Local waste haulers told the Montezuma County Board of Commissioners and the landfill manager that a recycling program and steep increase in disposal fees will be a challenge for their businesses.
In October, landfill manager Shak Powers increased fees to haulers dropping off waste by either 29 percent or 59 percent. The higher fees were approved by the commissioners and favor haulers who implement robust recycling programs for customers.
The fee increase was necessary, Powers said, to save for an estimated $3 million in required closing and reclamation costs of the landfill in 20 years when the current permit expires. A new landfill will be constructed adjacent to the old one.
The landfill’s stricter recycling program is also needed to meet new state diversion guidelines at landfills, Powers said.
Powers is implementing a split-rate increase system. Trash companies that offer curbside, source-separated recycling to their customers as part of their standard package will have a rate increase of 29 percent beginning Jan. 1.
For those who do not offer source-separated recycling as part of the standard package to their customers, the rate increase will be 59 percent beginning July 1.
“Those who consume the most landfill space the quickest, because they choose not to recycle, will pay the higher price toward covering the closure,” Powers said. “Nobody likes it when fees go up, but we do not have a choice in order to cover future closure costs and stay in compliance with the state.”
But at a recent county commission meeting, local commercial haulers attended to find out more information and express the challenges they face because of the new rate increase and recycling policies.
Scott Hutchings, Waste Management’s Four Corners director of government affairs, said that while he commended the county for its recycling efforts, the plan will cause an increase in costs to their customers.
“In our experience, consumers find single-stream recycling to be convenient and effective, and Waste Management offers this service in Montezuma County,” he said. “The proposed plan would significantly increase the cost to consumers for single-stream recycling and may deter participation.”
The company offers single-stream recycling for customers, who bag metals, plastics and paper in different bags, and leave cardboard loose. The bags are all loaded into one truck, then dumped at the landfill, which further separates them.
But Powers said the program has not been working well because of contamination issues and increasing labor costs to further separate recyclables.
“There is no longer a viable market for mixed plastics and mixed paper; they have to be source-separated now to get any value,” he said.
Hutchings said that if there was substantial interest from residents and businesses in switching to source-separated recycling as a service, the company would evaluate the opportunity.
Smaller haulers are also struggling to adapt to the rate increases. They are concerned that if they raise the price to customers to offset higher landfill fees, they could lose business and potentially cause more people to burn their trash or dump illegally.
Changes in the recycling market that demand cleaner and more separated recycling products are behind the new landfill polices, Powers said. China no longer accepts U.S. recycling because of contamination issues, which has caused the value of recycled products in the U.S. to drop significantly.
To make recycling economically viable, recycle programs must produce cleaner and more separated products.
Under the new policy, to get the lower rate increase, companies must offer curbside, source-separated recycling that divides cardboard, office paper, No. 1 plastics, tin and aluminum into a truck with corresponding compartments.
The landfill tried a single-stream hybrid recycling system that commercial haulers have offered to customers, who separated metals, mixed plastics and paper in three separate bags.
Power said source-separated programs produce much cleaner recycle products that are less labor-intensive to sort at the landfill, and have a value on the market.
Haulers who offer source-separated service will be paid for the recyclables, which will help offset the startup costs of purchasing recycle trucks with divided bins for source-separated recycle programs.
The new landfill rate structure also applies to individuals who do not separate recyclables in their loads. The rate increase is expected to generate $171,000 per year toward eventual closure costs.