Rising costs steer recycling program in new direction

SHALIMAR — Starting Tuesday, the almost 34,000 residential customers of Waste Management in unincorporated Okaloosa County’s franchise area still will have their recycled items hauled away once a week.

But instead of being processed at the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority's recycling facility in Cantonment, the items will be taken to Waste Management’s Springhill Landfill in Jackson County. There, they’ll be added to the trash mix, and many of them will break down into methane gas to be used for energy.

“I want to be very clear, that is not pure recycling,” county Public Works Director Jason Autrey told the County Commission on Sept. 17.

That’s when the commission voted 4-1 to send the recycled items to the trash dump, versus paying more to the ECUA to process them or disbanding the county recycling program altogether, while hoping the recyclable material market rebounds soon.

The county’s budget for the cost of recyclable material processing by the ECUA was based on $20 per ton, but with a sliding scale based on the average market value of the commodity, the county currently is paying $37 per ton, plus collection and hauling costs.

The county’s agreement with the Authority began a few years ago and expires Monday. Officials from the ECUA recently proposed a new two-year contract with the county paying $41 per ton.

 

“That’s more than double what we had been budgeting for recyclable material processing,” Autrey told commissioners. “As time has gone on, the recyclable material market has taken a turn for the worse, and right now, (recycled items) are expensive to recycle through the ECUA.”

Per year, the $41 per ton cost would mean an increase of about $350,000 to what the county has budgeted for recyclable material processing.

That cost could be covered with money in the county’s solid waste enterprise fund reserves or by raising residential customers’ rates by $1 per month, but most commissioners didn’t like either scenario.

Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, for example, said she would eliminate the recycling program before raising rates. Disbanding the program would save each customer about $1 a month after the first year following its removal.

Commissioner Trey Goodwin, who said he doesn’t want to dig into the reserves or raise rates, noted that about a quarter of all recyclable items are not recycled because they are contaminated.

The cost of bringing recycled items to the Springhill Landfill will be about $1 more than the $20 per ton the county has budgeted for processing recycled items but includes collection and hauling costs, with no rate increase to the customer.

Commissioner Nathan Boyles cast the lone “nay” vote on the new arrangement. Boyles, who runs his own solid waste collection company, supported the proposed two-year agreement with the ECUA, even with its higher rate.

“If there’s a definition of a sham, then I think it’s gonna be the one where we tell everyone we’re recycling, but we’re actually not,” he said. “But we’ll let our constituents decide."