As the City of Savannah’s curbside recycling contract is set to expire at the end of next month, the decision will come at a cost going into the future. Due to a changed market, the city expects to pay a company to take their recycled materials, after being paid for the materials for the past 10 years.
Staff informed the Savannah City Council during a recent 2019 budget workshop that only one proposal was received after the city had issued a request for proposals for the service.
The market is dried up with new regulations imposed by China on the quality of recyclables and that is impacting the US companies that process the materials, said City Manager Rob Hernandez.
“They’re basically warehousing them in the hope of emerging markets creating a demand for those materials,” Hernandez said.
The one proposal the city received was submitted by Pratt Recycling, which has processed the city’s recyclable materials since 2009. With that contract set to expire at the end of the year, the terms of the new proposal illustrate how the demand for such materials has decreased over the past decade.
Pratt currently pays the city $15 per ton for the mixed recyclables (under the 20-year deal, Pratt had offered to pay $30 a ton) but such payments are expected to disappear in 2019, said David Maxwell, Savannah’s chief financial officer.
“Now the market has turned around such that we’ll have to pay them to take it,” Maxwell said.
The issue is not uncommon due to the pressures being placed on the industry by China’s decision to reduce and eventually stop accepting recyclable materials altogether due largely to the negative environmental impacts of their processing plants, according to Brandon Wright, National Waste and Recycling Association. The country has historically imported about 40 percent of the United States’ recyclable materials, Wright said.
“You can’t catch up and fill that gap that quickly,” he said.
Savannah’s sanitation rates are proposed to go up 35 cents a month next year for residential customers, partially to help cover the cost of recycling. While sanitation collection costs could be less expensive if the city discontinued the program, Hernandez said it may make better business sense to to continue recycling and keep the materials from eating up capacity at the city’s landfill.