James City County continues to hash out details of new recycling program

Staff writer

The James City County Board of Supervisors received an update from county staff Tuesday on efforts to figure out the best way forward for the county’s newly approved curbside recycling contract.

County officials are looking at an opt-out program that charges a fee of $7 per household. Households will likely have to give up their current recycling carts and receive new ones. There could be a discount for homeowners associations.

In January, supervisors voted to approve a five-year contract between the county and Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority to start July 1. The cost of the new contract is a noticeable bump from the county’s current five-year contract. The county allocated $525,767 in fiscal year 2019 for curbside recycling. In fiscal year 2020, the curbside recycling line item is expected to be $1.8 million.

The price hike comes courtesy of China. The country’s ban on recyclables imported from the United States has put pressure on the American recyclables industry, as it has come to encompass more types of recyclable materials since China’s initial ban announcement in 2017.

China imported $5.6 billion worth of recyclables from the United States in 2017, which counted for about a third of American scrap exports. So it’s no small thing that the Chinese have closed their doors — in the first half of 2018, the United States exported $2.2 billion in scrap to the Chinese, a 24 percent decrease from the same time period the previous year, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

“The market is down and consequently there will be a significant increase,” county general services director Grace Boone said.

In the run-up to switching to the new contract, county officials have considered how best to introduce and run the program.

Staff have settled on an opt-out program, with the billing handled in-house by the county treasurer’s office instead of an outside entity, which had been discussed previously.

Staff had considered using the Hampton Roads Utility Billing Service to bill customers, but found the costs were comparable to doing the work in-house. An in-house billing program would probably result in better customer service, Boone said.

Supervisors didn’t take any official action and didn’t express any problems with staff’s proposal.

While there were hopes that County Waste, the current contractor, would sell its recycling carts to Tidewater Fibre Corp., the new contractor, that plan has fizzled out.

County Waste is expected to pick up its carts from homes near the end of June. TFC will deliver new carts, and there’s no anticipated disruption in service, Boone said. The county intends to run a public information campaign to keep residents up to speed on the changes to recycling.

James City County contracts with VPPSA to collect curbside recycling, which VPPSA facilitates through a hired contractor, which makes its money through fees and selling recyclables. VPPSA has traded County Waste, its current contractor, for TFC.

James City County wants to maintain level funding for its recycling line item in the budget, so it’ll fall to county residents to pay the remainder.

Staff recommends a voluntary service fee of $7 per household per month, which would be effective Oct. 1, Boone said. The cost is a slight increase from earlier projections of a per household cost to residents of $5 or $6.

James City County had historically covered the total cost of recycling from its general fund in the budget, Boone said.

There are more than 25,000 households in James City County that recycle. Under the current contract, it costs the county $1.58 per household, per month to offer recycling.

“It’ll be interesting to see how many people stay with it,” Supervisor Ruth Larson said.

County Administrator Scott Stevens has said the billing method and final cost are anticipated to be nailed down during the budget process, which kicks off with the publication of the proposed budget on the county website Friday.

All four localities that contract with VPPSA — Williamsburg, James City, York and Poquoson — have approved the contract.

Williamsburg City Council voted to approve the five-year contract Jan. 11. While the new $1 million contract is more than three times more expensive than the current one, the city chose to absorb the cost in its budget rather than pass it on to residents in fees.

York supervisors approved the recycling contract Jan. 15. The contract will cost York $1.3 million in fiscal year 2020, and it’s suggested in the county’s proposed budget to address the increased cost in the solid waste fees, York spokeswoman Gail Whittaker said in an email.

Poquoson City Council approved the contract Jan. 14, Poquoson City Manager Randy Wheeler said in an email.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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