Supervisors look to state for recycling relief


By Patsy Nicosia

Trash is cash.
Sometimes you make money on it.
Sometimes you pay.
Historically, it’s recyclables that have helped foot the bill for garbage.
But as the worldwide market for them tightens, making money on recyclables is no longer a sure thing, something that worries Schoharie County and has supervisors reaching out to the state for help--for at least the third time.
Friday, supervisors expect to pass a resolution asking the state to either ease some of its recycling mandates, a move that would lower their processing and disposal costs, or provide municipalities options for dealing with the crisis on their own.
What that doesn’t mean is doing away with recycling, said Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe, who chairs supervisors’ Solid Waste Committee.
In fact, he said, it means the opposite.
“Why should we recycle? Well, the environment is a big part of it,” Mr. Skowfoe said. 
“We want to protect the environment for everyone--especially future generations. If we don’t do something with recycling, people are going to go back to dumping it alongside the road. Or they’ll burn it. But this whole issue is a can of worms that no one wants to touch.”
With landfill space at a premium, the United States stepped up recycling efforts and requirements in the 1990s.
But in 2017, China, the largest importer of recyclables, drastically reduced what it would accept and set new quality standards—a move that’s sent the cost of disposing of them skyrocketing.
The impact of that’s being felt locally and Casella Waste Management, which oversees the county’s transfer station at the old MOSA has been working with supervisors on education and signage in an effort to collect cleaner and higher-end recyclables.
“Higher quality recyclables are more likely to find a market,” explained Judy Beeler, who used to work for MOSA and is now a member of the Solid Waste Committee.
Mostly, that means clean.
But it can also mean tossing in the right kind of glass—mayonnaise jars, yes; broken windows, no. Pizza boxes, yes, the wax paper they’re lined with? No.
It’s overwhelming and can be a difficult message to get out there--especially when some haulers are throwing recyclables in with their trash instead of paying to dispose of them.
That’s illegal, Ms. Beeler said--as are things like throwing TVs in the trash--and subject to fines.
But enforcement is spotty and even fines don’t go to the root of the problem, she said.
A case in point is the county’s July 27 Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, held at the transfer station, at a cost of $9,317.31--a figure that includes disposal and PR.
Not only was attendance down by nearly 20 percent--187 cars as compared to 230 in 2018--but Ms. Beeler said most of those attending had no idea that they can take electronics--at 4.5 tons the biggest single item dropped off--to the transfer station free, five days a week.
There’s also never a cost to drop off recyclables there.
“We put out flyers, advertised the event, talked to supervisors and folks at the town transfer station,” Ms. Beeler said. “Everything we can thing. But when it comes to garbage, people just want to leave it at the curb. It’s someone else’s problem.”
Among the things the Solid Waste Committee would like to see the state focusing attention, research, and even funding on are waste-to-energy facilities, and landfills for food waste, the latter something DEC has begun pushing for placing like schools, hospitals, and hotels.
“They mandate recycling, but with their regulations, it’s costing more than garbage,” Mr. Skowfoe said. “They want people to do the right thing but they don’t help. They’re making the problem worse. We need affordable solutions, not more mandates.”
Otherwise, the cost will be passed on to haulers and taxpayers.
Nearby Delaware County has begun mining its landfill—opening up old sections and using a digester to sort through organics and turn them into mulch for public works projects and other uses.
It’s an idea Mr. Skowfoe would like to see explored more.
“Landfill space is at a premium,” he said. “That’s what’s driving our tipping fee up. This problem isn’t going to go away. We need to get some help from the state when it comes to options.”