October 22, 2021

Concerns over recycling

County haulers, customers prepare for changes

Shenandoah Briere/staff reporter

Cortland County Recycling Coordinator Renee Parks demonstrates how the conveyor will work at the recycling center. The county will take over recycling operations at the 137 Pendleton St. location on Jan. 1. The county said it’s ready, some haulers have said they are ready, but some residents said they haven’t heard anything from their hauler and are surprised by some of the changes coming.

Linda Falter of Highland Road had stopped Wednesday at Aldi in Cortlandville to get some groceries and said she had yet to hear from her hauler, Leach’s Custom Trash Removal, about how it would handle recycling when the county takes over running the recycling center in January.

She didn’t even know what the changes to the program were and was surprised to hear what the county wouldn’t accept.

“We’ve always recycled glass and paper and cardboard, just everything,” Falter said.

Falter, like other residents, isn’t sure what the new arrangement will mean, although some residents got guidance from their haulers early on and municipalities like Homer and the city of Cortland just made decisions on how to handle some of the new guidelines.

But residents are still concerned over the changes, while county officials said they are ready to go.

And not recycling anything at all and tossing recyclables in the trash instead could shorten the longevity of the county landfill.

County to take over recycling

Casella Waste Management will cease handling recyclables at the county recycling facility at 137 Pendleton St. on Dec. 31 when its contract with the county ends, leading the way for the county Highway Department’s Division of Solid Waste to take over. It is something county Highway Supervisor Charlie Sudbrink has been working on all year, with his Deputy Supervisor Trisha Jessett and Recycling Coordinator Renee Parks.

The county decided to take over recycling operations, believing it could do it cheaper than Casella. The cost of getting rid of recyclables has continued to rise after China banned foreign recyclables at the end of 2017, resulting in a lack of options on where to send recyclables.

County officials have said they have the equipment and people in place for the change.

Sudbrink said they have been holding meetings with haulers along the way, updating them on what was happening and what items the county would be accepting once it took over.

The first big notice about what was to be collected was on glass in March. The county initiated voluntary glass separation, but that will change to mandatory separation in January.

What was accepted

• Glass
• Crunchy plastic
• Hard plastic, including 5-gallon pails, toys, kiddy pools, etc
• Oil and antifreeze jugs
• One-time-use containers, like fast food containers
• E-waste recycling.

What will be accepted now

• Glass must be separated from other recyclables, cleaned and discard lids, caps and tops.
• Only plastic (usually hard) containers with lids, caps and tops will be accepted, but the tops must be removed and the container cleaned out.
• Metal containers will be accepted, but the lid must also be removed and the item must be clean and dry.
• Mixed paper will be accepted, but hard covers must be re moved. It must be clean and dry.
• Shredded paper will be accepted in a bag.
• Cardboard must be flattened, clean and dry. No wax coated or food or grease-stained boxes.
• E-waste recycling.

Lid, tops and caps will no longer be accepted because they are small and get stuck in the machines and sometimes will get caught in the cardboard and paper recycling therefore contaminating that recycling, said Recycling Coordinator Renee Parks.

Source: Recycling Coordinator Renee Parks

The county had realized it was shipping glass 73 miles away to Ontario County, which in turn used the glass at its landfill. It’s a process that costs the county around $45 a ton — around $25 per ton of glass for disposal and another $20 for transportation, Sudbrink said.

So, Sudbrink decided people would have to separate their glass out and the county would crush it and use the material at its landfill as daily cover on trash dumped there.

Then, in November, Parks released the final list of recyclable materials the county would accept, eliminating items like caps and lids on all containers and requiring people to better clean out their containers.

It has confused residents in many areas who had no idea what their haulers were going to do or what their municipality wanted done. Of the municipalities in the county, only Homer and Cortland have contracts with haulers — Syracuse Haulers and Bert Adams, respectively.

The Homer Village Board heard on Dec. 16 how Syracuse Haulers would handle recycling in the village, while Bert Adams, working with the city, finalized on Dec. 17 how it would handle recycling and the mandatory glass separation policy.

Sudbrink said the haulers have had time, especially with the glass, to decide how they would handle the changes.

What the city is doing

The city Common Council voted at its Dec. 17 meeting to change its recycling schedule starting Feb. 3. The city will pick up glass for recycling during the first week of every month and collect other non-glass recyclables on the other weeks; recycling pickup days will otherwise remain the same. If residents fail to follow the new recycling rules, the city’s trash hauler will initially put a sticker on the recycling bin that explains the mistake. But following this grace period, the trash hauler will simply not pick up recycling that hasn’t been properly sorted.

For January, however, city residents are asked to either hold on to their glass until the first week of February, or take the separated glass to the county recycling center themselves.

The decision came after city officials said the county didn’t inform them soon enough about the recycling changes, especially regarding separated glass, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to coordinate with the city’s trash hauler and also inform city residents about the changes before the Jan. 1 deadline.

