GREENSBORO — If your regular recycling often includes the clatter of glass bottles, now hear this: All kinds of glass will likely be off the list of recyclable materials come July 1.
Under a proposed recycling contract, Greensboro City Council could make that and other changes in a vote tonight.
The city’s recycling company, Republic Services, has to pay other companies to take glass bottles for recycling, and rather than reimburse Republic, Greensboro officials have decided it will be cheaper to start putting glass back into landfills.
“That might be really really hard for people to hear,” said Tori Carle, Greensboro’s waste reduction supervisor. “It hurts me.”
Despite what we’ve been trained to believe, however, putting glass into landfills is not necessarily a bad thing, Carle said.
Glass makes up 25 percent of the recyclable materials that Greensboro residents put in their curbside recycle bins, and it’s a significant cost for Republic. Republic pays glass recycling companies $22 per ton of glass, which is ground up to be remade into new bottles.
But the market for glass bottles is declining as consumer companies use more and more plastic.
Now Republic has asked the city to renegotiate the recycling contract, given the company’s rapidly rising costs. So with the prospect of higher costs for Greensboro’s recycling program, officials thought removing glass would be the safest and best way to curb cost increases.
Glass doesn’t leach chemicals into landfills and it actually helps compact trash with its weight, eventually turning into sand over the decades, Carle said.
“If I had to choose between paper, plastic, metal or glass I would choose glass,” Carle said.
Republic Services has also been losing money on the sale of the other materials it collects.
Greensboro has been fortunate with its plastic recycling because several companies, including Greensboro’s own Unifi, are buying plastic to be recycled in the Southeast. That keeps the market strong. Unifi buys bottles to turn into its Repreve synthetic yarn. Republic sells all of the plastic Greensboro collects, Carle said, and buyers are bringing plastic into the Southeast from other parts of the country.
But paper, especially, is a losing proposition. China, once the world’s largest buyer of recycled goods, has virtually frozen its purchases of paper and other recycled materials because much of what it received was contaminated with food residue, creating another waste problem. So companies like Republic are finding limited markets for the goods they collect.
“The processing costs are pretty steady, but the market fluctuates just like the stock market does every day,” Carle said. “Republic has come to us and said in order to keep this industry sustainable, in order to keep recycling, something has got to change.”
Cities are now paying Republic for its recycling services, and Greensboro may soon join them.
The Greensboro City Council will decide tonight whether to sign a new contract with Republic that will cost the city more than $11 million over the next six years.
Until the contract changes, the city is currently making money from its recycling program. Republic has been paying the city $15 a ton for the 25,000 tons of recycling that it collects every year, or $375,000 a year.
If the city council approves terms of an amended contract, that income would end immediately.
Starting July 1, the big changes begin: The city would start paying Republic $30 a ton to haul and process the recycling from the city. Carle said once the city council votes, however, you can start putting your glass in the trash immediately.
For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, that means recycling would cost Greensboro $750,000 a year.
Under the new contract, that fee would rise to $60 a ton the next year and $90 a ton by 2021, where it would remain through 2025 when the current contract ends.
Instead of making money, the city expects to spend $11.25 million for recycling through the life of the contract.
The city is not going to ask citizens to pay a fee for their recycling — not yet — but the money will be an added cost for the city’s budget where recycling had been a source of income.
And Carle said nothing is off the table.
“I don’t know what that is going to look like,” she said. “We still need to work through our budget department what that’s going to be.”
The contract isn’t all bad for the city. Under the new terms, Republic will spend $4.5 million in the second year to refurbish and upgrade its current recycling center on Patton Avenue. It was the first “single stream” recycling center built on the East Coast, Carle said. It’s where all the recycled materials are brought in to be separated by machines and workers. Single stream means residents dump all their paper, plastic, metal and glass into one bin.
Under the new contract, there’s one other thing you won’t be able to recycle — and you may not have even known this was on the list — the city will ban pots and pans from recycle bins.
There’s a little hopeful news in the new contract: If Republic is able to start making a profit again off the recycled goods it sells, the city of Greensboro will get a small amount in revenue sharing.