Recycling woes lead Clearwater to propose hike in solid waste fees

The City Council has been asked to approve a 3.75% hike in the average household solid waste bill in 2020 through 2024. The $1.08 per-household, monthly increase for solid waste is based on a rate analysis by Tampa-based engineering firm Stantec.

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater City Council got a quick civics lesson on how even small cities are closely linked in the world’s global recycling and sustainability model. Not only that, but it seems the behavior of local residents may be behind higher household recycling bills.

The information came out during the City Council’s Aug. 12 work session as David Powers, the city’s controller for solid waste and general services, asked the council to approve a 3.75% hike in the average household solid waste bill in 2020 through 2024. The $1.08 per-household, monthly increase for solid waste is based on a rate analysis by Tampa-based engineering firm Stantec.

In fact, the average utility bill of a Clearwater home will go from $101.55 to $103.70, an increase of $2.15, now that the City Council has approved the new rates at its Aug. 14 regular meeting. The new average residential utility bill includes increases in water (up 89 cents) sewer (up $1.23), and recycling (up 11 cents).

According to Powers, the solid waste rate increase will help cover a new, $16 million transfer station and offset a $54,000 wage increase for solid waste employees. Not only that, but on Oct. 1, the city will start paying $39.75 a ton for trash disposal at the landfill. It had been paying $37.50 a ton.

Recycling big part of matrix

Recycling is an important part of the solid waste revenue matrix, and the failure of local residents to properly separate recyclables is costing the city money. Because there are fewer places to sell unclean recyclable refuse, the city has to pay someone to take more of it.

Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos asked Earl Gloster, the city’s director of solid waste and general services, how the inability to properly decontaminate recyclable items leads to higher costs.

The city has been improving the purity rate of its plastic, cardboard and other recyclable products for several years, Gloster told Cretekos.

“We’re experiencing a lot of waste contamination in our residential recycling program, Gloster said. “Last year this time we were at 20 to 25% contamination. Right now, we’re between the 15% and 17% range, but we still receive a lot of stuff in our recycling program that should simply not be there,” he said.

It costs Waste Management a lot of money to separate greasy pizza boxes, plastic bottles filled with chemicals, and other unsavory items from refuse before selling them on the global market. They run an industrial magnet through large piles of metal to pull steel and iron from aluminum. They sell the iron and steel to smelting plants, then crush and bale aluminum cans for sale to aluminum plants, where they are melted and formed into sheets.

Hard to sell recycling

Waste Management can’t easily sell what it collects from Clearwater households and businesses to China or other markets that require low contamination in recyclables, Gloster said.

China, for instance, requires 0.5% contamination or less, meaning what it buys must not include non-recyclables nor be stained with dangerous chemicals, glues, tape or other material. At 17% contamination, Clearwater’s refuse isn’t even in the running in many markets.

“China is a big market for recyclables,” Gloster told the council. “But China is nearly impossible for us in our current recycling environment. That market is closed to us.”

Some companies create innovative products from recycled material, in turn selling key chains, car parts, and even clothing to distributors around the world.

Part of Gloster’s mission is to educate residents and businesses on what the city allows in its recycling bins. Gloster repeated for Cretekos what he has been telling the public for a long time:

“There can be no bagged recyclables into the container, just drop recyclables in there,” he said. “There can be no plastic bags, no water hoses, no Styrofoam, it’s all very simple.”

What can be recycled

The city only allows glass bottles and jars, aluminum and steel cans, paper (if you can rip it, you can recycle it), flattened cardboard and plastic bottles.

However, the city does collect electronic devices for recycling one day each month, too. But they cannot be put in with traditional recyclable materials. Those items include televisions, cell phones, computer towers/central processing units, drives (such as hard drives and CD drives), laptops, desktop monitors, smart phones and tablets.

Gloster is bullish on the future of recyclable markets.

“Domestic recyclable consumption in this country is starting to come back,” he said. “We will have markets in the future, but right now China is closed to us.”

“Turning this refuse into new products is the highest form of recycling,” Cretekos said. “We just have to reduce the contamination in our program.”