TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls City Council says it will not raise waste removal rates again this fiscal year, even if that means it’ll have to send recycling to the landfill this summer.
The city will continue to pay up to $175 per ton to send recycling to sorting plants in the region. But as recycling costs are projected to exceed that cap, the Council said Feb. 19 it was willing to accept sending the recycling to the landfill when costs are too high.
“I think $175 is as high as I’m willing to go,” said Councilman Greg Lanting.
PSI Environmental Systems, the city’s waste removal contractor, believes it can play the market a bit and keep the costs at $175 per ton for a few months, a company representative said. But the Council also noted the larger issue of homeowner education when at least 30 percent of what goes into recycling carts is not recyclable — and still ends up in a landfill somewhere.
The city has considered some alternatives, such as an orange bag program used in the Treasure Valley that sends plastics to be converted into petroleum. But even that project has high costs, and the company using those plastics now has a backlog, Utility Billing Supervisor Bill Baxter said. He also noted that Twin Falls could opt to stop accepting plastics in its recycling altogether. Currently, only plastics with recycling numbers 1 and 2 are accepted.
“Plastics, I think, are a hard sell,” Baxter said.
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The recycling market has been in flux since late 2017 when China began restricting what it would take in from other countries, due to contamination. The country has purchased some paper recycling plants in the U.S., but those aren’t expected to be online for at least a couple of years.
The City Council has already raised utility rates twice in the past year; first when it agreed to pay up to $100 per ton in April 2018 — and then later increasing that cap to $175 per ton in October 2018. Anything exceeding that amount goes into the landfill or requires another rate increase because the city’s utilities are self-sustaining funds.
Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins said she thinks homeowner education needs to focus now on encouraging people to reduce how much plastic they use.
“That ‘reduce’ is a steep hill, but it is one that needs to be climbed,” Baxter said.
The City Council expects to hear an update on recycling later this year, possibly in the fall, to have a clearer picture of the market. In the meantime, Council members said they were unwilling to consider a mid-year rate increase.