Blaine County will resume a pared-back form of paper recycling on April 1, ending more than a year of dumping the stagnant stream into the landfill.

On Monday, March 25, the county announced that it will restore recycling of newspaper, printer paper and copy paper.

“Restricting paper recycling to newspaper and printer/copy paper will ensure that we can achieve the highest level of purity,” County Outreach and Education Specialist Colleen Clark said in a news release. Bins of contaminated or mixed paper will not be picked up, the release said.

That’s important, because too much contamination could spoil the deal.

Following policy changes by the Chinese government effectively closing off its market to U.S. imports, the value of mixed paper has fallen to zero—literally—in the past year, down from a peak of around $100 per ton, according to a report delivered to the county commissioners earlier this month. Any buyers that remain can afford to be discerning. The county’s agreement with Hamilton Manufacturing in Twin Falls is predicated on delivering an uncontaminated product, according to Commissioner Angenie McCleary.

“This is the negotiation we came to, to meet the purity level they want,” she told the Idaho Mountain Express. “If we’re unsuccessful, we could be back to not recycling paper.”

Hamilton, which makes insulation, hydromulch and dust-control products from paper, requires a clean product—and will pay $65 per ton for it, “if it is pure enough,” according to county Administrative Services Manager Mandy Pomeroy.

“If the contamination level is too high, we will not receive any payment, but rather a bill for the freight charges,” Pomeroy said. “This will be our mixed-paper recycling program for now, and we will see how it goes.”

Previously, Blaine County’s mixed-paper stream was around 5 percent contaminated with non-recyclable material, Pomeroy told the commissioners in early March.

On March 8 last year, the 1,500-pound bales of recycled paper began stacking up at the Blaine County Recycling Center in Ohio Gulch. Faced with a full facility—and no outlet available—the county in May began putting the paper in the landfill.

But, wary of breaking old habits, it still collected paper as a separate stream—around 30 tons of the stuff each month. The sheer volume of paper residents continued to sort after the program was cut gives recycling center Supervisor Lamar Waters reason to believe the new version could take.

“It’s pretty crazy how much we still get,” Waters said on March 5. “The public knows that the paper is going to the landfill anyway, but they still want to make it happen. That’s a good pat on the back for the valley.”

Restoring a market for paper could bring a much-needed boost for the recycling program, which saw volume fall and losses grow in fiscal 2018, according to a report by Administrative Services Specialist Esmerelda Palomera.

The center, which is funded by a percentage of solid-waste tipping fees and all revenue from material sales, lost about $24,000 last year, mostly due to difficulties in the commodities market.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Hadley DeBree, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum, said of the new guidelines. “Of course, I want to see as much as possible recycled. But it has to be clean and usable for that to happen.”

For DeBree, a better option is to keep paper out of the bin entirely.

“It’s such a Band-Aid, really,” she said of recycling programs. “Reduction is the most important thing we can do. If there’s a positive takeaway from the past year, it’s that it gave us an opportunity to step back and think about how to reduce what we use.”

In the meantime, Blaine County will continue to seek out alternative recycling options, Clark said.

To learn more about what can and cannot be recycled under the new rules, call county staff at (208) 788-5574.

“I’m happy we have some option,” McCleary said. “The whole recycling market right now is so precarious. The situation’s volatile, but I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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