On July 6th, residents Sunrise learned that their recycling program is changing. All recyclables will no longer be processed as usual, but rather sent to a waste-to-energy incineration plant called Wheelabrator in South Broward where it will be converted to electricity.
The city rejected the contract renewal with Waste Management that was set to be effective later that week due to rising costs for recyclable processing.
“We average approximately 400 tons of recyclables per month,” said Eric Lachs, Public Information Officer of the City of Sunrise. “The difference in price is difficult to determine because of the potential for additional costs as a result of contamination and the average market value of recyclables. Our processing fee under the previous contract was $51.16 a ton.”
In 2015, partner of Sun-Bergeron sold all of its assets to Waste Management. One of the conditions in the contract between them was that any customer of Sun-Bergeron would be able to renew their contract with the same conditions but once the contract was up for renewal the conditions changed. Under the new contract, Waste Management will now charge $96 a ton.
“The problem with their new contract isn’t just about the price to process recyclables doubling,” said Richard Salamon, Manager of the City of Sunrise. “But they also included a language in their contract in which gave them the legal right to reject almost every single load that came into the facility.”
Aside from the increased recycling rates, Waste Management can also start rejecting contaminated items and will charge the city $55 a ton for reloading and disposing materials to a landfill under the new agreement.
“Now, it doesn’t mean that they would do that, but they would have the ability to do so and we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it since we signed that contract legally giving them the right to do so,” said Salamon.
Salamon expressed that charging the city to take those items to a landfill is the problematic part.
Since Waste Management owns all of the recycling facilities in Broward County it leaves 17 municipalities with only one option. The City of Deerfield Beach is one amongst many that has also rejected the new agreement with Waste Management. Instead of stopping recycling actions altogether like the City of Deerfield Beach, the City of Sunrise decided to convert the materials into electricity.
“Because there is nobody else in Broward County that has a recyclable processing facility, the county is in a really bad position,” said Salamon.
Currently, the City of Sunrise is using Republic Services to haul recyclables and waste to Wheelabrator.
“Our recyclables are being treated as waste which is much better than sending it to a landfill, but it is still preferable for us to find recycling markets for the metals and plastics,” said Salamon.
According to Wheelabrator’s site, the company was established in 1975 and offers solid waste disposal services to municipalities by “recovering thermal energy as high-pressure steam, convert it to electrical energy or steam, which can be sold as its own renewable energy source.”
Residents will eventually have to start changing their recycling habits by keeping non-recyclables, especially contaminated ones, separated from recyclables such as items containing food waste, oil and grease residue as well as hazardous waste like paint.
When these items are mixed together they will most likely be sent to a landfill even though some items were feasible for recycling.
While the City of Sunrise looks for more options, some residents are not too happy about the current situation.
“I can see why it has come to this because some people just don’t separate the non-recyclables from the recyclables,” said Gina Rodriguez, a resident of Sunrise for 5 years. “This does worry me in the long run, because as a taxpayer this can mean that soon enough I’ll most likely be paying for that increase in recycling costs.”
The county, as well as the rest of the country, is experiencing these effects due to global recycling markets shrinking as China issued a trash import ban in an effort to improve its economy. For years, China has been accepting large amounts of mixed recyclables from the United States as well as other countries but since the issued ban it leaves many in a very tough situation. While other countries like Vietnam are trying to step in and help, they are still not able to accept the same volume of materials as China did.
“Broward County has so little land available, it’s not going to get any easier for us in the future; we have to figure it out now,” said Salamon.
Since China’s population has grown over the years, they’re now able to produce enough waste to convert into recyclable products instead of importing them from other countries.
The trash import ban has many waste and recycling facilities cracking down on local municipals.
The City of Sunrise hopes that in the long run, they can build their own recyclable processing facility in Broward County as Palm Beach County has.
“We need to build our own facilities, own our own facilities and be able to handle our solid waste and recycling issues here,” said Salamon. “Rather than depending on Waste Management and other private companies who have a profit motive.”
The City considers that by doing this they can possibly create markets for materials that don’t currently don’t have one such as glass that can be used for making roads or converting it into sand.
“It’ll take years to build facilities but it’s something we need to start right now and get it into place,” said Salamon. “And these contracts like Waste Management could be short contracts to bridge until we have our own facilities.”