Berlin Borough affected by recycling costs

In an effort to better protect the Earth and the borough’s bottom line, one councilman is hopeful that residents are able to better dispose of recycling moving forward

Across the globe, more and more countries are continuing to reject trash and recycling shipments received from larger nations. In 2017, China announced it would no longer accept the vast amount of recyclable material it had for decades from the United States, sending a ripple effect throughout the country on what to do with, and where to put, recyclables.

New Jersey municipalities, such as Berlin Borough, have been no exception.

The borough is currently in a co-op contract with Camden County and Republic Services, and in discussing the matter with both Chief Financial Officer Debbie DiMattia and Superintendent of the Department of Public Works John Allsebrook, Borough of Berlin Councilman Mike Buchanan says the borough pays $5 per ton for recyclable material.

The borough’s current contract is set to expire during the 2021 calendar year. As the process currently goes, recyclable material that is collected within the borough is brought by the collection trucks to Republic Services locations. Buchanan says he has been made aware that Republic Services has stated it is losing $1 million per month, due to failures in the single-stream recycling process.

“As it’s been explained to me, when our recycling is brought to Republic, they inspect this, and if there is a certain percentage of contamination … they will reject the load and will attempt to charge $150 per ton for contamination,” said Buchanan.

According to Buchanan, although Republic is attempting to charge the borough, it has not yet gone through due to pending litigation because such a circumstance was not agreed upon in the county co-op contract.

Regardless of how the issue is resolved, Buchanan says residents need to take a step away from what he’s heard labeled as “wishful recycling,” the disposal of aluminum, plastic and other items thought to be universally recyclable, when in actuality they are not, thus contaminating a load and creating additional violations for the borough.

Such examples include spray paint cans, plastic bags, certain levels of plastic cups and bottles and more.

“There are many things on the ‘Don’t’ list that we wish were recyclable, but they’re simply not,” said Buchanan. “There are residents that are trying to be clean and green, but the mistakes are easy to make.”

Once the contract expires, Buchanan says Berlin Borough will be at the “mercy of the market” during the 2021 calendar year, and the amount of contamination residents’ recycling has within it seriously affects the amount the borough will pay to dispose of the material.

“If I could look at what’s our plan for the future, I want Berlin to be known as a town that has very little contamination or zero contamination, as far as the threshold,” said Buchanan.

In the single-stream recycling process, municipalities still struggle with the contamination of recyclable materials – something than Buchanan says the borough needs to work on starting now.

“We have to go directly back to the basics – aluminum cans, plastic bottles, newspapers, glass and cardboard are probably the only things that work,” said Buchanan. “When it doubt, throw it out.

“And the thing about this that was enlightening to me, I heard it from our superintendent (of the department of public works), is that none of our trash or recycling goes to a landfill, it goes to an incinerator. None of us wants to pollute landfills or the world, but it’s better for residents to better identify recycling, rather than Republic to incinerate an entire load of recycling and then try to charge us the $150 per ton.”

There are various ways Buchanan says he sees the borough being able to address the recycling issue, such as introducing potentially certain precautions at a municipal level, creating a mailer clearly detailing recyclable dos and don’ts to be distributed in the future, as well as creating some sort of partnership or program at Berlin Community School about recycling.