October 28, 2021

Costs cause county to trash recycling for now

Recycling stock image

Cortland County residents should still recycle, but material outside the city of Cortland will be dumped into the county landfill for a while, said Highway Superintendent Charlie Sudbrink.

“We don’t want to change the message at all,” Sudbrink said Tuesday. “Haulers will continue to bring it to the recycling center.”

The decision follows a fire early in January at a Taylor garbage facility in Tioga County that accepted the county’s recyclables. It destroyed the facility. The county then contracted with Bert Adams Disposal’s material recycling facility in Binghamton to fill the gap.

However, that arrangement won’t be happening for now.

“Bert Adams shut us off for three to four weeks,” Sudbrink said. “He’s at full capacity. Bert Adams is going to continue to take our recyclables when he can. That’s why we want residents to continue recycling.”

Bert Adams could accept a load here or there though until more space is provided, except for the recycling from city residents, which the hauler had already agreed to accept because it has a contract with the city of Cortland.

A month could pass before everything is figured out, Sudbrink said.

The county got permission from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to temporarily trash the recycling taken to the recycling center while it figures out how to handle the costs to take care of the material, according to a news release from the county.

It would have been around $200 a ton to take the material to either Casella Waste System or Waste Management, also known as Recycle America, once transportation, fuel and time were factored in.

The county takes in just under 4,000 tons of recycles material annually or $800,000 a year at that cost.

“It wasn’t economically feasible,” Sudbrink said.

The county took over operation of the recycling facility Jan. 1 after ending its contract with Casella, following a study by Jim Zecca, the retired Madison County director of solid waste and recycling. Zecca said it would be more economical if the county took over operations. The county had originally contracted with Taylor Garbage Service to send the materials to its facility to be taken care of, but a Jan. 3 fire at the facility caused the county to switch gears.

Sudbrink said that facility is expected to be operational again in August.

Tossing the material into the landfill is expected to have little effect on the landfill’s lifespan, Sudbrink said, noting the compaction process has gotten better over the years.

“Landfilling is the last resort,” he said. “We don’t want the public to back away from recycling. We need to weather the storm, but we need to do it without hurting taxpayers.”

Until the county figures out how to handle the recycled material, Sudbrink said he’s meeting Wednesday with DEC officials to see if they state can help the county compost fiber materials, such as paper.

“We don’t want to give up on recycling,” Sudbrink said. “Right now, the markets are terrible and it’s a horrible situation with the MRF (material recycling facility) burning down.”

Sudbrink is encouraging people to buy items in re-usable packaging, instead of single-use containers and plastics, in turn reducing the material sent to the landfill.

“Washington and Albany need to begin addressing this crisis,” Sudbrink said in the release. “Recycling starts with the manufacturer and consumers at the point of purchase, we need to collectively look at ways we can reduce the volume of material produced while the commodities market catches up with the new reality.”