PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Platteville residents soon will see increased user fees as a local waste and recycling collection company continues to cope with a glutted market.
The scenario is one faced by municipalities across the United States as countries, such as China, that have long imported America’s scrap increase quality standards or simply ban the importation of certain materials.
But Ed Faherty, co-owner of Faherty Inc., a collection company that serves three southwestern Wisconsin counties, does not blame the market so much as the source.
“What it really boils down to is us. … Our contamination rates are horrible,” he said. “Processors are dealing with really low-quality stuff coming in, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
The U.S., which is a top producer of many scrap commodities like paper and plastics, shipped about 85 million metric tons to China from 2013 through 2017, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
But Chinese officials announced to the World Trade Organization in 2017 that the country was banning plastic waste from living sources, vanadium slag, unsorted waste paper and waste textile materials.
The contamination problem stems from poor or uninformed recycling habits.
“Most people at home go, ‘Well this piece of material has some plastic and some cardboard. It’s glued together, but it’s plastic and cardboard. It should be recyclable,’” Faherty said. “It’s not.”
Now high waste-generating countries are experiencing a backlog of recyclables. Even domestic end-users in the U.S. have turned material away, and the net value of recyclables has plummeted into the negative digits.
From about 2017 to 2018, Faherty saw his profits dip from $6 per ton to a loss of $33. Faherty expects to lose about $29,000 annually by continuing to collect the 750 tons of recyclable material Platteville generates per year.
Platteville Public Works Director Howard Crofoot agreed that a rate increase is fair, noting that the city’s recycling contract with the company was established with the understanding that Faherty Inc. would keep recycling costs low by selling materials as partial compensation for the cost of service.
In light of the new developments, the Platteville Common Council recently increased rates by $9 beginning in 2020.
Dubuque has likewise experienced cost increases.
City crews collect residents’ recyclables and transport them to Dittmer Recycling Inc., of Dubuque.
From the 2017-18 fiscal year to 2019-20, the city’s annual recycling costs increased nearly 300% to $60,943.
“It aligns with what we’re seeing nationally with the market for recyclables,” said Anderson Sainci, Dubuque’s resources management coordinator.
Dittmer Recycling markets the material for sale and if it sees a profit, the city receives a cut, Sainci said.
Company owner Scott Dittmer could not be reached for comment.
Faherty will have to consider additional fee increases if collection costs continue to rise.
A Platteville citizens committee also will convene and is charged with developing methods to improve the city’s solid waste and recycling service.
Faherty believes an automated cart system, wherein collection trucks utilize a robotic arm to accept the contents of totes, will help reduce operating costs.
However, the problem could be mitigated if consumers change their habits.
“I always say when in doubt, throw it out,” he said. “If we just concentrate on those good recyclable items — those 1s and 2s plastics, the cardboard, the paper, the glass, the tin, the aluminum — and we make sure those simple items are collected, we’ll save so many resources.”