Recycling is officially a sticky subject in the Tri-Town, both figuratively and literally, and now ABC Disposal, Inc. is looking to reclaim some of the costs of disposing our dirty recyclables by increasing disposal fees.
And what’s worse, recycling in the area and in the country is at a veritable halt, with many of the items you toss in your recycling cart being sent straight for disposal or stockpiled as the nation figures out how to make recycling sustainable in a crashing worldwide recyclable materials market.
When the Towns of Mattapoisett and Rochester, like many other area towns, first signed the waste disposal and recycling collection contract with ABC Disposal, there was no fee to dispose of recyclables; ABC was able to sort that material and sell it off with most of it to be bought up by China, the world’s leading buyer of recyclable material on the planet. That is, until now.
In a letter to the Town of Rochester from last October 2017, ABC Disposal CEO Mike Camara wrote that changing market conditions in the recycling industry, China’s recent National Sword policies, and changing laws and regulations have affected the processing of recyclable materials worldwide. China’s National Sword policy aims to reduce the contamination rate of single-stream materials it buys to less than 1%.
According to Camara, the new standards have caused additional costs throughout the entire recycling process in order to meet China’s new standards for cleaner recyclable materials, with fewer facilities capable of meeting those standards.
“The added costs and expenses to us, the recycling facilities and the entire process include but are not limited to material and significant added capital expenditures, system processing slow-downs, added labor costs, and additional quality control standards, costs and expenses,” wrote Camara. “At the same time, commodity prices have significantly fallen due to these and other various uncontrollable market forces.”
In other words, our dirty recycling has turned China off and they no longer want to recycle our sticky yogurt-encrusted containers, plastic shopping bags, and oil-stained cardboard – and that is now going to cost us.
“[We] are faced with recycling terms and pricing expenses that have more than doubled,” Camara wrote. “As such, this has forced us to review the current terms and pricing structure in place for all of our municipal recycling collection contracts.”
When ABC Disposal submitted its proposal to Rochester and Mattapoisett in 2014, the company set its recycling service expenses at the highest pricing level, and the current situation – dirty, expensive to process recyclables and China’s change of heart – was unforeseen.
Under Section 3(a) Force Majeure of the contract with ABC, the company wants to impose a $55.98 per ton fee, Camara said in his letter to Rochester, which began on November 1, 2017. Rochester decided to start paying the fee, around an extra $2,800 a month, said Rochester Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar, but Mattapoisett has not yet paid ABC Disposal any extra fees.
Appearing on the Mattapoisett Annual Town Warrant on May 14 will be an article (Article 35) to appropriate $50,000 to be set aside to pay ABC Disposal the demand for additional payment for recycling service if the Court rules that the Town must pay the sum.
According to Mattapoisett Health Agent Dale Barrows, that sum so far is up to $20,000.
“But if the court finds that ABC shouldn’t have charged us the money, then the money (appropriated in Article 35) will be returned,” said Barrows on May 8.
But the clock is ticking, even as municipalities around the Tri-Town assess the situation, even holding inter-municipal meetings to collectively explore how to handle the prospect of ABC Disposal’s contract adjustment. ABC Disposal, in a letter dated April 12 addressed to Mattapoisett Town Administrator Michael Gagne, gave the Town a formal notification that it would no longer provide recycling service to Mattapoisett as of July 1 if the Town does not pay up.
“China’s National Sword has made it financially impossible for ABC to continue to service the recycling requirements of the contract,” Camara wrote. He continued, “ABC has sustained significant financial loss over the last six months that have pushed the company towards pending insolvency … ABC has been in contact with its bankruptcy attorneys and may be forced to file another Chapter 11 reorganization.”
Bad news for towns like Mattapoisett and Rochester, said Barrows; and he knows because he has been doing his homework searching for another company to contract with the Town for recycling.
“We looked around and there’s no one else who’s gonna touch that contract for that low a price,” said Barrows. “There’s just no one out there.”
According to Barrows, even with a surcharge, ABC’s pricing is considerably less than its competitors. Barrows said ABC’s latest proposal for Mattapoisett was for $47 per ton of recyclables.
“It almost appears we’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Mattapoisett Board of Health member Ken Dawicki. “We either come up with the money or we lose…”
“Rochester saw the writing on the wall and we started paying,” said Barrows, who is also the Board of Health chairman for his hometown of Rochester. “Rochester has been paying them all along.”
The Town of Fairhaven during its Annual Town Meeting last Saturday passed an article similar to Mattapoisett’s, only Fairhaven’s was for $93,000.
But the truth is, not only is the problem a local problem, it’s actually a national problem and ultimately a global problem.
Recycling is at a near standstill in the United States. According to Camara, roughly 75% of what residents place in their recycling cart are no longer being recycled due to a severe decreases in value in the recyclable materials market.
“[Most] of these materials are being sent for disposal or stockpiled with no open viable markets available,” Camara said. “ABC can no longer continue to pay the high cost of processing recyclables when so much of what is now being placed in recycling carts is being sent out for disposal.”
According to Camara, because China no longer desires our sub-par recyclables, “[China’s actions] have seriously derailed every [single stream recycling] program across the country and has driven up the cost to a point where it now exceeds the cost of disposal for trash.”
“Even if we clean all our [recyclables] up right now, it’s still a problem all across the country,” said Barrows. It’s still disheartening though, Barrows said, when just this week he saw materials that do not belong in the bins – like plastic tarps, plastic bags, and plastic wrap – being manually pulled from the sorting process.
“We’re going to try to negotiate with ABC because nobody wants them to walk away,” Barrows said, but he added, “It’s not just an ABC problem. It’s a regional problem and a national problem.”
As the United States can no longer rely on China to accept our recycling, the country will have to solve its own recycling problem.
“This is a long-term problem with no reasonable short-term solution,” cautioned Camara.
ABC Disposal is hoping to convince the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to remove glass, mixed paper, and #3 through #7 plastics from the mandated waste ban list, as the world market for these materials is virtually non-existent. “Some possible solutions,” Camara said, “might be state-implemented tax increment financing, tax credits, and low interest loans to encourage companies to build facilities in Massachusetts that can process our recyclables.”
By Jean Perry