Mayor’s Message: the challenge of maintaining our recycling program

If you’re old enough, like me, then you have learned to automatically adopt certain habits, such as always wearing a seatbelt in the car, silencing your cell phone in the movie theater, and separating your garbage from your recycling.

But that recycling habit is becoming a lot less virtuous.

There has been a lot of news coverage about the precipitous drop in the recycled materials markets, but in case you missed it here’s the gist: for years, the stuff you put in those big blue bins was sold and shipped overseas, mainly to China. But last year China stopped taking plastics, mixed paper and other materials from the United States. The market for our empty orange juice bottles, newspapers and cat food containers (well, there’s a glimpse of what’s in my can) suddenly dried up.

It doesn’t take an economics degree to understand what happens when there’s no market for certain goods. Recycling programs in cities across the country are bleeding red ink. Some cities are limiting what items they’ll accept.

Our friends at the City of Tacoma are asking their customers for feedback on some drastic options that range from eliminating curbside recycling to maintaining full services and raising rates $4 a month.

At the moment, there are no changes to the recycling program in Fircrest. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an impact.

While the City of Tacoma operates its own garbage and recycling service, the City of Fircrest has a multi-year contract for those services with University Place-based Westside Disposal.

Westside Disposal used to offset some of its operational costs by earning an average of $26,421 a year in revenue from selling its recycled commodities. However, last year the company had to pay $32,307 to the recycling plant.

Earlier this year, the company asked the Fircrest City Council for permission to add a 2.57% surcharge to monthly bills for one year in order to recoup those losses. That would have added 81 cents to the most popular service (64-gallon bin).

It doesn’t sound like much, but Councilmembers wrestled with the principle of it because that’s why we have a contract — to protect you against fluctuations in rates.

For now, the City Council decided to decline the company’s request. This is a global problem that affects a company that has provided outstanding and efficient service to our residents for many years. Let me know what you think by emailing me at hgeorge@cityoffircrest.net.

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