HANCOCK — As the market for recyclables dries up, it’s become increasingly difficult to make money off glass bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard boxes.
As a result, there’s one fewer recycling option in the county. Hancock-based nonprofit Coastal Recycling will be closing. Coastal Recycling, which serves five towns, will stop accepting waste material after April 27.
Aware that much of their waste is not being recycled, several area towns have stopped collecting it.
“We just don’t get enough material anymore to make it worth it to keep operating” said Joyce Levesque, manager at Coastal Recycling. “Recycling isn’t cheap, so it’s either everybody or nobody doing it.”
Levesque said the prices for recyclable material that Coastal processes began dropping last fall. The situation is not likely to improve soon.
“We already had to stop accepting paperboard and glass because there was no market for it,” Levesque said. “The last paperboard we shipped was at negative $4, meaning we paid the mill $4 plus shipping.”
Shortly after that shipment of paperboard, Levesque said that the price had gone up to $40 per ton.
As the market for recyclable material has shrunk, much of it has already begun to be sent for disposal at landfills along with other solid waste. Right now, the plan for the towns that used to send recyclables to Coastal appears to be ending their recycling programs altogether, given the cost and lack of competitive markets.
“At this time there are no plans to continue recycling after April,” said Hancock Town Clerk Toni Dyer. “Most of the recycling is already going with the other waste to be landfilled anyway.”
Franklin and Sorrento also indicated that they would be ending their recycling programs and going to a single waste stream.
“Our plan is to just stop. The only other way would be to transport it to single-sort place out past Bangor, and the cost would be too steep,” said Winter Harbor Town Manager Cathy Carruthers.
Last summer, neighboring Gouldsboro voted to suspend its recycling program, citing rising costs. At the time prices had risen from $40 per ton to $140 per ton in less than a year. Gouldsboro’s decision to suspend recycling meant that all of the town’s waste was subsequently sent to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. (PERC) in Orrington to be burned.
The steep cost increases have been blamed on changes in the global market for recycling. With an overall rise in “single-stream recycling,” where all recyclables were mixed together, came an increase in contamination to the waste stream by non-recyclable products. In January of 2018, China, which until then had been the world’s largest importer of contaminated recyclables, announced a ban on importing certain types of plastics, unsorted papers, and waste textiles. China mandated a contamination rate no higher than .5 percent, well below the average for most recycled material, and subsequently upended the global industry.
Currently, most municipal solid waste (MSW) and recycling is either going to PERC to be burned, or being sent to landfills to be buried. Several of the towns that used Coastal Recycling are also members of the Municipal Review Committee, a nonprofit that handles MSW and has been planning to send waste to as-yet unopened Fiberight plant in Hampden.
Fiberight, when operational, would accept all municipal solid waste and recycling in a single stream before separating curbside-type recyclables from other organic waste. After numerous delays, the facility is expected to begin receiving waste over the summer. One former Coastal Recycling town that is planning on sending its waste to Fiberight is Sullivan.
“Right now it’s an evolving picture,” said Sullivan Town Manager Rob Eaton. “Our municipal waste is going to begin going to Fiberight in May. So 100 percent of our recycling is going to go to our transfer station.”
Eaton also noted that as what Coastal Recycling could and could not receive changed, the town’s municipal waste stream had seen a big increase.