Trash prices expected to jump by 20 percent in Potsdam
Saturday, June 15, 2019 - 8:17 am

BY CRAIG FREILICH

North Country This Week

POTSDAM -- The price of village residential trash pickup is likely to go up more than 20 percent because the contractor’s costs are climbing.

This only applies to the Village of Potsdam, and not other areas where Casella picks up garbage and recycling.

Casella Resource Solutions covers its costs for trash and recycling pickups through the sale of trash bags to village residents, but the money the village has agreed the company can charge for the bags has fallen behind what they need for their expenses.

Reversals in the markets for recyclables and increases in transportation and disposal costs for all of it continue to rise, says Skip Bisnett, general manager of Casella’s operations in St. Lawrence County.

“It’s been going up a little every year, but not enough” to trigger a clause in the contract with the village that allows for a higher bag price, until now.

“Now, after three consecutive years, it’s enough to apply to the bag fee,” he said.

The bags come in two sizes, 15 gallons and 30 gallons. Pretty steadily, he said, residents have bought the overall equivalent of about 70,000 15-gallons bags a year at a price of $1.60 each and double that, $3.20, for the 30-gallon bags since 2016, or $112,000 a year. They will be asking the village to allow them to charge $1.95 per 15-gallon bag, and $3.90 for the larger bags, or $136,500, which is $24,500 more a year, an increase of nearly 22 percent.

At the core of the rising expenses is the fact that recycling has been shifting from a source of income to a money loser over the years. Where they used to get checks for dropping off an assortment of materials, they’re now paying fees to deliver material that might actually be recycled, “but it’s plummeted in value,” and those who are handling it aren’t getting the prices they used to, Bisnett said.

OCC, or old corrugated cardboard, seems to be the only recyclable material they can still get money for. But that is turning downward too. Where the market price for a ton of OCC was $100 in 2016, in 2019, Bisnett said, it has dropped to $40 a ton.

Bisnett said that with their “no-sort” recycling, which does not require residents to separate the materials into different bins, inevitably some non-recyclables end up in the recycling stream they receive.

“We’re good at recycling. We’re good at pulling stuff out” that can’t be sent to recyclers, “but we have no place to put it.” So it is loaded onto trucks and driven to landfills, and the costs of transportation and fees add up too, more and more each year.

The market has been complicated by the changing requirements of those who would take the huge quantities paper, plastic and other materials. Most notably, beginning in 2017, China, which had been the major destination for much of the stuff, tightened up on the standards for what they would take. They were receiving 45 percent of the world’s plastic waste, according to USA Today, including nearly 4,000 shipping containers a day of plastic recyclables from the U.S. alone. But now, most plastic waste is banned from import by China. Other Asian countries have been taking the material since then, but the trend now is for them to refuse it too.

So there is a glut of plastic and other recyclables that is worth much less and still must be disposed of if it doesn’t actually get recycled.

Village administrator Greg Thompson says the current international trade disputes aren’t helping either. “China was one of the leading buyers, but no more,” he said.

So Bisnett is invoking the clause in the village contract that allows them to increase the per-bag price to residents.

“We’ve held off on this,” Bisnett said. In 2016 he said the company had a 13-cent per bag “cushion,” but that has evaporated. “The village asked if we could hold off and see if it recovers.” They held off, but there was no recovery.

“They have asked for an incremental increase,” said Thompson. He said he recognizes that some of Casella’s expenses have gone up since 2016, “for some articles by more than 100 percent,” he said. The people Casella employs are also a concern, Thompson said, if jobs are threatened.

“The bag price is the only thing we have to look at” as a solution he said.

The issue is likely to be discussed at the next board meeting on July 17, Thompson said, and there could be a vote on the higher bag price that night.