Curbside recycling is in danger of no longer being profitable or remaining a feasible option to get rid of waste – not just Greenwood, but all cities in America.
This past year, China began restricting imports of several types of recyclable waste, such as mixed paper — magazines, office paper, junk mail — and most plastics. China, previously the largest importer of waste plastics, a title now held by Malaysia, is not buying profitable exported recyclables from the U.S. anymore.
Greenwood implemented a curbside recycling program in 1990 titled GAPPS, because the county collected glass, aluminum, paper, all seven types of plastics and steel cans. Currently there are 12,000 blue 95-gallon roll carts serviced throughout the county, and these carts produced 2,400 tons of single-stream materials — materials collected together in a single cart — in the county’s 2019 fiscal year alone.
In 2012, single-stream recycling was profitable for the county, producing a revenue stream of $30 per ton sold. The revenue stream began to plummet and China’s ban put Greenwood in a precarious position because it now costs the county $60 per ton to get rid of recyclable waste.
The cost to rid recyclables is projected to increase to $95 per ton on July 1, 2020, so discussion of options to curbside recycling were proposed at County Council’s meeting Tuesday.
“Obviously, we have no way to predict the future markets, nor can we control the markets,” Public Works Department Director Donna Sightler said. “What we do know is that the cost the county will bare to continue the curbside recycling program will continue to rise, at least for the near future.”
Sightler suggests the county get back to the basics and collect only material that has value, preferably eliminating glass and nearly half of the commonly disposed types of plastics. She also urges the county to raise the level of awareness of how much recycling costs, and communicate to residents that they should not use roll carts as garbage cans.
“Recycling has never been a lucrative business, and we realize that,” Sightler said. “The message of the past was ‘when in doubt toss in the roll cart’.”
Sightler is aware that throwing waste in landfills is not the answer and she and the county are searching for a long-term solution to properly manage waste and help the environment in the process.
“We owe it to the citizens of Greenwood County to be good stewards of our resources,” she said.