Recycling revenues dropping

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County still makes more per ton from diverted waste than any other in state

By Cindy Simpson

Nearly 20,000 tons of trash came out of Roane County last year.
More than 2,000 tons of recycling was diverted from the landfill.
In the county’s more trashy days, residents produced as high as 59,000 tons of garbage.


Ralph Stewart, the county’s solid waste coordinator, blames the financial climate.
“When the economy is good, people are buying houses, tearing down houses,” Stewart said. “A lot of new things going up means we are tearing a lot of things down and throwing things away.”
“When we first started working on this, a lot of places were bringing out-of-county waste in the convenience centers, too,” he said.
Trash disposal isn’t a cheap business. There are landfill tipping fees and the cost of employees and other operations.
Last year the county spent nearly $1.9 million in the combined solid waste and recycling center budgets.
It spent more than $100,000 just in tipping fees to dispose of the trash
Roane County’s landfill has long been closed, so the county has to haul its trash to landfills in Loudon, Anderson and Rhea counties.
Recycling  — diverting trash from the landfill stream — is one way the county can keep those costs down.
The state  expects each county to divert a percentage of recyclable trash from the landfills.
For Roane County, that number is 25 percent.
In recent years, Roane has been able to divert as much as 50 percent, Stewart said.
“We worked hard to try and capture as much of the recycling material as we can,” he said. “You also count a lot of the industry in the county. If you have a metal fabricating or scrap metal facility, you use their recyclables too, and every pound of scrap metal that comes into them is recycled.”
Officials say they don’t make money off recycling. It’s a successful endeavor nonetheless.
The University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service was asked to evaluate the solid waste program last year. The county received that report in May.
“The revenue recovered from recycling operations is one of the highest per ton in Tennessee,” it said. “Roane receives on average $118 per ton for recyclables. A survey of 20 similar counties reported revenue per ton ranging from $2.09 to $118 per ton with an average of $43.33 per ton.”
“Roane County does not have the highest per capita tons for collected recyclables; however it does have the highest revenue generated per ton of recyclables,” the report noted.
Cardboard made up 57 percent of the 2,300 tons recycled in 2011-12, with plastic just a little more than 5 percent.
Stewart said market prices for recyclables have been down.
“That is one of the reasons we aren’t pulling as well as last year,” Stewart said.

Stewart is working with schools to help with the recycling effort.
With a recent box added at Roane County High School, the amount of participating schools is now six.
“We also have companies that bring recycled materials to us. UCOR in Oak Ridge, they bring their cardboard,” Stewart said.
Roane County recycles No. 1 and 2 plastics.
Recycling depends on the market, and Kaley Walker, director of accounts and budget, said Stewart does a good job of watching for the best prices.
“He may have a half a truckload he’s holding because the market is low, and he’ll wait and watch the market and try to hold it,” Walker said.
While recycling saves some money, the revenue generated doesn’t cover the cost of operating the recycling center and convenience centers.
“There is probably a disposal fee savings, but there is also an expense to recycling,” Walker said. “You still have the storage, you have the equipment to bale it. You have the people to sort it.”
Replacing aging equipment will soon add to those costs.
“Next year we have to buy a new baler. A new baler is $120,000,” Walker said.
Upgrades are planned for the center, and some expansion has already taken place.
“One of the things that Ralph did through the county executive’s office is we went out with the highway department and areas in the back that have not been available for use at the back of the recycling center, we cleared a lot of land out and graveled it, probably half an acre,” said Jack Jinks, assistant to the county executive. “It kind of broke up the clutter we had in the front.”
Changes to traffic flow are being made for safety and compacters are being replaced.
Stewart said hazardous waste day is a big success for the county.
“Once a year, the state will pay a company to come in and take up what hazardous waste materials that the public brings in,” he said. “They have trucks and equipment that comes in that counts it, weighs it and takes it out. This comes at a cost of the state. We don’t pay for that.”
To qualify, the county has to take care of recycling oil, paint, batteries, antifreeze and electronics.
The county collected 4,646 pounds of hazardous waste in May.
The state covers that cost, saving the county about $12,345.
Stewart has seen some interesting trash come into the convenience centers and Midtown Recycling Center.
“They’ll bring in a lot of things that have never even been used hardly. They are still in the box,” he said. “I’ve seen them bring in Weed Eaters, these trimming devices that are electrical hedge clippers still in the box. We had an air compressor come in brand new, never had been used. We talked about trying to do something to set up something to help Habitat people or Goodwill,” Stewart said.