Centre County residents will pay more for recycling services. Here’s why

Advanced Disposal will continue to serve as the hauler for Benner, College, Ferguson, Harris and Patton townships, but residents will be paying more for its refuse and recycling services.

The Centre Region Council of Governments voted Monday to approve a five-year refuse and recycling contract with the disposal company.

This contract will begin January 2020 and run through March 2025. The base bid requested to refuse operating costs for the county’s current program, which includes a standard eight-bag service and low usage service, according to the bid review. Advanced Disposal’s refuse and recycling rate totals $19.53 per month, a 21% increase compared to the current 2019 rate, which is $16.12.

Low-usage one-bag service costs $16.21, an increase from the current rate of $13.07.

The total operating cost includes $9.45 of the monthly fee for standard service. The tipping fee totals at $4.43, and the recycling rate increased 45%, from $3.89 to $5.65. The nationwide average cost for recycling ranges between $6 and $6.50, said Ted Onufrak, executive director of Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.

An alternate bid was considered which would have required customers to use carts, but curbside organic collection would have added $8 to every household’s monthly bill and created a larger carbon footprint.

Pam Adams, COG refuse and recycling administrator, credited the $3.41 increase to a nationwide increase in refuse and recycling costs.

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The 2020 bid request from Advanced Disposal Photo provided

“This increase is attributable to the poor recycling markets that exist in the nation,” the bid review reports. “Across the nation, recycling programs are having to end or drop materials due to the market turmoil. Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority is providing all the same recycling service to the county and can market all their recyclable materials, just at reduced prices.”

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The average cost for standard eight-bag refuse and recycling collection that was included in the 2020 bid review. Photo provided

Recycled materials in the United States used to be shipped to China; however, a majority of materials were contaminated because residents would place everything in one container.

“There’s basically three colors of glass — brown, green and clear — if you put them all in the same container and they break, that becomes contaminated,” Onufrak said. “You have to throw it away.”

When materials arrived in China about 20 to 25% of them were contaminated. Because of this, China told the United States it would not accept large amounts of contaminated materials, so the United States market was flooded by single-stream recycling facilities.

“It’s driven down the prices of materials because there’s so much of it,” Onufrak said.

In Centre County, the CCRRA receives large amounts of corrugated cardboard. A year to 18 months months ago, Onufrak said one ton sold for $120. Today, the price has decreased to $30 per ton.

“That’s a big hit financially,” Onufrak said. “Typically, our revenue from sales of recyclables in the county runs around $1.5 to $1.7 million. We’re probably going to be lucky if we hit $1 million this year.”

Revenue is used to offset collection costs, but since the authority has seen such a significant decrease in prices, Onufrak said residents are paying more for monthly services.

Although the CCRRA has experienced consequences from the flooded market, it has not dropped any materials from pick-up services; however, paying to recycle materials like mixed paper costs CCRRA more.

“We’re still taking all our materials and recycling all our materials,” Onufrak said. “Where China impacted us was that it flooded the markets. We don’t ship anything. In fact, we try to keep as much in Pennsylvania as we can.”

The contract with Advanced Disposal will be examined over the five years, so if anything changes in the market, local prices could be adjusted, Onufrak said.

“It’s a better alternative than landfills,” Onufrak said. “We don’t have a problem marketing the material. It’s just that the revenue from the material is down, but if it comes back up, then the prices that we charge residents will come back down.”