Kingston can handle county halt of single-stream recycling

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Kingston Mayor Steve Noble said this week he’s drawn up a contingency plan to ramp up operations at the city’s garbage transfer station in the event that the Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency opts to stop accepting single-stream recyclables next year. The county-sponsored independent agency is expected to vote next month on whether to end the practice, amid a global crunch brought on by new anti-pollution controls imposed by China, the world’s largest market for recycled goods.

“It’s not like it’s a crisis … it would just put more work on us,” said Noble, who once served on the agency’s board and spearheaded Kingston’s efforts to introduce single stream recycling. “If they end collection of single-stream the city would have to hire staff and invest in capital improvements at the city transfer station.”

UCRRA was expected to formally introduce a resolution to stop accepting single-stream recycling at a May 30 meeting of the board of directors. The resolution will be the subject of a June 14 public hearing at 5p.m. in the legislative chambers of the Ulster County office building in Kingston. The board could vote as early as June 27 on whether to adopt the change. If approved, the ban on commingled recyclables would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

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UCRRA maintains a dual-stream facility that can process and bale recyclables, as long as fibers — like cardboard and paper — have been separated from metal, glass and plastic. The agency does not charge tipping fees for separated recyclables; for commingled recyclables the agency charges a $20-per-ton fee. The mixed products are deposited at the UCRRA facility on Route 32 and then trucked a facility in Beacon that’s equipped to process single-stream recyclables.

But single-stream has been a money-loser for UCRRA, which must pay $56 per ton to dispose of it. (A separate resolution expected to come up for debate would raise tipping fees.) 

UCRRA Executive Director Tim Rose said providing single-stream recycling services had become increasingly untenable due to strict new regulations imposed by the Chinese government. The new controls are intended to promote the country’s own recycling sector and to cut pollution. The rules impose high-purity standards on commingled recyclables, which frequently contain food waste and other contaminants and bar the acceptance of some types of plastic. The regulations have led to a global crisis as bales of recyclables pile up in facilities from Massachusetts to Australia for lack of markets to sell them to. 

Since 2011, the city has spent upwards of $1 million on equipment, including totes and new packer trucks, to accommodate single-stream recycling. Noble credits the program with boosting recycling in the city by 30 percent and reducing the city’s overall trash tonnage and associated tipping fees by nearly 15 percent.

Noble said he has no plans to go back to dual-stream recycling, but that some of the cost savings associated with the program could be offset by the need to fund the city transfer station.

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