CANTON — Reflecting a national problem, St. Lawrence County’s Solid Waste Department is facing a $127,000 shortfall in its recycling budget because the global market for plastic, paper and other recyclables has plummeted over the past several months.
At their Monday night Finance Committee meeting, county legislators agreed to transfer $127,000 from the county Highway Department’s highway and street equipment account to cover the loss.
“This has become a very difficult year for us with recyclables,” said Highway Superintendent Donald Chambers. “Hopefully, that will be enough for the year, but it’s going to be tight. It depends on what the market does.”
He said the county cost of disposing of recyclables has climbed to about $30,000 a month, compared to between $10,000 and $11,000 that it used to pay.
“This is our problem. The costs have gone considerably up,” he said.
To help cover the shortfall, Mr. Chambers said he decided against purchasing a new tractor that’s included in this year’s budget.
Chester W. “Skip” Bisnett of Casella Waste, explained the situation to county lawmakers. Casella Waste operates at recycling center in Parishville that lost $24,000 in May because of the downturned market.
“China has basically shut its doors to the U.S.A. and anybody in the world that is recycling,” Mr. Bisnett said. “Basically, China was taking about one million tons a year, just from the United States. They shut the border off.”
He said contamination of the recyclables was one reason China closed off recyclables, but Mr. Bisnett said the bigger reason is that China no longer needs to import recyclables.
“They’ve become their own consumer. They are getting a robust economy. As their economy grows, they’re doing exactly what we’re doing. They just don’t need it,” he said. In January 2017, Mr. Bisnett said he was getting $70 a ton for mixed paper and $110 per ton for cardboard. Now, he’s paying $5 per ton to dispose of mixed paper and receiving about $70 for the cardboard.
“We’re trying to find homes for stuff that has no value,” he said. “Last month, I had to shut the county off from bringing material because I simply had no place to put it. We were bursting out the doors.”
Starting Monday, Casella started trucking recyclables to Waste Management, a facility in Liverpool.
He said the state Department of Environmental Conservation won’t allow the recyclables to be disposed of in the landfill with regular solid waste.
“Not that I want to put in a landfill. But there are materials that we’re collecting that make no sense to collect,” he said. “I don’t think we should not recycle, but I think if you have an interim reality you should adjust your thought process.”
Casella has a one-year contract to accept the county’s recyclables.
“If the county can find a way to save money, I have no expectation that they will bring me anything,” Mr. Bisnett said.
In May, he said the company lost $24,000 from its recycling program.
As a result of the downturn, Mr. Bisnett said he’s increased his recycling tip fee to $120 per ton.
Mr. Chambers said the situation has been discussed with officials from the Development Authority of the North Country, which operates a landfill in Rodman, Jefferson County, where St. Lawrence County takes its mixed solid waste.
There have also been discussions with DANC, Jefferson and Lewis county officials about establishing a regional recycling facility in either Jefferson or Lewis County.
“It’s not just a St. Lawrence county or state issue. It’s a global issue and a pretty tough egg to crack,” he said.
County officials have reached out to officials in the Ontario cities of Cornwall and Brockville about taking recyclables, but they don’t appear to be interested, he said.
“Trying to get somebody to take our product at this time is very difficult,” Mr. Chambers said.