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Chairman’s Corner: Recycling has undergone rapid changes

November 7, 2018 11:43 am Updated: November 7, 2018 11:58 am


Over the past year or so, the world of recycling has undergone some rapid changes, with the result that the marketplace for recyclables has altered dramatically. Because of that, changes are on the way for those who recycle at Columbia County waste transfer stations.

How has this come about so quickly?

A key player in this situation is China, which historically has accepted a good portion of the United States’ recycled products. However, that is no longer the case, as that country’s requirements regarding the quality of the recycled material and other regulations have tightened.

The marketplace has changed to such an extent that, in some places, recycled material currently deemed to be of no use has frequently wound up in landfills. Clearly, that is not an acceptable result.

For the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, it has been an eye-opener for us as well as for municipalities across the state, as we all wrestle with how to handle the issue.

As the county Solid Waste department notes on its webpage: “Columbia County, like many other municipalities, is working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and our vendor Casella Recycling to assist in educating residents and looking at potential financial assistance and guidance through this crisis. Although the U.S. exports a significant amount of recyclables, domestic markets do exist and may expand, perhaps as a direct result of China’s actions.”

It’s important to note that plastic or paper with food remnants on it cannot be recycled because those contaminants would throw a monkey wrench into the refining process. At this time, some sources say, one of four items recycled by Americans are contaminated to the point that they are useless.

As an example of how rapidly the change has been felt, for 2018, the Columbia County budget appropriation for handling recyclables was $70,000. That amount was exceeded by mid-year. The preliminary 2019 budget calls for an appropriation of $230,000.

What this all boils down to is that beginning January 1, 2019, recycling at Columbia County waste transfer stations will carry a user fee to help offset those costs. The standard annual fee will be $50 and $35 for senior citizens. For out-of-county residents, the fee will be set at $100. As somewhat of an aside, those who contract with a private carrier such as County Waste are already paying for recycling through their regular billing.

This fee structure was recently adopted through a resolution at the county Public Works committee meeting, and goes to the full county Board of Supervisors at its November meeting. Of course, we all understand that future adjustments in the recycling marketplace, which no one can foresee, could bring about additional changes both positive and negative.

I would encourage those who recycle (or make use other of the department’s services) at county transfer stations to keep an eye on the Solid Waste page on the county website, or call 518-828-2737, to keep up with any forthcoming news.

Reach Matt Murell at