To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of recycling's death have been greatly exaggerated. While it is true that the Carbon County commissioners voted to end the blue bin recycling program, recycling is very likely to continue but not necessarily in an organized countywide fashion.
"Recycling needs to continue," explained Duane Dellecker, director of the Carbon County Department of Solid Waste and the coordinator of the terminating countywide recycling program.
"The environmental benefits outweigh the costs, and the costs are much reduced by not throwing the recyclable materials in the garbage. It benefits the communities, the individuals, and the environment. Recycling needs to continue," said Dellecker.
"Whether it continues with the county or the individual municipalities is irrelevant," he added. "It needs to continue."
Hence the conundrum. Carbon County has found itself in a financial crunch and is chopping its budget. The county's recycling program was cut to save a reported $100,000. According to Dellecker, recycling saves money, but the money that it saves benefits the municipalities, not the county, by reducing the materials going to landfills. Therefore, Carbon County is turning recycling over to the municipalities.
Unfortunately, the county commissioners issued their decision to end the blue bin recycling program in December, at a time after most municipalities had already completed their budgets.
According to Dellecker, Carbon's three largest boroughs, Lehighton, Palmerton and Jim Thorpe are mandated by the state to recycle. All other communities may recycle. These ºthree boroughs have curbside trash and mixed recycling pickups, as do Summit Hill borough, East Penn Township, and Mahoning Township. Towamensing Township has a drop-off recycling program. These programs are expected to continue unchanged.
But in the townships of Kidder and Penn Forest, the county recycling program has ended and the blue bins have already been removed so that people would not see them and continue to place their recyclables there.
"In Penn Forest Township, they are working on an alternative," Dellecker said. "They are going to have some open top dumpsters for people to throw co-mingled, single-stream recyclable materials. Kidder Township is looking into options, but for right now, the recyclables are going into the garbage. There are really no options available to them."
After receiving $1.365 million in grants for a recycling project from the state, Carbon County began a blue bin recycling system in 2001, completing its last installation in Penn Forest Township in about 2006. The project served 15 communities in 18 locations throughout the county with 109 bins, which handled cardboard, office paper, and junk mail materials that weren't recycled through the existing curbside programs. Carbon County recycled well over 3 million pounds of material.
When the recycling program started in 2001, the market for recycled materials was strong. In addition, Carbon County had teamed with Schuylkill, Pike and Monroe counties to combine their volumes and reduce transportation costs.
"We received 80 percent of the market value for the materials which was three or four times higher than what we could get independently by taking them directly to any particular market. Then of course, it saved us transportation. We didn't have to run down to Northampton or Hamburg."
Beginning in 1988, the state of Pennsylvania began charging $2 on every ton of garbage going into landfill. Depending on the year, it generated anywhere between $40 and $50 million. That money is supposed to go to waste reduction and recycling purposes through a grant process.
"In 2005, Carbon County received a grant, and again in 2008 then not until 2011. This year they opened up another grant, but what happened to the grantor rounds for 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010? Where did all these grants go? As the grants diminished, we weren't able to get replacement equipment and make upgrades," said Dellecker.
In 2008 Carbon County was benefiting from the recycling program. That year Dellecker said, "we made $170,000 selling our materials. We had no financial problems at that time. The markets crashed and have never fully recovered. Currently it's between $35,000 and $40,000, that's $130,000 off from what we were earning. The markets are recovering now, but not as well as they should."
"Then Monroe County had a change of personnel and canceled the intermunicipal marketing agreements," said Dellecker, "reducing the price from $80 to $10 a ton for the recyclable materials. It was a huge cut. Now we take very little to them, only what we absolutely have to."
When the end of the blue bin recycling program was announced, Dellecker said residents were not happy.
"They have told me everything from yelling, 'What am I supposed to do with this stuff now?' to, saying that they are very disappointed."
Dellecker is sympathetic.
"We know that the blue bin program is saving our communities collectively around $360,000 a year in avoided disposal costs. That's why back in December, when the commissioners were facing budget problems, and our department was one of them on the ax, we suggested approaching the communities in the county saying that the recycling service benefits them through their local trash contract," said Dellecker.
"There is nothing in the law that says that the county has to provide a recycling service. The municipalities are the ones that reap the benefits of their garbage contracts and they would reap the benefits from any recycling program through avoided disposal costs."
Besides general recycling, Dellecker is also worried about the specialized programs run by his department such as: phone book recycling, electronics recycling, tire recycling, school programs, public education and its semiannual newsletter. Carbon County has indicated that these programs will be cut.
"It's absolutely a good thing to recycle," Dellecker said. "But recycling costs money. How many times have people asked me, 'Where's the money from recycling?' At the end of the day recycling is a service, like garbage hauling, but is it is the reduced cost of that service that is good for the community's budget."