City Council OKs five-year, $1 million curbside recycling contract

Staff writer

In the wake of the recently enacted Chinese ban on recycled goods imported from the U.S., Williamsburg will pay more than three times its current curbside recycling rate in a newly approved five-year recycling contract.

Despite the dramatic increase, the city won’t be passing the added costs onto residents. Instead, City Manager Andrew Trivette said it will absorb the costs in the upcoming city budget.

“I’m not terribly concerned about adding this cost, especially given the alternatives,” he said. “The alternatives to doing this would be to do what our counterpart localities in this agreement are doing, which is increasing their existing solid waste fee, which we don’t have.”

At its monthly meeting Thursday, City Council unanimously approved a 5-year recycling contract with the Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority for a period beginning in July and ending on June 30, 2024. The company has contracted curbside recycling services for Williamsburg, James City, York and Poquoson since 1991, Public Works Director Dan Clayton said.

“The strategy we see to pool the four localities are our combined household count of 40,000, which would generate more interest and better prices than each locality going it alone,” Clayton said.

VPPSA Executive Director Steve Geissler said the company received recycling proposals from its current provider, County Waste, along with Chesapeake-based Tidewater Fibre Corporation Recycling. If approved by all four localities, VPPSA plans to enter into a contract with Tidewater Fibre Corporation Recycling, he said.

As part of the new contract, Geissler said the city can expect to see its annual recycling costs jump from $55,000 to $205,000 per year. Over the five-year span of the contract, the city can expect to pay a total of $1,025,000.

According to the agenda item summary, 2,900 city households participate in curbside recycling.

As Geissler explained, the Chinese government announced a policy it calls “National Sword” in September 2017, which stated it would no longer purchase mixed paper, corrugated cardboard and most plastics being imported from the United States starting in January 2018.

Prior to the policy, Geissler said China was responsible for buying two-thirds of the mixed paper generated in the United States, along with about a third of all corrugated cardboard and a large portion of recycled plastics.

“From September 2017 to 2018, the recycling industry in the United States and across the rest of the world was on pins and needles waiting for this to happen, and it did,” he said.

The dramatic increase in the price of the recycling contract can be attributed to recycling service contractors, who are seeing a significant oversupply in recycled goods.

“Contractors like TFC have two ways to generate the funds that they need to pay for their costs,” he said. “One is the fees that they charge us, and the second is the revenue that they receive from the sale of recyclable materials, and of course, when their revenue from the sale of materials goes down, then our costs go up.”

Council members said they were comfortable with the increased recycling cost given its importance in the community, but that they hope to renegotiate the terms of the contract if prices for recycled paper, cardboard and plastics take a turn for the better in future years.

“Our sense is that this community feels strongly about recycling, we recognize that it’s a significant increase in the cost,” Mayor Paul Freiling said. “It inevitably has an impact on the budget because when we spend $750,000 over five years more on this, that’s money that we don’t have to spend on some other city services.”

Other items of note

At Thursday’s meeting, City Council appointed five members to the newly formed Tourism Grant Review Committee.

Appointees include Amber Ox Public House co-owner Andrew Voss, Chris Caracci, Craig Reeves, Sally Wolfe and former Vice Mayor Scott Foster. The city’s Planning Commission and Economic Development Authority will also be required to select one member to serve on the board.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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