WMU waiting on business recycling

Published 12:40 am Sunday, October 9, 2016

Following an outside study by MSW Consultants from Orlando, Florida. the Winchester Municipal Utilities Commission decided Thursday not to establish a commercial recycling program, but to continue looking into establishing one in the future.

If approved, the program would allow businesses in the district to fill recycling curbits to be picked up by WMU employees and trucked to the Lexington-Fayette County Recycling Center. The utility provides commercial collection services to 339 customers outside of the district, but according to General Manager Mike Flynn, a recent survey of central business district property owners shows that many people are interested in the service expanding to include recycling curbit pickup.

However, the report from MSW shows that currently, taking recyclable items to the recycling center in Lexington is more expensive than taking them to the landfill.

While the landfill charges a “tip fee” of $19.45 per ton of waste, the recycling center requires WMU pay a processing fee of $35 per ton. WMU receives a rebate from the center as part of a revenue share for the value of the recycled materials, but in recent years the rebate has not entirely covered the cost per ton to deliver the materials. According to the study, factoring in the average rebate WMU receives, it still pays about $13 per ton to recycle.

According to the report, several factors play into the cost difference, not the least of which is that currently the value of recyclables is at an all-time low. Over the past 10 years, the price has fluctuated from more than $150 per ton to less than $60 per ton.

Additionally, a load of recyclables is roughly 42 percent lighter than a load of solid waste, meaning a ton of recyclables takes up more space and thereby increases the transportation cost on a relative basis.

“I actually think there’s more people that would use it than the (survey) results said,” Board Chairman Mike Anderson said. “But at the same time we lose money on recycling.”

Commissioners said that they did not wish to kill the idea entirely though.

“Really, at this time we don’t have a real reason to go into commercial recycling,” Anderson said. “We don’t know how much it would be utilized, and second of all we actually save money by not increasing our tonnage to the recycler.”

Commissioner Paul Rogers said while the program may not be viable if it began immediately, he thinks it is something the commission should move forward on.

“I think that in the bigger picture recycling is the future,” Rogers said. “Let’s not say ‘Let’s not do it for now.’ Let’s say ‘Let’s see how we can do it.’ Let’s take a hard look at the numbers and see what it takes to make it work.”

Commissioner Betty Berryman agreed, adding that WMU should be recycling, but not necessarily looking to make a profit.

“The goal ought to be to break even,” Berryman said. “You can not depend on recycling because of the volatility of the way it goes. If we want to do this service I think that’s great because we need to do it, but we just want to break even.”

Anderson said he thinks breaking even is a good goal because it would still enable WMU to reduce the amount of landfill space it is using.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner additionally suggested the commission consider starting a dialogue with Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to learn more about the rate structure at the recycling center and see if any future changes to WMU’s contract at the facility could be made.

Contact Seth Littrell at seth.littrell@winchestersun.com.