RECYCLING CHANGES: The City of Ashland is adding a cardboard compactor to its public recycling program, but recent changes in the market will make the program more costly for the city. (Staff Photo by Suzi Nelson)

ASHLAND – A downturn in the recycling market and contaminated materials in the bins are creating issues with Ashland’s free recycling program.

The City of Ashland contracts with Ashland Disposal Service (ADS) to empty the recycling bins. The city recently installed a cardboard compactor to assist with recycling.

In April, the council approved adding the compactor in an effort to create more space in the bins, which were overflowing. At the time, the council and ADS worked out an agreement where the city would receive use of the compactor for free, but would have to pay for the electricity to run it. ADS would sell the cardboard to offset the cost of the compactor lease.

But Rick Mendoza, owner of ADS and Quik Dump Refuse, informed the city council last week that he can no longer foot the bill for the compactor lease, and that rates would be increasing for the bins.

There is a glut of recycling materials and no market, according to Mendoza. He said Asia, the biggest market for American recyclables, shut the United States off about a year ago.

“There is no market to buy this product world-wide,” he added.

Five years ago, Mendoza received $25 a ton for recyclables at First Star Recycling in Omaha. After a few years, however, he was no longer getting paid for the material, but was able to dump the loads for free at the recycling center.

Six months ago it flipped and he now has to pay First Star Recycling to dump. The price is $35 a ton, but is going up to $65 on July 1, he said.

Even clean cardboard, which used to fetch $30 to $50 per ton, is now down to zero.

“They’re no longer paying for cardboard,” Mendoza said.

So the cost of the city’s cardboard compactor lease, combined with the labor and fuel needed to drive the trucks to pick up the cardboard, make it a losing proposition for Mendoza. As a result, ADS will now charge the city a fee for the compactor.

Contaminated recyclables in the public bins is another reason ADS must hike the city’s fees for recyclables.

“Because people don’t conform to the rules,” Mendoza said.

If recyclables are contaminated, the material ends up in the landfill, according to Mendoza.

“If it’s contaminated, it just gets thrown away,” he said.

The city’s recycling rules include no glass, plastic bags, Styrofoam, electronics, diapers, food, construction materials or wood waste. Plastic and metal containers must be rinsed out.

When these rules aren’t followed, the recyclables are contaminated. Mendoza said contamination at Ashland’s public recycling bins is among the worst he’s seen, occurring at least one time per month. The bins are emptied once a week.

“Because it’s a public site and everybody feels like they don’t have to follow the rules,” he said.

ADS is increasing the fees they charge the city to empty the bins. After much discussion at their June 20 meeting, the council voted to keep the cardboard compactor and reduce the number of bins to two for a 90-day trial period.

After the 90 days is up, the council will reevaluate the city’s public recycling program.

Keeping the public recycling program is important to the city and to the environment, said Council Member Jim Anderson.

“We’ve just got to come up with something to recycle this stuff,” said Anderson. “The answer is not to bury it in the ground.”

About 20 percent of curbside recycling gathered by ADS and Quik Dump Refuse is also contaminated, Mendoza said. The companies provide curbside recycling in Ashland, Greenwood, Waverly, Memphis, South Bend and the rural areas around these communities, as well as in parts of Lincoln.

“Eighty percent of people are very good at it,” he added.

In Mendoza’s opinion, the future of single-stream recycling is bleak. When different types of recyclables like plastic, paper and aluminum are mixed together, the recycling industry calls it single-stream recycling, because all of the items go into the same container. The items must be sorted at the recycling center.

“I don’t think single-stream recycling will ever come back,” he said.

According to the website, the practice was started in the 1990s and is not widely used.

Mendoza said single-stream recycling was developed to make recycling more user-friendly for the public so more people would utilize curbside programs.

The city took delivery of the cardboard compactor in recent weeks. Mendoza said the compactor will be operational on Friday, June 28. Until then, Ashland residents are asked to put their cardboard in the bins.

The compactor is located in the alley on the north side of City Hall, near the police department.

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