In light of continuing and unpredictable increases from its current recycling contractor, the St. James Town Council is considering options for providing recycling services in the future. The current contract for collection with Green For Life (GFL) runs through the end of St. James’ fiscal year, June 30.
Recycling costs for St. James have increased 65% – more than $100,000 – in the past three years, according to Town Manager Edward Dickie.
“The increase is due to GFL’s cost increases, processor passthrough increases and an increase in the number of residences,” Dickie told the town council at its January 6 meeting. For the 2020-21 fiscal year, estimated recycling costs will total nearly $280,000 which represents about 10% of the overall St. James annual budget.
Recycling cost estimate for the 2021-22 budget year is $308,500. Mayor Jean Toner said that is a calculation by the town’s finance department for budget planning purposes.
During the presentation, Dickie discussed four recycling options for the council to consider. Savings realized by St. James from any of these options would be channeled into the town’s disaster relief response and fire department vehicle replacement funds. Possible recycling alternatives include:
• Renegotiating the recycling contract with GFL. “That is one of the main possibilities we’re looking into,” Dickie stated. “The town could achieve significant savings by doing that.”
• Increasing the tax rate by approximately $1.55 to retain the current recycling program. The town’s current tax rate is 6-cents per $100 of valuation. According to Dickie, that amount would need to be adjusted annually to accommodate for any increases or decreases.
• Implement a program similar to those in neighboring communities including Caswell Beach, Oak Island and Southport. Reflecting those municipalities’ programs, St. James would contract for recycling service and bill all residents for it. “Those three communities bill for the service via their utility departments,” explained Dickie. “Since St. James utilities are billed through the county, the town would need to hire a third party to provide billing for recycling.”
• Finally, the town could consider a program like those in Boiling Spring Lakes and Leland, where residents who desire recycling service directly contact and pay GFL. St. James would provide contact information and pick-up schedules, according to Dickie, and would also provide for cardboard recycling. “That could be a dumpster at a designated GFL pick-up site in the town,” he said.
The town council meeting agenda provided ample time for public comments following the recycling presentation and a small group of residents voiced their concerns and ideas. Though they were varied in their approaches to the town’s handling of recycling, all agreed that it is an essential activity.
St. James resident Marilyn Green asked, “Since we have learned that very little is being recycled, why are we paying so much for this service when what we think we’re paying for is not really happening?,” referring to research findings Dickie conveyed in his presentation about changes in the recycling industry. For a number of reasons, the prices of recycled material have collapsed, according to Dickie.
“‘Recycling’ is the wrong word. It is no longer a viable business to convert recycled material into marketable products,” Dickie said. “Recycled materials that used to be converted to useful products are now trash.”
Meeting attendee Russell Anderson stated it has taken decades for recycling to become a normal part of waste handling management, and that curbside recycling makes it easier to include everyone in it.
“I am a strong advocate of continuing to do recycling as it is funded today, on the assumption that materials get recycled and reused in some fashion,” Anderson said. “If it costs a little more for the service, so be it.”
Anderson added that it is a false choice to say disaster recovery or a new fire truck can’t be funded because the town pays too much for recycling.
“We ought to be able to find a way to fund long-term capital needs and still be able to meet operational expenses that are important. And I happen to think recycling is important,” Anderson said.
A background point that Dickie made in his recycling presentation to the council was that the co-mingling of contaminated and acceptable items caused rejection of all items.
Resident Rosie Tiani stated in the public comment period that when St. James had a recycling pick-up site at the fire station, users did not always adhere to sorting instructions.
“Every household has to take the responsibility to make sure they are putting recyclable items in the right bins,” Tiani said. “I will do whatever it takes, but everyone else has to do their part, too.”
St. James resident Dennis Felps stated that even though paper and plastics do not currently pay well (in the recycling industry), people should at least recycle tin and aluminum cans because they are still profitable.
“I would be willing to separate them,” Felps said.
Additionally, in order to help reduce costs, he suggested that curbside recycling pick-up does not need to be done bi-weekly as it is currently.
“It could be picked up every one or two months to maybe save a little additional revenue,” he said.
A public hearing has been scheduled for 4 p.m. on Wednesday, February 3, to take public comment on the St. James planning board’s recommendation to approve updates to the town’s UDO.
The updates are being done to comply with North Carolina’s new planning legislation. Mayor Jean Toner noted that this is a statewide issue and that it does not just apply to St. James.
“This is something every town in the state that has zoning authority is required to do,” she said. “The state changed some of its zoning requirements, and that trickles down to the counties and municipalities.
“As a municipality with a UDO, we had to make substantive changes.”