Recycling could be suspended

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, December 19, 2019

Due to increased costs amid changes in the international recycling market, Suffolk plans to suspend its recycling service Feb. 1 if it cannot find an alternative to its current program.

Public Works Director L.J. Hansen briefed City Council on the city’s recycling efforts during its work session Wednesday.

He and City Manager Patrick Roberts told council that the latest five-year contract with Tidewater Fibre Corporation, the Chesapeake-based company currently servicing the city’s recycling needs, ended in October and has been extended twice.

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However, Roberts said that there has been, as yet, no further extension, and without that or a recycling alternative, the program will be suspended when the current extension ends Jan. 31.

“We were going to study some alternatives to see what we could do to keep the program going,” Roberts said. “And TFC allowed us a 90-day extension, but they gave us a cost increase at the same time, because they can’t operate at a loss, and we don’t expect them to.”

The city is paying for that cost increase out of reserves in the city’s refuse fund, and now is having to go into one-time funds to pay for additional costs.

Should the program lapse without a short- or long-term recycling deal in in place, city refuse trucks would begin collecting blue cans that are placed on the street and delivering them to SPSA for it to handle, Hansen said. The city also has plans to increase the number of recycling events, identify possible sites for convenience centers and develop a list of other resources.

“One thing that we had planned, and you’re aware, we have two recycling events a year,” Hansen said. “We had already planned to increase that to three recycling events. We’re going to try and increase that number even higher — four or higher.”

Hansen said when the city had convenience centers previously, it had mixed success, with some dumping issues. If the city went that route, he said the city would put them in places where it could have monitors.

Roberts, however, is open to continuing the city’s relationship with TFC — with a caveat.

“If TFC is interested in another extension to get us through the budget discussion,” Roberts said, “the city would be very open to extending it further on a temporary basis.”

Hansen said other Hampton Roads localities are in a similar situation with their recycling programs.

The city had issued a request for proposals prior to the original expiration date of Oct. 6. However, only TFC responded. The company has been servicing Suffolk for 10 years under five-year contracts.

The company’s next five-year contract price came in at 60 percent more than what the city had been paying previously, with unknown escalators in price, and additional measures to deal with contamination issues that the city feared would not work well, according to Hansen.

He said it would have also led to calls for non-service and re-routing trucks, and possibly the city, TFC or both having to hiring more inspectors.

“We’re really just unable to determine whether or not the program was being effective,” Hansen said. ”We’re not actually sure how much of that material is being recycled.”

To extend the contract the first time, TFC imposed a surcharge of $95 per ton of recycling per month, and when it was extended through Jan. 31, the surcharge went up to $110 per ton.  Hansen said the city usually accumulates between 400 and 550 tons of recycling per month.

As a result, costs for residents to recycle and have curbside trash pickup would have increased.

Roberts said the city needs to hear from residents on what it wants in a recycling program, and whether they would be willing to pay more for it.

“If there’s widespread support for that, we have one vendor who’s willing to serve us,” Roberts said.

However, the city is in the process of putting together another request to explore all other potential options and is hoping to advertise it by the end of this year. Roberts said he hopes to have some options to discuss with council by the end of January, with the goal of providing council in April with an option, or options, on how the city wants to continue to recycle for the next several years and what it would cost to do it.

Roberts and Hansen said if a company wants to operate a subscription-based service, or a community-based service, the city would be open to those options.

“It may be curbside recycling, it may be city-wide recycling, it may be subscription-based, like we had years ago,” Roberts said, “and maybe some blend of curbside in the dense areas and the convenience centers in the lesser-dense areas. It may be a combination of all of that.”

Roberts also said that while the cost is a concern, an equal challenge is getting residents to put proper recyclables into the blue container — and not things such as garbage, hazardous waste, yard clippings and other trash — which he said makes the program non-viable.

One resident putting non-recyclables into the blue container, Roberts said, means the load has to go to the Southeastern Public Service Authority for disposal rather than be recycled by TFC.

Roberts said the city is trying to figure out what kind of enforcement mechanism it could use to ensure people put only recyclables into the blue containers.

“We want to encourage everyone to continue to pay attention to what you’re recycling, and continue to use the service through the Jan. 31 date,” Roberts said.