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Our View: Time to ask if recycling is optional

Doing the right thing often comes with a price tag.

That certainly appears to be the case when it comes to the Winchester Municipal Utilities’ curbside, single-stream recycling program.

For most of the four years since this service began, the entity could basically count on it to break even, which officials felt was an acceptable outcome based on the benefits to the environment and value it provided customers.

Unfortunately, to quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin.’”

Now, due to a host of challenges — including Chinese tariffs, market fluctuations when it comes to the value of the materials and rising operational costs of recycling facilities — continuing to provide this service could cost WMU $30,000 this fiscal year.

Winchester residents recycle approximately 80 tons a month; and the reality is this is a fraction of what it could — and probably should — be. Those amounts used to allow WMU to break even but that isn’t the case any longer.

The biggest problem is, at least right now, it is cheaper to take a ton of material to a landfill than it is to recycle it. That is something, as a country, we have to address by making a commitment to developing new processes and methods that make this at least cost neutral for communities that are trying to do what is right for our planet.

One solution may be to consider recycling a required expense residents who live in a community must pay for, just like paying taxes and fees for maintaining roads, 911, police, fire and other critical services.

Right now less than 10 percent of WMU’s customers recycle. That number has to increase and you can make a strong argument it should be mandatory. But that would only make the problem worse unless WMU ensured its rate structure and other operations would allow this to be sustainable. The public utility is certainly not off the hook when it comes to finding a way to provide this service without constantly going back to customers each year.

WMU must also do more to enhance education about the program and the necessity for recycling.

The bottom line is making the commitment to across-the-board recycling would likely cost residents a few dollars more each month.

How much is helping save the environment worth? That is difficult to answer but certainly something we should all consider.