December 5, 2021

Recycling budget deficit piles up

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Sue Gilliland drops off her recycling Friday at the recyling depot on Pendleton Street in Cortland.

With 90 percent of Cortland County’s recycling budget already spent this year, the Legislature has voted to transfer $20,000 from another account to cover July’s recycling costs.

Next month, Legislature Chairman Charles Sudbrink (R-Cincinnatus, Freetown, Taylor, Willet) confirmed the county will revisit the issue again to avoid a potential $200,000 deficit by the end of the year.

The problem stems from China’s ban on foreign recyclables at the end of 2017, causing an increase to the cost of recycling and a lack of options on where to send recyclables.

“It’s a losing proposition,” said Legislator Ann Homer (R-Cortland).

Solid Waste Committee Chairman Donnell Boyden (R-Homer, Preble, Scott) had said at the moment there is no market for recyclables.

The county budgeted more than $220,000 for recycling this year, and by the end of June had spent close to $200,000. To help pay for July, the Legislature unanimously approved last week taking $20,000 from its e-waste fund — an expense the county can afford to do as e-waste has funds to spare, according to Legislature Clerk Eric Mulvihill.

In January, the county paid $28,562 for recycling. By June the price rose to $40,091. The average monthly cost for single stream recycling for 2018 is $33,289.

The Legislature will seek ideas on how to further cut into the potential $200,000 deficit. One idea suggested during this month’s Solid Waste Committee meeting was increasing the county landfill tipping fee, but there was no further discussion of it.

In Cortland County, and nationwide, recycling streams need to be cleaned up if China is ever going to take it again, Boyden said. Mulvihill had given an example of instead of just recycling a pizza box, the grease stain part of the box must be cut off.

Recycling contamination rates — the cleanliness of a recyclable, such as how much ketchup is left in a ketchup bottle — are changing from 3 percent to 0.3 percent for when China starts accepting recyclables again, John Gale of Casella Waste Management, which operates the county’s recycling center, said last year.

“It is important that what we process is clean,” Gale had said. “Post-consumer material is going to have to be a lot cleaner than it has been in the past.”

Best recycling practice

What to recycle:
• Corrugated cardboard
• Boxboard
• Junk mail, periodicals and office paper
• Plastic containers (Nos. 1-7, 5-gallon pails)
• Metal and food cans (aluminum, tin, foil)
• Glass bottles

What not to recycle:
• Plastic bags or bagged recycling
• Coated paper
• Disposable items (napkins, paper towels, tissues)
• Toys, hangers, clothes or shoes
• Wood or waste (rope, food, diapers)
• Plastic wrap, films or tarps
• Ceramics, pots, pans or baking glass
• Hazardous materials
• Medical waste
• Rubber or scrap metal
• Electronics, batteries or bulbs

What to remember:
• No items smaller than 2 inches
• All containers are empty, rinsed and dry
• Cardboard is flattened and broken down

Source: Casella Waste Management

Casella has made fliers, which can be found at the county’s recycling center, stating what should be recycled and what should not.

In Cortland County, some recyclables may need to be pulled out of the single stream, Boyden said.

“The new mantra is starting to shift toward, ‘when in doubt, throw it out,’ because you’re causing us more problems on the backside of it trying to weed this stuff out,” Mulvihill has said.