Over the past year, Blaine County’s recycling rate has dropped for every material but cardboard. The biggest decrease was in plastic recycling, which plunged by 41 percent.
During a presentation to the Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday, county Director of Operations Char Nelson said total recycling tonnage had decreased from 1,591 tons in fiscal year 2012 to 1,548 tons in fiscal year 2013. The drop would have been much more precipitous without recycling of cardboard, which made up 1,000 of those tons this year and rose by 61 tons.
The decline followed a 14 percent increase in recycling tonnage between 2011—the year the county took over the program from Southern Idaho Solid Waste District—and 2012.
Nelson said she didn’t know the reason for the decline. She said the rise in cardboard recycling was probably due to more participation by businesses.
Recycling of aluminum dropped by 27 percent, paper by 10 percent and steel cans by 12 percent. Collection of glass dropped by 39 percent. Glass isn’t actually recycled but by being separated can be kept at the Ohio Gulch facility rather than trucked out of the county, which saves the county money.
The drop in recycling can’t be explained by a decrease in trash in general. According to figures supplied by Southern Idaho Solid Waste District, Blaine County’s trash collection between fiscal 2012 and 2013 dropped by only about 1 percent, from 23,920 tons in fiscal 2012 to 23,687 tons in fiscal 2013.
Nelson said revenue from sales of recycled materials dropped from $181,773 in fiscal 2012 to $166,371 in 2013. The drop was due both to the decrease in volume and a decrease in prices. Industry analysts attribute much of the price drop to stricter purity standards imposed on recycled materials by China, which buys a lot of the U.S. recycling output but is now buying less.
Nelson said that despite the decline in revenue, the county’s recycling program remains financially healthy, with a reserve of $162,000. She said the county still receives a reasonable rate for its recycled products because they are separated. She pointed out that the city of Boise, which has single-stream recycling, has to pay $15 per ton to have its materials hauled away.
The Blaine County recycling program is subsidized by a $5 fee included in the $65-per-ton tipping fee imposed on trash haulers at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station. In fiscal 2013, the fee collections brought $138,000 to the program.
Nelson said that without recycling, the tipping fee would be much higher. She said the county would have to collect an additional $133,000 due to the loss in sales of recycled materials and to a need to dispose of more trash. She said a fee increase would be passed on to residents by the trash haulers.
Nelson said workers at Ohio Gulch remove about 2.2 tons of trash every month from recycled materials. She said the public needs to be better educated on what items can and cannot be recycled, and to follow the adage, “When in doubt, throw it out.” Information on local recycling can be found at the website 5Brecycles.org.
Nelson said the recycling program’s environmental benefits include the resources saved from not having to produce products from scratch and the fewer greenhouse-gas emissions that result from not having to haul trash to the Milner Butte Landfill near Burley. Instead, recycled materials are taken on the return trip to Boise by trucks that deliver products to stores in the Wood River Valley.
“Blaine County cares a great deal about getting it out of the waste stream,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said.
Nelson said that in 2014, the recycling program’s outreach effort will focus on school presentations and on providing information to residents in multi-unit dwellings.