a part of the way we manufacture things now,” he said.