Kent County

China change propels recycling costs in Kent Co.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The cost of recycling in Kent County is expected to nearly double for many customers next year, leading to fears that the plastic and paper that's been going into park benches and cereal boxes will end up in the dump.

"The fear really is that people will look at the cost of recycling as a barrier and decide not to do it," said Kent County Department of Public Works Marketing Director Kristen Wieland.

"What we really hope is that they'll see the value that recycling provides to our community," she said.

It's simple economics that starts in China.

China decided that the recycled stuff they were getting from the United States wasn't clean enough, so they stopped taking it.

While Kent County has never sent its recycled material to China, those who did had to turn to processors in the U.S. to get rid of it.

That led to way too much born-again paper and plastic without enough places to take it.

"So it's really a supply-and-demand issue," Wieland said. "Right now, we're not getting paid as much or anything for the material."

Like the paper Kent County sends to a paper mill in Indiana. Last year at this time, the county was getting $75 a ton for it; now, it gets nothing.

That's leading to an expected $1.5 million loss this year at the Kent County Recycling and Education Center in Grand Rapids.

And that will lead to a $30 a ton increase in the fee paid by trash haulers to dump recycling at the center, up to $65 a ton in January — a cost that most likely will be passed on to customers.

The rates are slightly higher for recycling from the seven other counties served by the center.

The department of public works is expected to take in a record 40,000 tons of recyclables this year, but that's not keeping up with the growing amount of trash going to the landfill.

At Exclusive Garbage & Recycling, with serves East Grand Rapids, the owners said they plan to pass on the fee hike to customers.

"We'll have to charge everybody more money across the board," co-owner Nate Croff said.

The $29 monthly trash bill for Exclusive Garbage & Recycling includes garbage and recycling.

It's not clear how much higher that'll be in January.

"It'll be something my partner and me will have to talk about extensively," Croff said. "We're going to try to find a number that everybody can live with, us and the customer because we can't absorb all the costs. That's for sure."

In Grand Rapids, where a tax covers the cost of recycling, city officials said they don't expect to pass along the higher fees to customers.

One longtime recycler said it would take a big increase to change her habit.

"I think my guilt would outweigh the cost increase just because knowing I'm putting glass or cardboard things in a landfill, I wouldn't feel good about anymore, but I guess we have to talk about numbers," Stacey Maas said.


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