What’s Happening at the Transfer Station – July 2019
Recycling markets have been struggling over the past few years since China implemented the “National Sword” policy – no longer accepting foreign “garbage” for recycling. Because Teton County has always selected domestic end destinations, it managed to find reasonably remunerative markets for our recyclables.
Teton County’s recycling program has been in better shape than most of the nation. In 2018, our County reached the goal of a 34% diversion rate, matching the national rate – a goal we hoped to achieve by 2020. That’s up from 13% in 2011 when the Recycling Center was officially opened – an increase of 21% in seven years! Our community clearly cares about recycling.
At present, the current glut in domestic recyclables as well as the limited number of processing plants have resulted in plummeting prices for all recyclables. For example, cardboard the County sold for $80/ton in 2017 is now priced at minus $5/ton – meaning the County had to pay someone to take the cardboard to recycle and this was the best price the County could find. Mixed paper prices have also dropped from $110/ton to $5/ton in that same timeframe. In June this year,Teton County almost had to send 70 bales (58 tons) of mixed paper to the landfill but were able to find a buyer at the last minute. To date,Teton County Idaho has only had to landfill one bale of paper due to excessive moisture, but even that is a sad thing when you calculate the processing cost that went into collecting, cleaning, and baling the product for recycling.
A Commitment to Waste Diversion
In 2014, Teton County, Idaho adopted a Comprehensive Waste Diversion Plan, a living document that guides the County, the waste hauler (RAD), and TVCR towards the most sensible approach to managing waste. The Plan’s ultimate goal is to maximize waste diversion without breaking the bank. In spite of the above-mentioned set-backs, our Solid Waste Department/Transfer Station is committed to diverting as much waste from the landfill whenever possible and making recycling work through these tough and unpredictable times.
To get cleaner, more marketable recyclable products, the Transfer Station is adopting more stringent contamination guidelines by moving away from mixed materials to more source separation, e.g., separating #1 and #2 plastic bottles, separating our newspaper to get a better price, etc. In addition, they’ve improved signage for all of the diverted material piles such as scrap metal. They’ve done a thorough analysis of the processing costs for each material, analyzed existing fees, and looked at what other counties are doing. In addition, they’re also examining the impact of waste generated from outside of county that is dumped at our Transfer Station.
Teton County’s Board of County Commissioners recently examined an analysis of operating costs at the Transfer Station and found that 78% of all loads coming to through the scale house paid zero to five dollars (a total of almost 29,000 vehicles). The good news is this means that lots of people are diverting their waste; the bad news is that without increased fees or taxes, this is not a viable business model. Therefore, the Commissioners are currently taking a critical look at all the collected data to determine what adjustments need to be made in the 2020 budget to cover the costs of solid waste management while still incentivizing waste diversion and recycling.
Increased sorting = Cleaner product = Greater likelihood of closing the loop
As it continues to work out the kinks of the new sorting process, the Solid Waste Department hasn’t made an official announcement of any changes at the Transfer Station. While they try to make space on the back end of the operation to store additional piles of sorted material, the public collection bins have been modified to get people used to sorting their materials. Mixed paper is still a bit of an unknown as it is very difficult to sell and different processing mills have different requirements. One thing we do know for sure is that glossy paper (including magazines, catalogs, and some junk mail) and books (including phone books) are not being recycled in Teton County; they are going to the landfill. Smaller bins to remove these contaminants from the paper collection were placed at the recycling center in November 2018. Since there’s no room to keep these materials dry and marketable on site, the only option for the County is to landfill them. If you can, we suggest you bring these items to our larger neighboring cities who have more storage capacity to manage these materials including Rexburg, Idaho Falls, and any of the Jackson, Wyoming recycling bins.
Junk: If in doubt, throw it out
Not everything can or should be recycled from our small mountain town. Low-grade products such as plastics #3-#7, gray board (e.g., cereal boxes), and plastics that are not #1 or #2 bottle shape (only the bottles have domestic recycling value) have small collection bins at the Transfer Station, but they are not recycled – they go directly to the landfill. The bins are there to prevent contamination of marketable recyclable products. Even if you have seen other places collect a certain item, if a facility says that they can’t recycle it, believe them! Location, population size, end destination, freight costs, and contamination all play into the equation made by every recycling center.
One heartening trend we’re seeing in Teton Valley is the commitment from so many businesses and non-profits to reduce their overall waste, from the Beer Cup rental program at Music on Main to the large number of local eateries that have switched to cardboard to-go containers instead of Styrofoam. Local builders are showing increasing interest in taking the time to sort their construction waste and divert it from the landfill – at a big cost savings. And our backyard compost program to reduce the amount of food waste going to the landfill saw a huge amount of interest with over 50 new backyard composters being installed this spring. The resale/reuse market is thriving in the valley through amazing thrift stores, on-line garage sale sties, and the local hand-me-down culture.
Teton Valley is doing it right, and while times might be tough in the world of recycling, together we can learn and overcome the challenges. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. We are always happy to answer your questions and research information we may not know. Please stay tuned to the TVCR e-newsletter or the Teton Valley News for the official Teton County roll-out of new recycling sorting requirements. And if you love to hear breaking local, national, and international recycling and waste reduction news, follow us on Facebook (teton valley community recycling) or Instagram (tetonrecycling).