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Town agrees to new costs as recycling profits dip

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WAKE FOREST — Recycling and waste companies are asking the nation’s cities and towns for more money to make up for lost profits, and Wake Forest is no exception.

The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners acknowledged Tuesday it would support taking over the cost of processing residents’ recyclables — which are often contaminated with garbage ­— after a contractor said it would increase the town’s collection costs if it did not.

Town officials estimated it would be about $12,000 more a month to pay for the processing, although that number may go up or down as recycling markets change.

The contractor, Republic Services, told town officials that since January, the company has not been able to earn a profit on the town’s processed recyclables. That is in part because China enacted a strict policy that limited how much processed recyclables it would buy from countries like the United States.

That has caused the value of recyclables to plummet, effecting most every community in the country. Among nearby towns grappling with the issue is Rolesville, which last month debated charging residents 68 cents more a month after a similar request to take on costs from its contractor, Waste Services.

Rolesville commissioners are expected to vote on that request June 4, according to Finance Director Amy Stevens.

Another reason Republic Services cited in its request to the town of Wake Forest was the high amount of contamination found in the recyclables citizens throw out. That contamination — more than 18 percent of material that finds its way into recycling bins — drives up processing costs, said Allison Snyder, assistant director of public works, who presented the issue to commissioners Tuesday.

Contamination includes items the contractor does not accept, like plastic bags which snag sorting machinery, as well as containers that are soiled by food, like most pizza boxes. Other towns have an average contamination of about 12 percent, Synder said.

Town officials said they want to get its contamination level down by educating the public. The town recycles 7.2 million pounds of items a year.

“Hearing last night’s presentation made me realize ... not only the environmental impact, but also the financial impact it could have on us individually if our service goes up due to our own negligence,” Commissioner Bridget Wall-Lennon said Wednesday. “I often say, ‘When we know better, we do better,’ and I will certainly be doing better.”

The town will not pass the new costs directly to recycling consumers, which has not billed customers for garbage and waste services since 2008, Snyder said. And by agreeing to Republic Service’s request to pay the preprocessing fee, she said there would be more transparency in what the town is paying for than should it decline and be charged more for collection instead.

The processor will recalculate the town’s fee each month based on the commodity market for recyclable goods, Snyder added. Should the market improve to the point that revenue is again generated by processing, the town and Republic Services would meet again and discuss new payment options, she said.

After Tuesday’s presentation, Wall-Lennon asked why Republic Services should expect the town to pay for these costs if the company never shared its profits with the town when markets were favorable.

Joe Dehner, general manager for Republic Services in the Raleigh area, answered that the company has been able to offer lower collection rates to the town by keeping the profits.

With little option, the commissioners told Snyder they would support taking on the new cost.

“While Commissioner Wall-Lennon raised a valid question, I’m not sure what our alternative would be,” Commissioner Anne Reeve later said. “There are only a few companies that are in this type of business. Our staff negotiates these contracts carefully.”

Instead, the town will focus on educating the public on what to recycle and what to throw in the trash, she said.

Residents can access an interactive web application to learn what can and cannot be recycled at and searching “Waste Wizard.”

The town announced Monday that after June 1, it would stop collecting recycling roll out carts that contain plastic bags or wraps. These softer plastics are instead accepted for recycling at many retail locations like grocery stores.

What not to recycle

Don’t bag recyclables, and keep these items out:

• Plastic bags and plastic film

• Batteries and electronic equipment

• Junk mail with stamps or stickers

• Pizza boxes and containers soiled by food

• Scrap metal

• Plastic bottles with oil or hazardous substances

• Styrofoam

• Ceramic

• Clothes

• Diapers