MADEIRA BEACH — In looking for budget cuts, the City Commission turned to recycling, and its benefits vs. costs Aug. 26 during a work session.
Recycling is costing the city a lot of money, about $170,000 a year. And the benefits are questionable, some commissioners said.
Last year, Ian Boyle of Waste Connections, the city’s recycling vendor, said the market for recycled materials had dropped significantly. China, which was buying about two-thirds of the world’s recyclable materials, had changed its requirements so that they would accept only “clean” materials that were at least 99.5% uncontaminated. Contamination refers to inappropriate items, such as food, mixed in with the recyclables. Boyle said that was an impossible level to achieve.
When China stopped buying, the value of recyclables such as paper, glass, and cardboard dropped.
Boyle was back, and he said the situation had not changed, and had actually gotten worse.
“The biggest thing with recycling, and why it has cost a lot of money, is that the value of the materials has decreased quite a bit,” Boyle said. As a result, half the materials in the recycle bins wind up in a landfill or incinerator, he said.
With the city facing a budget shortfall due to declines in parking meter revenue and other tourist-related income, city officials are looking for places to cut the upcoming year’s budget. That has led to questions about the benefits of the curbside recycling program, which costs the city $168,000 a year.
But the city is currently in the first year of a three-year recycling contract with Waste Connections that would be difficult to get out of, said Public Works Director Ahrens.
Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price said there is a clause in the agreement that says recycling can be “suspended” for a time, but it is still a three-year contract.
Mayor John Hendricks said that it may be necessary to pass more of the recycling costs on to the residents.
“I hate to do that, because we’re already talking about going up on the millage rate,” he said.
Residents are paying a portion of the cost of recycling in their utility bills, but Hendricks said the city is paying $4 for every $2 paid by residents.
One way to make that up is to increase the fee residents pay for garbage and recycling, said Hendricks. Ahrens replied that “we have discussed reevaluating our solid waste fee because it hasn’t been updated since 2015.”
Another factor to consider, said Boyle, is that if recycling is discontinued, people will put those items in their regular trash. That will increase the amount of solid waste the city’s garbage trucks are picking up and taking to the landfill, which will result in an increase in that cost.
About 70% of Madeira Beach residents recycle, Boyle said. “It’s a very active program.”
Resident Robert Preston said, “The $168,000 we’re spending on recycling, with half of it or more going in the landfill, just doesn’t make any sense to me. That is money we could be using to improve people’s lives in the community.”
This topic has generated a lot of interest whenever it comes up. Commissioner Doug Andrews and Price said they would like to hear from more residents before taking any action.