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Future of Warren County Recycling Unclear as Curbside Collection Ends

Rhonda J. Miller

The future of recycling in Warren County remains unclear, now that residents no longer have curbside pickup of recyclable aluminum, glass, paper and plastic.

Changes in the international market for scrap materials and the coronavirus have created “double trouble” for recycling.

The international recycling market ran into a roadblock when China stopped importing plastics and other materials in 2018.

That roadblock has hit in Warren County, which stopped curbside recycling pickup on March 31.

Southern Recycling General Manager Keith McKelvey said the challenge of finding markets is the main reason the company decided not to seek to renew its contract  with the county. 

Warren County Environmental Planning Coordinator Stan Reagan said local officials were made aware of the recycling company's issues that have arisen from changes in international markets and increased costs.

“Southern Recycling, which has held a franchise from Warren County since the year 2000, notified the county that they were losing upwards of $30,000 per month, due to the virtual collapse of global market demands and pricing,” said Reagan.

Although Southern Recycling halted curbside pickup at the end of March, the company agreed to give residents a transitional time and accept recyclable materials at its facility in the Plum Springs area of Warren County through July 31, when its contract ended.

But the coronavirus upended that transitional drop off plan, as the illness has created havoc with nearly all elements of daily life. 

To protect the health of county residents and Southern Recycling employees, the drop off option has  been suspended until further notice. Southern Recycling said it will post updates on its Facebook page.

Reagan said finding another recycling company is likely to be difficult.

“We intend to ask for proposals, but given our deadline and the sorry state of curbside programs and commodities, I can see the possibility of not having anyone come forward with a proposal, or those proposals being inadequate and costly to customers,” said Reagan.

While the collapse of the international market for recycled materials and rising costs were too much of a financial burden for the local program to bear, Reagn said the coronavirus  pushed the feasilbity of local curbside collection over the edge. 

"Ironically, had curbside not have already been destined to end when it did last week, we would have been forced to shut it down anyway," said Reagan. "We're talking about recycled products that have been handled by unprotected hands and items that likely haven't been washed before being put in a bin that might have been exposed with 20 years  grime attached to it.  

"This is just another whammy on the few residential curbside recyclabes that were still moving about globally," said Reagan.

For those who are concerned about dumping previously recycled materials into the trash, destined for landfills, Reagan said for now, the best actions are to minimize use of extra packing materials and plastic. For example, choose reusable materials as much possible, such as refilling plastic water bottles from the tap, or using a larger water jug instead of individual bottles. 

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