Decisions in China are having an impact on recycling in North Texas, and Flower Mound residents are being asked to help.
During Monday’s Town Council meeting Jeri Harwell, municipal services manager of Republic Services, updated the council on changes happening in the recycling industry.
To keep up with the changes, Harwell is encouraging education and asking for financial help.
She said China, which at one point imported 40 percent of the world’s recycling products, made changes to its recycling program in 2017 in an attempt to clean up its country. That included decreasing the amount of contamination levels from roughly 3 percent to 0.5 percent.
“That drastically changed the commodity market, and it increased the processing costs because everyone had to do things to their facilities to clean up the contamination,” Harwell said.
She said in 2018 China also restricted mixed paper, such as junk mail and cereal boxes. She said by 2020 China is expected to stop receiving imported recycling materials.
Harwell said that means proper recycling in the United States, including Republic’s two facilities in North Texas, is even more critical.
But that comes with a cost, Harwell said. She said there will be a collection fee and a processing fee to handle the extra attention needed for contamination detection.
In total, she said it costs Republic about $90 to process a ton of material through the recycling facility, while it costs $30 to bury a ton in the landfill.
Taking it to the landfill, however, isn’t a preferred option.
“(By recycling) you’re keeping it out of the landfill,” Harwell said. “Instead of filling up the landfill in 15 years you’re spreading it out to filling up the landfill in 30-35 years.”
She said some cities are already paying a processing fee for recycling and said that’s probably going to become more common.
“We believe in the next two to three years you’re going to see the cost of recycling being as much as the cost of trash,” Harwell said.
Harwell said the financial benefit of recycling certain products isn’t as viable as it used to be. For example, the value of cardboard is down, and it actually costs money to recycle glass containers.
Harwell said as a result of the changes Republic is operating in the negative at $3.31 per home in Flower Mound. To offset that, Republic is asking the town to increase its rate by $1.58 per home beginning in October. Residents currently pay $13.41 per month for trash, recycle and bulk collection.
More discussion on any rate change is expected in the coming months.
In the meantime, Republic and the town are expected to work together on educating residents on ways to reduce the contamination. Efforts include cleaning food, sauces, etc. out of cans and jars. Pizza boxes should be clean (no grease or pizza).
“I do believe there is a component to this, which is education,” Harwell said. “We’re getting there, but there’s always more that we can do.”
One way of doing that is referring residents to recyclingsimplified.com, which explains what can be recycled and what can’t. Harwell said "empty, clean and dry" is the best thing to remember.
“When you put something in the recycle container and it gets in the truck and splatters all over, you’ve contaminated the entire load,” Harwell said.
Republic will also perform an audit, free to the town, on the recycle routes in Flower Mound.
During the routes, Republic employees would tag recycle carts to inform residents if they have something in there that can’t be recycled. They would come back with a follow-up tag two weeks later.
“Right now it’s business as usual,” said Shelly Willson, customer relations manager for the town. “We’re just educating the residents now so we can help reduce the contamination.”
Harwell said Flower Mound will be the first community to participate in the audit program.
Flower Mound is expected to move forward with the free audit program beginning July 15.