China has become more selective about the amount of wastepaper and other items the country will accept in its scrap material shipments.
As a result, said Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells, municipal recycling programs across the state are taking a big hit from China’s new policy, which took effect Jan. 1.
Industry officials say they expect the cost of disposing of recycled materials to rise, possibly dramatically, according to a Jan. 25 CommonWealth Magazine article.
“We went from paying nothing to paying $110 a ton last month,” Ells said Feb. 12. “It’s significant, and it’s impacting every municipality in the state.”
“China is adopting a higher quality recyclable product,” explained Joe Ferson of the state's Department of Environmental Protection's Public Affairs Office.
Recycling prices typically are in flux, Ferson said; however, China’s stricter standards are causing a backlog in processing.
Newspaper, office paper, cardboard, glass bottles, metal cans, scrap metal, and plastic bottles and jugs account for about 60 percent of the nation's solid waste stream, according to the U.S. EPA. These items are the most common materials targeted for recycling in Massachusetts.
Barnstable has sorted its recyclable materials for many decades, Ells said.
“Single-stream in recent years made sense at the time," Ells said. Now, "the vendor we’re working with is trying to scramble to get permits for assorted (recyclables). The whole market has really collapsed. Fortunately in Barnstable, we can go back to assorted product.”
However, as it stands now, no one is really sure what will come next.
“If there’s no market, where is it going?” Ells asked rhetorically. “Is it trash?”
About half -- or 12,661 of Barnstable’s 23,725 households -- were served by the town’s drop-off recycling program, and 8,785 were served by the municipal trash program, based on 2016 stats complied by Barnstable Transfer Station and Recycling Division Supervisor P.J. Kelliher.
Single-stream recycling accounted for 1,960 tons of residents’ 8,200-ton trash total in 2016.
For the first time in two years, residential stickers for the town’s Solid Waste Division are slated to increase $10, or 4½ percent, in FY 2019, from $240 to $250 per year.
“We are effectively operating a business, and we charge rates and fees to cover the cost of expenses,” DPW Director Dan Santos told a public fee hearing Feb. 13 at Town Hall.
“This year, we just received word that our cost of recycling is increasing significantly," Santos said. "We want to have adequate cash reserves on hand to manage that eventuality.”
If approved, the fee hike would take effect July 1. All proposed FY 2019 fee changes are online on the town's website: www.townofbarnstable.us.