Albany Closely Watching Possible Recycling Changes, Which Could Impact City Finances

Jul 6, 2018

Clifton Park-based County Waste & Recycling used to pay the city of Albany $10 a ton for recyclables — until its biggest customer dramatically changed policy. The tables have turned: Albany now pays the recycler.

According to Greenpeace, China, which once had an insatiable appetite for municipal recyclables, on Jan. 1st banned 24 types of waste under four categories: certain types of mining slag, household waste plastics, unsorted waste paper and waste textiles.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan: "The steep increase in recycling costs is resulting in a 30 percent plus increase in the city's cost of its current recycling program. And it is something that we're taking a really close look at, because at this point it is costing us more to dispose of recycling at the recycling center than it would be to dispose of it in the landfill."

The city landfill is expected will run out of space by the end of 2022.

Former Albany Common Councilor and frequent Sheehan administration critic Judd Krasher says the situation is not hopeless. "From my understanding of what China is doing as far as their restrictions, is that they are limiting the amount of contaminated recycling products that come in. So in other words, a lot of municipalities, companies, do a poor job when it comes to sorting out recyclables. So there's still a market for it in China, problem is we're not taking things out like Solo cups and grocery bags, food take-out boxes that all contaminate a particular batch of recyclables that are actually valuable."

In 2016, the city invested in a fleet of new trucks to collect recyclables using a specially designed cart. The contents are sorted at the waste processing facility.  Officials like Mayor Sheehan, a Democrat, hoped the new system would encourage residents to recycle more. But now, the recycler is imposing a fee... "We are actually disputing County Waste's implementation of this fee because we have a contract to be able to tip our recycling at zero dollars and they are now seeking to charge us $120 a ton, and so that is not something that we've accepted and we are going to pursue all our rights under the exhibiting contract to avoid that steep increase. But ultimately, that contract will expire and we will have to face this issue."

A solution might involve efforts by both residents and the recycler to police the waste stream. Pointing to a recent spike in crime in New York's capital city, Krasher says for people struggling with day-to-day issues, proper recycling and being environmentally conscious are very low priorities. "In order for us to get to a place or a city, a state, etc. that understands the importance of recycling as it relates to the environment, which really is the key here, you have to make sure that people's basic qualities of life are being met. All these public policy matters are tied together. And when people are struggling to pay their bills, when they're worried about whether or not they're going to get shot when they're walking down their street in their neighborhood, these other issues seem very academic and totally out of their realm, and rightfully so, because they have much more basic problems to worry about."

Reached by WAMC, County Waste did not offer comment in time for broadcast. A spokesperson told the Times Union by letter it is costing County Waste more to process recyclables than the materials can be sold for.