County: Trash woes could spur rate hikes

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarBetty Lingner, of Oneonta, empties a bag of recyclables into a bin at the Southern Transfer Station on Silas Lane in Oneonta on Tuesday.

Otsego County is taking steps to mitigate its recycling problem, and may have to consider rate hikes next year for trash disposal at its southern and northern transfer stations if worldwide recycling industry trends continue, according to county officials. 

At the board's monthly meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 4, in Cooperstown, County Planner Karen Sullivan said the high cost of recycling might need to be subsidized with rate hikes in next year's user fee and tip fee for garbage disposal. Recycling and household hazardous waste disposal are free to county residents, but the county pays for them through waste disposal fees. 

In a follow up email exchange, Shane Digan, Otsego County planner-trainee and recycling coordinator, said recycling is a problem for municipalities nation- and worldwide, as Chinese contamination standards for accepting recycling materials have changed and thrown the market into flux.

"The county is faced with increasing cost to process collected (recycling) material," Digan wrote, Monday, Sept. 9. "Where we use to receive monetary credits per ton delivered for processing, we are now paying an average $100/ton for processing the material."

Costs were even higher this summer, according to minutes from the Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee's meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20. In July, the county paid $151.47 per ton, and a total of $59,890 to recycle, including labor costs. 

The user fee and tip fee are based on the county's contract with Casella Waste Systems, a Vermont company which won the bid to replace MOSA, the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Waste Authority, in Otsego County in 2014.

"The revenue collected through the user fee helps to offset cost associated with the solid waste and recycling budget," Digan said. "We cannot yet tell you what cost increases will be, exactly, as the Board of Representatives has yet to take official action on that."

The county pays $79.75/ton with Casella for the removal and disposal of municipal solid waste collected at the county's transfer stations in Oneonta and outside of Cooperstown in the town of Otsego, Digan said. The tip fee, which also subsidizes recycling and household waste disposal costs, is set at $80/ton, which means the county collects $.25/ton for each ton collected.  

As a result of the increase in costs, officials in Otsego County have also started the process of undoing the no-sort, single-stream recycling model, which has become an industry standard in the past decade. Digan said glass and cardboard — both heavier items which increase costs by weighing down recycling bundles — are items which should be recycled separately. Sullivan told the board she has found a single-product recycler for cardboard, which will be more cost-effective for the county. 

The county is working with Cynthia Andela of Ruby Lake Glass/Andela Glass on a plan to recycle crushed glass into reusable materials. Andela Glass Pulverizer is on state Route 28 in Herkimer County, about a mile from the town of Richfield, and a plant for Ruby Lake is planned in Richfield, Digan said. The county is also seeking a state Department of Environmental Conservation grant to buy its own glass crusher. 

"Glass is one recycling commodity that literally has little value, and we would like to try to separate it from our recycling stream and work with Cynthia Andela of Ruby Lake Glass/Andela Glass to accept some of our material," Digan said.

Digan said there will also be a voluntary residential food waste program starting up this fall at both transfer stations as part of a partnership with the city of Oneonta and Seward Sand & Gravel. Bones and paper will not be accepted in dedicated food waste bins, but most other food waste will be accepted. 

To educate residents about the need to change recycling patterns and trash patterns, and the possibility of increased costs for waste disposal, Digan said he has been doing, and will continue to do, outreach throughout the county. However, he said he won't know for sure if the disposal rates will change, or by how much, until the board votes later this year.

Long-term solutions are elusive, too, he said. 

"I am afraid the wheels turn slowly, since it will take the USA market time to adjust, build, and retrofit, and find alternative sources for recycling material," Digan said. 

The process for the 2020 budget has begun and the county will hold its annual public hearing for the budget in mid-winter at a time and place to be announced. The budget will be voted on at the board's Wednesday, Dec. 4, meeting. 

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