Changes in Durham's Recycling Program for 2019.


One of the goals of the Integrated Waste Management Advisory Committee and the Durham Town Council has been to encourage recycling. In the past, we collected paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal, and used the revenue they generated to help offset the cost of Durham's solid waste program. It was cost effective and good for our environment. Unfortunately, the global markets for these materials have dramatically changed and have greatly reduced our revenue. This has forced Durham to ponder how to continue recycling in a cost effective manner.

In 2015, Durham's curbside collection program moved to no-sort single stream. Previously, residents had to separate paper and cardboard from glass, plastic and cans. Curbside collection used alternating weeks to pickup the sorted recycling.

The motivation for the move to single stream was to simplify the process and increase the Town's overall recycling. No need to worry about what was being collected each week, just throw all of your recycling into a single container and roll it out to the curb each week.

If single stream was working, why change the curbside collection process? The answer lies with changing global markets. China was a major destination for many of the items we recycle but has stopped accepting them. This caused their value to sharply decline. Mixed paper illustrates this dramatic shift. It has gone from a revenue generator to an expense of $135 per ton. Community solid waste programs throughout the country are now grappling with how to budget for this significant cost increase.

The Integrated Waste Management Advisory Committee spent the summer discussing how to meet the Town Council's budget goal of no increase in the Town's portion of the tax rate while still encouraging recycling.

The Committee's solid waste recommendation for the fiscal 2019 budget includes raising fees for bulky waste disposal at the transfer station and going back to alternating curbside recycling pickup.

As I mentioned before, the price of recycling mixed paper has skyrocketed. Grouping it with cardboard reduces its cost from $135 per ton to $100. Glass no longer has value but is heavy. Grouping it in a separate collection with plastic and metal reduces its cost from general landfill of $70 per ton to $35 per ton.

While this move back to past practice of alternating weekly collections is inconvenient, it allows us to continue our recycling program in a manner that makes both environmental and fiscal sense.

One other solid waste issue that needs to be addressed is contamination. Solid waste processors have dramatically reduced the percentage of non-recyclables they will accept. That means cans and bottles need to be rinsed, and you need to know what can be recycled. Since we don't yet have a refrigerator magnet, take a minute to look over the list below.

The integrated Waste Management Advisory Committee is currently investigating surrounding communities' solid waste programs, and are looking into how they implemented "pay-as-you-throw" programs. We hope to have a presentation ready in early 2019. Stay tuned.

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