Fulton County expects hike in recycling revenues

JOHNSTOWN — After a three-year slump, the markets for recycled materials finally rebounded this year and Fulton County now anticipates it will generate revenue, at least in the short term, with its next five-year agreement with the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority Recycling Center.

Fulton County Solid Waste Director David Rhodes on Monday presented the Fulton County Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee with a new five-year extension of the county’s deal to haul its recycled material for single-stream-processing to the OHSWA Recycling Center in Utica.

The committee unanimously approved the resolution to extend the recycling contract and send it to the full board for a vote at its next meeting.

The Recycling Center charges Fulton County per ton of material to process the county’s recycling, which is then sold into the recycling markets. According to the proposed five-year contract extension, Fulton County in 2021 will pay OHWSA in 2021 $74.67 per ton, and the per ton price will then go up by 2% each year until 2026.

“Positive revenues are anticipated through this arrangement,” reads the resolution to extend the contract. “The OHSWA desires to continue this arrangement since it has sufficient capacity at its material recovery facility.”

In 2017, Fulton County initiated a “single stream” aspect to its recycling program, which meant residents were asked to put all recycled materials, including paper, plastic, glass and metal, into one container, preferably with a recycling sticker on it, and a prohibition against putting the material into plastic bags. OHSWA’s facility in Utica processes the single stream of recycled material into the various markets for different recycled commodities.

According to the Fulton County Department of Solid Waste’s 2020 report, the department collected 2,451 tons of single stream recycling in 2020, but lost about $38,828 on the program.

The 2020 report shows this trend:

* 2017 was the last year Fulton County came out ahead on recycling, with 2,297 tons of recycled material and $77,330 in revenue.

* 2018 was the beginning of three straight years of loss, with 2,361 tons of recycled material for a loss of $11,707.

* 2019 saw a slight increase in recycling tonnage at 2,378 tons, and a bigger loss of $59,070.

Rhodes said recycling has environmental benefits and takes pressure off the amount of waste being stored at the county’s landfill, but on a price-per-ton-basis it has been a losing proposition in terms of revenue to the county in recent years. He said that situation has turned around dramatically for some recycled materials so far this year.

“When we first got hit with COVID-19, everything kind of shut down and prices fell, but actually it has all now worked to recycling’s benefit because of all of the online ordering there’s now more demand than there is supply for recycled cardboard,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said over the last 12 months he’s seen a four-fold increase in the price of recycled paper and a doubling of the price of recycled cardboard.

“Recycled paper right now is at $80 per ton, and corrugated cardboard is at $155 per ton; in July of 2020 paper was only at $20 per ton and cardboard was at $75 per ton,” Rhodes said. “Those are both big drivers of the cost of our recycling and our revenues from recycling, because they make up a large quantity by tonnage of the overall recycling stream.”

Since 2017, however, the tonnage of recycled cardboard and paper for Fulton County has declined in recent years. Fulton County’s corrugated cardboard has dropped from 229 tons in 2017 to 90.4 tons in 2020, which netted only $6,820. Mixed paper tonnage has declined even more from 139 tons in 2017 to 20.5 tons in 20, which netted only $308.

By Paul Wager