TWIN FALLS — Would you be willing to pay more for the city to take your recycling?
Twin Falls contracts with PSI Environmental Services for waste and recycling collection. In years past, recycling has diverted waste from the landfill while saving money. But that hasn’t been the case lately. In 2017, it cost about $40,000 more to recycle 1,846 tons than it would have cost to dump it.
The city’s contractor no longer wants to absorb those costs and is asking Twin Falls to at least share in paying them. But the city runs a tight budget with waste collection, and it would have to pass that cost on to ratepayers.
The City Council on Monday mulled over some options, but members indicated they would like to hear from the public before they vote on a solution. Twin Falls ratepayers can expect to see a few solid options presented at the meeting next week.
The Council recognized that some residents, like the Council members themselves, may have strong opinions on either side of the issue.
“It is so much within our country’s DNA now that I would fight by whatever means — most of them legal — to keep the recycling program going,” Councilman Chris Talkington said. “… I’d just as soon stop breathing as stop recycling.”
But City Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins said she could not justify a cost increase to constituents at this time. Still, some Council members indicated they might favor allowing PSI to dump recycling collections in the landfill when market conditions warrant it.
This month, PSI has paid $136 per ton for recycling. It pays only $36 per ton to dump at the regional landfill.
The market for recycling is volatile, and a lot of that has a lot to do with contamination, PSI Manager Jeff Brewster said. China, which once accepted 50 percent of the world’s recyclables, this year cut back its contamination levels to 0.5 percent. Contamination, he defines, is basically anything that shouldn’t be going into the recycling carts — from grime in soup cans to the wrong kinds of plastic.
Some people put recyclable things in their bins which the city can’t take, like plastics No. 3-7. He calls this “wishful recycling.” But in reality, it ends up costing PSI, and potentially ratepayers, more — and it still gets dumped in a landfill.
“There are certain parts of town where our trucks probably have 10 or 15 percent contamination — and that’s not that uncommon,” Brewster said.
With China no longer accepting U.S. recycling, only a few Asian countries are taking it, and at a significantly lower price. Some recycling companies on the West coast have considered putting their excess in a landfill.
Raising rates would be one option to keep Twin Falls’ recycling program going, at least until the market became less volatile. But rate increases over 5 percent have to go to a public hearing process.
Last year, PSI paid nearly $110,000 for recycling. If the ratepayers absorbed that cost, their monthly bills would go up about 62 cents — that’s more than $7 annually. But costs today are much higher than a year ago, so a proposed rate increase could be, too.
The city could also vote to have an opt-in, opt-out program for recycling, but that could put the burden of recycling costs on only a few ratepayers. The city could also abandon recycling altogether, but “There’s no place to store 14,000 or 15,000 recycle carts,” said Bill Baxter, utility billing supervisor.
Wade Allred, a resident of Twin Falls, suggested PSI Environmental look at other potential partners to see if it could get a better deal on recycling.
Monday, the City Council hopes to see a breakdown of several options to consider — with associated costs. The public will have an opportunity to comment.
“We want your input,” Mayor Shawn Barigar said.
City staff may already begin the process of noticing a public hearing for a rate increase. They could propose the highest possible rate, and that figure could go down later.
In the meantime, Brewster reminds the public that “the cleaner our product is, it’s going to drive down our costs.” PSI accepts clean plastics Nos. 1 and 2, paper, cardboard, tin cans and aluminum cans.
Also at the meeting, the City Council:
- Approved the appointments of Craig Kelley, Jonathon Austin, David Detweiler and Carolyn Bolton to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
- Rejected all bids for the on-site sodium hypochlorite generator project.
- Directed the Traffic Safety Commission to draft proposed amendments to city code regarding the group’s responsibilities.
- Approved a request to purchase a new HP Designjet T1530 with one set of ink cartridges and with a warranty.