What does it cost to recycle? Is it free?
Technically recycling is not free, as there are many costs that go into providing a service like recycling. But who pays for it?
Many communities have subsidized, government funded recycling programs. In Sioux Falls, this is not the case. Millennium is a privately owned and operated small business. We take the responsibility of paying our employees and covering basic operational costs very seriously when determining any customer fees or items we accept (and do not accept) for processing. Since opening our doors in 1999, we have learned to always plan ahead in an unpredictable industry like ours. We must use any good markets wisely to ensure we can stay afloat in the bad. Although recycling is not one of the most profitable businesses, it’s a very important one!
At Millennium, when residents drop single stream material at our facility, we do not charge a fee. For waste haulers, it depends on what type of material they bring in and how much labor it takes to process it. Sometimes there is no charge, but if it costs more to collect and process the material than it is worth in the marketplace, there may be a fee to ensure we can continue operating as a business.
Many factors determine if materials can be recycled for “free” or for a fee:
- Contamination on the Rise. Non-recyclable or not accepted materials like food, scrap metal, wood, needles and hazardous waste are increasingly making their way into the single stream bin. Dealing with this type of contamination impacts production efficiency, exposes our employees to unnecessary hazards, raises our disposal fees, increases our insurance exposures, lowers the material value, and overall increases our costs to process material through our facility. We regularly work with our customers and partners to educate residents on the do’s and don’ts of recycling in Sioux Falls and the five county area. When a load comes in with too much trash or hazardous waste, we pass along a portion of our cost to the supplier. In almost all cases these contamination fees are much less expensive than sending material to the landfill and we are still able to save some of the recyclables. Very rarely do we reject an entire load, but this may happen it it’s made up of a majority of trash or dangerous items like hazardous or medical waste. We can’t let our employees be exposed to that material, and it can’t be recycled.
- The Recycling Process is Difficult. The economics of recycling is challenging due to many reasons, but we have always made it a priority to meet community and customer demand and will continue to do so. Depending on the market, some recyclable material may be valuable enough to offset the the cost of processing difficult items, but that’s not always the case. We are still able to recycle difficult items, it’s just a matter if customers will be willing to pay to keep them out of the landfill.
- Low Commodity Markets. Commodities like plastic, paper and cardboard are worth far less than they were just 2-4 years ago. This greatly affects the ability for recycling processors like Millennium to sell materials at appropriate prices needed to cover operational costs, which has been evident in the number of recycling companies closing their doors across the country.
- Change in Material Makeup. Challenging materials, like glass and plastics, are making up a larger percentage of the material stream, whereas the amount of “easier” materials like paper and metal cans is decreasing. Containers have also dramatically changed in recent years. For example, pick up a bottle of water or a cup for your fountain pop and you’ll notice the obvious pliability. Aluminum cans are also the thinnest they have ever been! This means it takes a lot more recyclable materials to cover the cost of processing.
- Changing Recycling Industry. As the recycling industry changes, so must recyclers. To survive, companies like Millennium must be nimble and willing to adapt. To be able to continue serving Sioux Falls and the surrounding community successfully, we need to stay up to date with the constantly changing industry trends and marketplace, making adjustments as needed, just like any other privately owned business.
The Future is Unclear.
There are currently no plans to stop recycling difficult items, like glass for example, in Sioux Falls. Any decision like that would not happen overnight and would take many discussions with suppliers, residents, and city representatives to make sure it was the right move. With the constantly changing recycling world, the market could swing the opposite direction and we could potentially revert back to accepting the same item without any problems of covering the cost.
The Importance of Public Impact.
Millennium does not dictate how waste and recycling haulers pass on (or do not pass on) operational costs to their customers. If haulers choose to alter their pricing structure based on the rate changes for recycling, that is solely a business decision on their part. If this does impact the public pocket, residents will be the ones who ultimately determine how important recycling and waste diversion is in our community.