Jefferson County commissioners have given the green light to a $2.9 million contract with Skookum Contract Services for the Bremerton-based company to provide recycling services …
Jefferson County commissioners have given the green light to a $2.9 million contract with Skookum Contract Services for the Bremerton-based company to provide recycling services for the county.
But county officials raised concerns Monday that the types of materials now accepted for recycling will not include many plastic items that residents habitually toss into their recycling bins.
Interim County Administrator Mark McCauley noted that the type of plastic items accepted will be different under the new agreement.
“It looks like just plastic bottles and jugs are going to be recycled. So, yogurt containers and sour cream containers, I guess, will no longer be recycled,” he said.
“My cupboards can only hold so many of those containers,” McCauley added.
That lead to an extended discussion about what more could be done to limit and reduce the waste stream of plastic products.
Commissioner Kate Dean said that even with the county’s well-sorted recycling effort, only a bit more than half is currently being recycled.
“We’re ahead of the curve in terms of having a market for a lot of our recycling,” she said.
“I believe it’s like around 55 percent of what we are putting into recycling ends up being recycled. So, you know, it’s a tough market and I know a lot of thought has gone into this,” Dean said.
“It’s very frustrating. So many of us want to be able to recycle many more materials than we’re able to,” she noted.
Markets for recycling material, however, are very volatile and subject to a number of political, geopolitical, and economic factors.
“What I have learned in this process is just how the industry has really pushed the responsibility to the consumer,” Dean added.
The enormous amount of plastic that is purchased creates “a mountain of waste for which there is no markets,” Dean said.
“And so you know we are, as we heard, we’re paying about $1.2 million over five years to basically subsidize the recycling program that comes out of tipping fees, and people aren’t aren’t going to be happy when they pay more to dispose of garbage, either.
“And yet, this is the reality: We consume too much plastic, period,” Dean said.
Dean said one potential solution was legislation that would require plastic producers to pay into a recycling system statewide where all materials from consumers would be collected and recycled.
The industry would then be incentivized to produce fewer single-use materials or support a market for recycling plastic containers that are produced.
The contract with Skookum will run for five years, and the $2.9 million cost to the county will be offset by $1.7 million in sales of recyclable materials such as aluminum cans, waste paper, cardboard, and other items. The program has a net cost to the county of $1.1 million.
The agreement starts April 1, and Skookum will provide all labor, equipment, and supplies needed to process, market, and deliver to buyers recyclable materials collected at five collection sites (the Recycle Center, Port Hadlock-Elkins Road, the Quilcene Rural Drop Box Facility, Port Ludlow Village Center, Chimacum Creek Primary, and Kala Point).
County officials said the agreement will maintain the county’s current level of service in its recycling program and includes provisions to reduce the contamination rate of materials that are collected, which may increase the value of recycled materials that are resold.
Costs for the recycling program are paid for by municipal solid waste disposal fees.
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, Port Townsend resident Tom Thiersch said the revisions to what would be accepted for recycling marked “a major change for the public, for those of us who take the time to properly separate and be very careful about choosing the right kinds of plastics and keeping our waste stream as pristine as possible.”
Thiersch added that he was disappointed that more public notice of the change wasn’t given.
“I mean, nobody goes to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee meetings. Let’s face it, hardly anybody ever goes to any of the committee meetings,” he said.
Thiersch said the changes were drastic and would require a major change in people’s behavior on recycling.
Commissioner Greg Brotherton noted that while there had been some county notice on the topic, the change would catch some people by surprise.
Outreach efforts would continue, he added.
“It’s a painful pill to swallow but I think we all have to take a look at how much plastic we are buying and using, thinking that it’s recyclable,” Dean said at the end of the commissioners’ discussion of the contract.
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