COLUMBUS — Mayor Jim Bulkley went back to a familiar comment during Monday night’s discussion on the residential recycling service.
“There’s a lot of feel-good about being green,” he said. “And I think we’ve said this before. Right now it costs money to feel good and be green.”
That cost is $66,000 under the one-year agreement approved in September with Shred Monster to accept residential recycling, or about $56 per ton for the 692 tons of material dropped off at the local business through the first seven months of the contract.
By comparison, Columbus Public Works Director Greg McCaffery estimates it would cost just $27 per ton, or $36,000 annually, to take the same amount of material from the city transfer station to the Northeast Nebraska Solid Waste Coalition Landfill near Clarkson.
The $30,000 difference is comparable to the roughly $26,000 annual deficit the city-run recycling facility operated at between 2005 and 2010, according to McCaffery.
After that facility closed, Shred Monster agreed to begin offering residential recycling at no cost to the city or its residents. Owner Brad Stirek requested the annual payment last year when resale prices dipped, making the service a money-losing venture for his business, which can still turn a profit on its large-scale commercial and industrial recycling.
The total amount of residential recycling dropped off over the seven-month period represents about 6 percent of what makes its way to the transfer station, which takes in about 19,400 tons of garbage annually, not including yard waste and wood debris.
Shred Monster processed 542 tons of residential recycling in the year prior to inking the city agreement, an amount that’s on pace to double in the current contract year. However, McCaffery said recycling still represents “a very small percentage” of the total amount of trash generated in the community.
The difficult part about recycling in Nebraska, he said, is it’s expensive to market the materials and cheaper to send garbage to landfills than in other parts of the country.
For Stirek, a shift in the type of materials dropped off at his business, located just west of Cubby’s at 4930 Howard Blvd., impacts the bottom line.
“The stream continues to change. We continue to see more and more plastic and less newspaper,” said Stirek, noting that newspaper is a far more valuable recyclable material than plastic.
Stirek said more people are using the residential recycling service, but that’s not impacting his finances.
The city council now must decide again whether it’s worth the taxpayer subsidy to continue offering recycling for another year.
A decision on whether to extend the agreement with Shred Monster through September 2018 will likely be made at the July 17 meeting, and city officials are asking for public feedback on the program between now and then.
“The one concern you always hear is the hours,” Bulkley said, adding that a request for extended hours might come with additional costs from Shred Monster.
The drop-off recycling is currently offered noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
The city council could also decide to remove glass from the list of materials accepted by Shred Monster, which would cut $6,000 from the annual contract amount, but Stirek noted that glass intake continues to rise.
“There’s still a lot of people who didn’t realize we added that,” he said.
Glass, which Shred Monster started accepting in October, represents about 6 percent (40 tons) of the recyclables received over the first seven months of the contract.