The business of recycling has changed.
That was the message Rich Galloway, Republic Services Operations Manager, brought before the Hoopeston City Council Tuesday night.
Galloway said that global market forces, mainly centered around China, had changed recently leaving the old model recycling business model somewhat obsolete.
“From our perspective, recycling is broken,” he said.
Galloway said roughly 40 percent of all recycling material collected in the U.S. is shipped to China.
“That’s where the markets are for these materials,” he said.
The problem is that China, Galloway said, has become more strict with regards to the kinds of recyclable materials they will accept.
“What’s happening is that loads are being shipped over to China and they’re rejecting them,” he said. “Which means you’re paying more freight to get that load back to either re-sort or do whatever you’re planning to do with it.”
Galloway said there are some products that China simply doesn’t want anymore and, until an alternative can be found, these restrictions will put a strain on companies that handle recycling.
Galloway gave the example of mixed paper. He said mixed paper used to account for 20 percent of recycled materials sent to China and now they won’t accept mixed paper at all.
Many of these restrictions only went into effect in March 2018 and Galloway said it is hard to tell how these changes will ultimately affect companies that handle recyclables in the future.
A year ago, Galloway said, recycling companies were getting roughly $100 per ton of recycled materials.
Today, he said, it’s around $5 a ton.
To hopefully streamline the process and maximize their efforts and resources, Galloway told the council that he wanted to reach out to the public and educate them about recycling.
“There are a lot of things that get mixed in with recycling that aren’t recyclable,” he said.
Galloway said cutting down on the amount of materials that aren’t recyclable that get mixed in with actual recyclables would help streamline the process and save Republic time.
“The last thing we want to do is handle the stuff three and four and five times before it goes anywhere because that just drives the cost up,” he said.
Glass is one of these materials.
Galloway said some markets will not take glass and many recycling companies are turning down glass as a recyclable as a result.
“Glass is a negative to recycling,” he said. “It always has been but most programs will take it because it’s a public demand. But it’s driving the cost up on recycling.”
Plastic bags from grocery stores and other outlets are also a problem.
“Everybody gets so excited about those plastic bags, but nobody wants them,” he said.
Another material that Galloway said people often try and recycle that isn’t being accepted are cups, straws and lids from fast food restaurants.
Galloway said, recyclers don’t want these items because they are actually a polystyrene product.
Post consumer products are really what recyclers want, Galloway said pointing to items such as plastic bottles and plastic bottle caps.
In fact, Galloway said, the cap and the bottle are sought separately because they are made of two different types of plastic.
He said it would be great if people would take the cap off their plastic bottles before they recycle them as it saves time when processing them materials.
Laundry detergent bottles are another form of recycled materials that are coveted, Galloway said, but pointed out that the changeover to detergent pods that come in plastic bags has effect the recycling business because nobody wants these bags.
Beyond simply considering the materials that can be recycled, Galloway also said the condition of these materials also affects their ability to be recycled.
Galloway said throwing bottles or containers with liquid or food still inside them in with the recycling can cause contamination and damage the value of the materials.
“Empty, dry and clean.”
Galloway said this is a good model for people to follow when considering recycling.
He said there are obviously cases, such as peanut butter jars, where cleaning out the container isn’t going to be feasible, but asked that people try to empty out and lightly clean their beverage bottles and other containers before recycling them.
Alderman Carl Ankenbrand asked Galloway where Republic takes it recycled items to be processed.
Galloway said the materials are taken to a facility in Urbana and dumped on the floor to be mixed in with other materials collected from the Champaign-Urbana area.
After that, he said, the materials are shipped to another facility in Indianapolis where they’re dumped on the floor and sorted before being shipped either to other Republic Services facilities or off to market.
“It just all depends on what the material is and what they have a market for,” he said. “Sometimes it does get shipped four or five times before it reaches its final destination.”
Ankenbrand, who works with the Hoopeston Area School District, said the schools try to do a lot of recycling and suggested Republic provide educational materials to the school district so that can be given out to students and staff.
Before Galloway ended his presentation, Mayor Bill Crusinberry asked him to clarify Republic Services’ policy towards picking up bulk items, such as furniture, left on the curb.
Galloway said they do pick up bulk items and actually send out a team of two or three workers twice a week in Hoopeston pick up these items using a rear-loading garbage truck.
Galloway added that he is in almost-weekly contact with Hoopeston’s zoning officer, Mike Bane, regarding items that need to be picked up in the city.
He said the process of picking up these items has undergone some changes recently and the move to send out a truck with a couple of guys on it to handle the bulk items was made because it was becoming difficult for lone truck drivers to manhandle the items into the back of their trucks.
Galloway said they send out the trucks to pick up bulk items on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
He said there is an obvious need for these bulk collection services as evidenced by something he witnessed on Tuesday.
“We went through the whole town today and collected all the bulk stuff,” he said. “As soon as we got done…I come back into town later in the day and there’s a sectional couch sitting on the curb, part of it’s in the road, and we’re going to get called about it.”
Crusinberry asked if residents needed to call Republic to request a pick-up for bulk items, which was a policy they had years ago.
Galloway said residents don’t have to call in to request a pick-up, but Republic would appreciate it if they did.
Galloway added that if they encounter someone abusing the bulk pick-up system that Republic will contact city hall and report the offender.
Crusinberry encouraged residents who need to use the bulk pick-up system to put out their items on either Monday or Wednesday nights so that the items can be collected in a timely fashion.