Recycling to begin again in Washington County as Solid Waste District signs new contract

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Solid Waste District is expected to begin recycling again after months of sending recyclable materials collected from residents to the landfill.

After Washington County Solid Waste and the contracted company hired to process recycled materials parted ways, district manager Neil Schwendiman said it has signed a new contract with Republic Services in Las Vegas.

The district will complete construction on a trans-load station in less than 60 days to allow for waste collected from around the county with 10-wheeler trucks to be deposited onto semi-trucks and delivered to Republic Services in Nevada. While recycling costs for the district will increase substantially as a result of the new contract, the rates for residents participating in the recycling program will not go up.

“To the resident, nothing has really changed,” said Bryson Despain, president of Rukkus Communication Strategies, the company acting as a communications liaison for Washington County Solid Waste. “Their rates are still the same, they can still recycle what they always have been. It’s actually going to a better facility now.”

When the Washington County Solid Waste Board decided to offer recycling, the county allowed individual cities to decide how they wanted it administered. Ivins, Hurricane and Springdale made it mandatory for residents to participate while the remaining cities — apart from three cities on the outskirts — offered their residents an “opt out” period of about two months.

Washington County Solid Waste district officers, Hurricane, Utah, on Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Washington County Solid Waste based the recycling fee off of how many residents were participating in the program. The district contracted Dixie Waste to collect the recyclable material and entered into an agreement with Rocky Mountain Recycling to process what was delivered.

Recycling began in February of 2016, and residents were charged $2.94 per home, with cities able to add their own administrative fees. The district elected to not include additional fees because they were told processing would not exceed $15 per ton compared to landfill use, which was about $16.50 per ton, Schwendiman said.

“Unfortunately, we started the program at probably the worst time in the history of recycling,” he said.

Due to a rapidly declining market, Rocky Mountain Recycling increased its rates to about $45 per ton and then $50 per ton. In May, the processing company approached Washington County Solid Waste asking for another increase of $78 per ton, which the district refused.

The Washington County Solid Waste “BLUCAN” program cans located in Santa Clara, Utah, June 17, 2019 | File photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Following the rejection, Rocky Mountain Recycling declared a “force majeure” in order to void its contract with the county. A force majeure clause relieves both parties of their contractual obligations should circumstances outside of their control occur where fulfilling those obligations is made inadvisable, impracticable or illegal. The company cited the increasingly poor economy and recyclable material markets for the reason behind its force majeure.

Schwendiman said the district could have entered into a lawsuit but felt it would cost more money and time and ultimately decided to draft a termination agreement before looking for alternative options.

Washington County Solid Waste negotiated a deal with Republic Services, which has a processing center in Las Vegas. Republic Services will fulfill the remainder of the five-year contract Washington County Solid Waste has established, which will end in January of 2021. The district is currently in the midst of negotiating past the end of the contract.

Washington County Solid Waste entrance, Hurricane, Utah, on Sept. 23, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

“This gives them (Washington County Solid Waste) the time now to really reach out to the residents, do some surveys, do some focus groups to understand what people are willing to pay and try to meet the needs of the community in that way,” Despain said.

From the $78 per ton offer from Rocky Mountain Recycling, processing costs have increased about 60% with Republic Services, standing at $128 per ton. Schwendiman said refusing Rocky Mountain Recycling’s $78 per ton deal was “a little bit of a gamble” but the history of asking for more was concerning.

The district has absorbed additional costs in order to avoid charging residents more. The cost has been subsidized through excess reserves it is mandated by the state to have. Some of the funds are restricted, but unrestricted funds have been used to maintain the about $3 fee for residents around the county.

“We made a promise to our residents that their fees would stay the same for the five-year contract period,” Schwendiman said. “So we have honored that promise that we won’t raise their fees.”

The Washington County Solid Waste “Binnie” program bins located in the Walmart parking lot, St. George, Utah, June 17, 2019 | File photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

The district continued to collect recycled materials and charge residents for the cost of recycling in order to honor its contracts with other companies who were not directly impacted by the force majeure. Despain said the district also wanted residents to continue sorting recyclables and maintain the behavior as the company got its footing.

“It’s such a short period of time now,” Schwendiman said. “I mean, residents are going to put out their cans maybe two or three more times before it ends up being shipped down to Las Vegas.”

Washington County residents can recycle cardboard, aluminum beverage cans and steel food cans. Plastics such as water bottles, milk jugs and detergent bottles can also be recycled, as can plastics with a No. 1 or 2 located on the bottom of the container in a recycling symbol.

Mixed paper, such as junk mail, magazines and newspapers, will still be recyclable with Washington County Solid Waste. The district considered phasing out paper goods for Rocky Mountain Recycling, which processed recyclable materials by hand and had a difficult time processing out paper goods. Republic Services, however, has an automated, more efficient process that will allow the district to keep paper.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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