Counties see costs, benefits to recycling

Shenandoah County Landfill employee Buzz Sherman watches a line of aluminum cans travel down the conveyor belt at the recycling barn. Rich Cooley/Daily

Area counties pay more to recycle waste than they regain by selling the material, especially with the scrap market down.

But conservation advocates and government officials in charge of handling solid waste say recycling benefits still outweigh the cost and, in some cases, save money in the long run.

Patrick Felling, Shenandoah County’s director of solid waste management, pointed out that recycling reduces the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. That, in turn, extends the life of the landfill before the county needs to expand the dump. But Felling noted that this effort does come at a cost.

“The county is just committed to continue this recycling effort, so when the market’s down it just makes less income for the county,” Felling said. “So, to the extent that we can recycle more and have a higher percentage of what comes to the landfill being recycled, that means less that the taxpayers have to do to subsidize this effort.

“On the whole, very few landfills break even,” Felling added. “Shenandoah County’s certainly not out of scale … so the taxpayers are always subsidizing it so it’s just a matter of to what extent can we minimize that subsidizing.”

Patrick Felling, director of solid waste management for Shenandoah County, stands beside of bin of TVs and computers that have accumulated at the Shenandoah County landfill. Rich Cooley/Daily

Data provided by Shenandoah County Finance Director Mandy Belyea shows the locality collected $71,503 for its recycling in fiscal 2015. The county spent $151,959 that period on personnel costs related to recycling. The county collected $68,269 in fiscal 2014 and spent $148,453.

The more recyclable material put in a landfill, the closer the facility gets to the end of its life span. Operators can then spend millions to expand the landfill, as Shenandoah County has, or close the dump and hire companies to haul waste to another facility.

Gloria Puffinberger, solid waste manager for Frederick County, echoed Felling’s comments.

“The long-term benefits of conserving natural resources, reducing pollution, helping to prevent litter, keeping this material out of the landfill that can be easily converted to another use is the reason we recycle,” Puffinberger said.

Frederick County collects recycling and Allied Waste takes the material to Southern Scrap where it is sorted. The county received about $120,000 last fiscal year for its scrap metal, Puffinberger said.

Crushed aluminum cans are ready to be shipped and recycled. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah County collects and handles its recyclable materials at the landfill near Edinburg. The county also operates 13 convenience sites at which people can deposit certain materials into containers for recycling. Containers are transported to the recycling facility and materials are dumped and sorted.

Shenandoah County employs two staff workers in the recycling area and a truck driver who transports the convenience-site containers and assists with unloading and processing materials.

Shenandoah County collects all kinds of plastic and recycles types 1 through 7, Felling explained. Some localities, he said, limit the types of recyclable plastic it collects, sticking to the most valuable kinds.

“We don’t get as much for it when we sell it,” Felling said. “But we think, on balance, it’s the better way. We’d rather see it recycled than have to bury it.”

Shenandoah County accepts electronic goods from residents free of charge. That practice has attracted people from other localities that do charge for the service to bring these items to Shenandoah County.

“With the market down, there are months where we pay more to recycle the electronics than we get back,” Felling said. “When the market for the recyclables is up, we earn money.”

Frederick County charges to recycle certain electronics such as older TV sets and computer monitors. Frederick County doesn’t make money from the fees. Rather, the fees help offset the cost charged by the vendor to haul them away and recycle the electronics, Puffinberger said.

The county collected approximately $60,000 from the sale of recycling material last fiscal year, Puffinberger said.

Warren County closed its landfill years ago. Now the county operates a transfer station and several refuse convenience centers at which they collect trash and recyclable materials. A recycler or a contracted hauler picks up the containers and materials. Mike Berry, solid waste manager for the county, explained that most recyclable items go directly to recyclers such as Southern Scrap in Winchester. The county grinds stumps and brush into mulch that it uses or sells to residents.

Warren County receives money for a lot of its recyclable material but also pays for companies to haul the waste, Berry said. Warren County collected $91,084 in fiscal 2014 and $79,083 in fiscal 2015. All waste eventually goes to the transfer station, loaded on trailers and taken to Battlecreek Landfill in Page County. Recycling reduces the fees associated with handling waste by roughly half, Berry estimated. Typically, scrap metal brings in the most revenue and, in recent years, at least covered its hauling costs, Berry said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com