City officials are justified in being upset over the short notice of the changes, including the separation of glass, said Frank Kelly, the former chairman of the city Environmental Advisory Committee and current board member of the county Environmental Improvement Committee.

“I read more than one article in the Cortland Standard that provided useful information, but of course, not everyone reads the paper,” Kelly said.

City officials have also worked with county officials to send fliers to city residents informing them of the change, but those fliers will not be mailed until Monday, according to Sudbrink. Sudbrink said he received the information for the fliers from Mayor Brian Tobin on Thursday.

Is Cortland ready? City resident Cheryl Jones said she was unaware of any shift in recycling rules.

“No, I don’t know what the changes are,” said Jones, who does not subscribe to the Cortland Standard.

What Homer village is doing

Rocco Grosso, president of Syracuse Haulers, and Kevin Beverine, a sales manager with Syracuse Haulers, spoke to the Homer Village Board during a special meeting on Dec. 16 and told them that a notice on how they would collect recyclables would be sent out when the village sends out its next water bills.

“This is a speed bump, but as Rocco and I have been on ‘Rocco’s and Kevin’s excellent tour’ the last couple of days talking to different municipalities around the area, this is nothing new,” said Beverine. “In the world of recycling, glass was never really worth anything. It’s a conversation we’re having with pretty much everybody all over the place.”

The company had previously brought recyclables to a materials recycling facility in Syracuse, but will now take the recycling to the county’s facility. The other big change is the company won’t collect any glass — instead, the village board is telling its residents to toss the glass in the trash unless they want to drive it over to the county facility.

The company is also switching to using automated trucks that are split to pick up both trash and recycling.

The most important thing, Beverine and Rocco said, is to keep educating people on the changes. However, despite the education efforts, people will still throw items into the recycling that cannot be recycled.

“What we’d like to do is give it a month,” Rocco said, after which they would update the board on how things are going.

How other haulers are preparing

Sudbrink said the county also began meeting in August with haulers on the other changes coming to recycling.

“They have all known, including the city of Cortland, that this is coming,” he said.

He said the county made thousands of fliers about recycling available to the haulers when they dropped off trash at the landfill.

“If the haulers aren’t telling their customers how they will pick up recycling in the future, shame on them,” he said. “It hasn’t been a secret we’ve been having meetings. The haulers have to step up and tell their customers what they want as well.”

Sudbrink said he knows that Cortland Sanitation, which provides services throughout the county, sent fliers out with customers’ bills.

“Cortland Sanitation has done a great job educating their customers,” he said.

Dave Spoor, the route manager for Elite Services of Tully, said in November the company was ready for the change for its 2,000 Cortland County customers.

“We’re all set up for separating,” he said. “We actually put a letter together for our customers that glass has to be separated for Cortland County. Change is a little bit hard for everyone in the beginning and it’s something that will just have to be worked on.”

In Virgil, residents are getting help at their transfer station from Bo Nelson, who runs the site. He has been helping people understand the new changes and even has a go to saying he uses: “Crunchy is garbage, squeezable is recyclable.”

Residents there said they will be OK when it comes to the new adjustment, particularly because they have Nelson to help them along the way.

“Bo makes it clear,” Judy Jackson had said. “Every time I come, he helps me.”

But not every municipality has a transfer station or someone to help them through the process, leaving some concerned with how it will all work out.

If recycling stops

China stopped taking recycling from other countries in 2017 after being cited for how contaminated it was.

“It goes to Vietnam, it goes to Indonesia, it goes to India, well, guess what, they cannot absorb anywhere near the volume China was taking,” Beverine said.

Because of that, the cost of recycling has gone up over the years, costing counties to get rid of the items rather than making counties money.

There is a loophole in the state law requiring counties to recycle that would enable a county to temporarily cease recycling operations if the operation was costing the county, according to Kelly. However, if everyone started tossing their recycling into the trash, it could create problems for the county’s landfill.

Kelly said in an email that people would end up dumping many materials at the landfill that are not biodegradable and “also reduces the projected useful lifespan of these landfills (a definite issues for Cortland County), thereby generating even more expense.”

The tipping fee at the landfill is $80 a ton.

“Less material repurposed — therefore more waste and presumably more alternative materials required,” Kelly said.

Kelly offered a few ideas to help alleviate the issues that arise with recycling. He is for elimination of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and food markets.

“Consumers may initially balk at this change but it has worked in other parts of this country and Europe (as my wife and I observed on a trip to Germany this time last year),” he said.

He also suggests promoting more composting of food waste and yard waste or the creation of food diversion programs, so foodstuff isn’t landing up in the recycling center or landfill, but rather someone else’s hands to be used.

“I think any effective longrange solution has to include drastic reductions in the trash stream at the point of origin but that’s a heavy lift,” he said.

— Staff Reporter Travis Dunn contributed to this report.