On June 20, the Community Recycling Center stopped accepting a wide range of plastic recycling materials due to reported cost and labor shortages. As recycling becomes harder to sustain in the area, a number of organizations are seeking sustainable solutions for waste management.
The district will no longer accept plastics No. 1 clamshells, No. 2 oil, soap and similar items, and No. 3 through No. 7 plastics, according to a press release from the Solid Waste Special Service District No. 1. Of the paper items, only clean, sorted office paper and newsprint from commercial sources will be accepted. Mixed paper will no longer be accepted. Glass will continue to be collected for use in the Moab Landfill. Corrugated cardboard, aluminum cans and steel cans will continue to be accepted at the center. The SWSSD noted in their press release that anyone with one cubic yard or more of material is subject to the delivery charge of $4 per square yard.
“We’ve been studying this for nine months trying to find a way to keep all the materials,” Deb Barton, Solid Waste district manager said. “We have had a personnel shortage since the beginning of January, so we’ve been fighting not having enough people since January, and the people who want to recycle is increasing.”
The labor shortage is not the only challenge the solid waste district is facing. Although the center has a subsidy of $200,000 per year from the county, it is operating at a loss. “That center has never made a profit, it hasn’t even broken even, and that is not a sustainable business model,” Barton said.
Limiting the categories of plastics the center can process was not a decision made lightly, according to district board members. They even conducted a study to take into concern the relative greenhouse gas emissions put forth by each respective material. “We wanted to concentrate our resources into the items that give off a greater amount of greenhouse gases,” Barton explained. Neither do they view it as a permanent solution. “Options that we are talking about include possibly upgrading the bailer at the recycling center so that it is more efficient,” said Kalen Jones, city council member. Jones sits on the board of the SWSSD. “That could speed up operations significantly so that the material can get out the door more efficiently.”
The district is also considering the possibility of partnering with a private company, such as Monument Waste. “It’s a bigger facility so it can have other equipment that sorts it more efficiently and packages and ships it to market,” Jones explained. “There’s an economy of scale that can happen.” Negotiations between Monument Waste and the district are already underway, and the service is considering building an intermediate facility that could serve several small, remote communities in this area. The intermediate facility would then conduct a partial sorting of recycled items and ship them to a larger materials recovery facility likely located in a larger metropolitan area.
“What’s being tossed around here is sort of a hybrid operation where we separate some of the high-value or high-volume commodities that can be efficiently handled locally and then others can be co-mingled and they’ll work their way up to a big MRF, where they don’t have the same labor challenges we have here,” Jones explained.
Cardboard would likely remain an item accepted at Moab’s recycling center, while most plastics could be taken by a private company. “Given that the district is basically running recycling at a loss, if they could just take them off our hands, maybe we could add those materials back into what’s recycled and that loss in our budget would go away,” Jones explained. Eliminating the district’s financial drain would allow funds to be spent on other waste reduction projects. “Currently there’s a pilot composting project for yard waste and the Moab landfill, and maybe we could use what we’re spending on recycling to buy the equipment to scale that up to compost more yard waste,” posited Jones. He added that there has been a local push to expand the composting project to additional waste types such as food containers, which would require an additional form of composting technique.
The city’s waste hauling contract renews in the fall, and they will be opening up requests for proposals from private companies in order to secure more competitive contracts that may include recycling components. If a recycling contract is secured at that time, the private entity will then require additional time to acquire the necessary infrastructure and staffing to provide their services. “Everyone is trying to work together,” Jones insisted. “There’s not going to be an immediate manifestation for a change in services, but there’s an ongoing discussion.”
Until a change is made, Jones hopes citizens will think more critically about the packaging of products they buy and consume. “Recycling is really just one of many strategies that can be used for an overall waste-reduction goal,” he said. “Hopefully we and other non-profit partners will be doing more education about that.”