What happens in China can affect American Fork, it turns out, and the City is at a crossroads. A majority of the world’s recycling goes to China because that is where the markets for the material are, and China is a manufacturing giant. But a little over a year ago, China announced it would not continue to take the world’s trash-filled recycling, as it tries to clean up its own environment.
Curbside recycling is actually too dirty to be recycled in the U.S. And now China is imposing a very low “contamination” level for the recycling it would accept. That level is very difficult to reach as many well-meaning residents include greasy pizza boxes or milk jugs that haven’t been rinsed with recycles.
The new policy has affected the market on a global scale. On a smaller scale, local recycling centers are not able to dispose most of the residents’ plastic, paper and other recycling products. As much as 65% of recycles that are transported to Rocky Mountain Recycling in Salt Lake today cannot be recycled, according to a representative from Republic Services who spoke to American Fork City Tuesday.
Republic Services, a Phoenix-based company that has merged with Allied Waste and operates in American Fork, is not a recycling company but a waste transportation company. It used to earn $35 a ton to bring recycles to centers like Rocky Mountain Recycling; it is now being charged as much as $75 a ton. Many cities across the U.S. have discontinued their recycling programs as a result of the increased cost following China’s policy.
Republic Services is asking American Fork for $60,000 a year to make up for the loss. Out of 7,900 homes in American Fork, over 5400 participate in recycling, a participation rate that has stayed roughly the same in the past decade.
The City was surprised to learn that only 35 to 50% of curbside recycles are actually being recycled due to the high level of contamination and the drop in demand on a global scale. Meanwhile, the city’s cost of its recycling program is going up because the waste transportation company is being charged more.
“We need to be honest with [the residents],” Barbara Christiansen, a member of the city council said to her colleagues Tuesday.
If the City does not want to pay, Republic Services wants the City to change the contract to give the company the freedom to dump recycles at landfills. But that didn’t sit well with members of the council who feel the residents are being deceived.
The City is at a crossroads: It could stop its recycling program altogether—or pass the cost to the 5,400 homes who have signed up for recycles, which could amount to less than two dollars per household per month. Since 2005, residents in A.F. have had curbside recycling available on a voluntary basis, and the City has never increased the fee, which currently stands at $5.40 a month. The City is also considering absorbing a portion of the fees to minimize the impact on the residents’ utility bills.