Puyallup Herald

Here's why your garbage bill might increase next month

Workers, including Chris Passey (left, foreground) sort through recyclables on the cardboard line at a Western Recycling plant in Boise. A Chinese ban on paper and low-grade plastics has raised the possibility of installing optical sorters at the Boise plant and others like it across the western United States to more effectively clean contaminants out of recycling streams.
Workers, including Chris Passey (left, foreground) sort through recyclables on the cardboard line at a Western Recycling plant in Boise. A Chinese ban on paper and low-grade plastics has raised the possibility of installing optical sorters at the Boise plant and others like it across the western United States to more effectively clean contaminants out of recycling streams. Idaho Statesman file photo

Starting July 1, residents of Puyallup, Sumner, Bonney Lake and surrounding areas will see a slight increase in their garbage bills.

It’s not the garbage that’s the problem — it’s the recycling.

Effective January 2018, China implemented strict contamination standards that prevents the United States from exporting recycled materials to the country.

Previously, China was the largest consumer of recycled materials from the United States, taking in 80 percent of the material.

That means it now costs waste management companies $95 per ton to process recycled materials, just over half of what it costs to take material to a landfill. Before, companies like DM Disposal were being paid $39 per ton for recycled material.

DM Disposal district manager Josh Metcalf visited local city councils last month to address the issue.

“In order to recover the unforeseen cost with collecting recycling … we’re requesting an 8.5-percent increase,” Metcalf said at the Puyallup City Council meeting on May 22.

For the average residential customer, that means an increase of about $2.17 per month with the most popular service (32-gallon weekly). For commercial customers, that’s an increase of about $11.83 per month.

In Sumner, the fee change for the most popular residential service is $2.28 per month. Commercial service is open market in Sumner and not under contract with DM Disposal, so fee change varies.

In Bonney Lake, the fee change for the most popular residential service is $2.13 per month. The change for the most popular commercial service is is $11.79 per month.

Why did China stop taking recycling from the United States? Ultimately, it was the recyclers’ doing by recycling contaminated materials.

“A great example would be a pizza box,” Metcalf said. “Looks like cardboard, smells like cardboard. Well, the cheese and oils make it not cardboard as far as processors go. That’s actually a form of contamination for recycling.

“Recent studies have shown that the average recycle cart placed out at the curb contains somewhere between 10 and 15 percent contamination.”

When China changed its regulations, only 0.5-percent contamination was acceptable.

“There’s no process in the world that can produce material that clean,” Metcalf said.

The change was unforeseen to waste management companies, he added.

“The West Coast is hit the hardest,” Metcalf said. “Historically, the West Coast has had the most matured (recycling) programs. No one saw this going negative, and not only going negative, but going three times negative what the positive value was this time one year ago.”

Recycling programs are now at stake. If they no longer remain viable — if there’s no longer a market — recycled materials become trash.

DM Disposal is continuing education when it comes to recycling. A Murreys Disposal phone app will remind residents when they’re next garbage collection day is. Its “Recycle Right” function tells users what items can and cannot be recycled.

“This is one small example of the things we’re doing, some messaging we’re looking to get out,” Metcalf said. “Is it going to fix the problem right away, short term? No, it’s not. But our approach is going to be that intentional partnership whenever and wherever we can."

Allison Needles: 253-597-8507, @herald_allison
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