CHARLESTOWN — Due to sudden cost increases to recycle plastics, Charlestown’s transfer station will begin sending plastic recyclables to a landfill, effective June 1, Transfer Station Superintendent Keith Weed announced at Monday’s Selectboard meeting.
Last month the recycling center in Keene that receives Charlestown’s recyclable metals, plastics and paper raised its rate for plastics from $55 per ton to $90 per ton, Weed said. With rising costs to recycle and uncertainty about when the market will improve, Weed said he would rather separate plastics from the other recyclables, and send the plastics to the landfill in Bethlehem, whose rate for refusal is only $53 per ton.
“We’re talking a ton per week,” Weed told the selectboard. “It just makes sense the way the markets are [to send plastics to the landfill]. All the recyclable costs are going up.”
Residents may still bring their plastic recyclables to the transfer station, but the station will sort aluminum, steel cans and plastics in separate containers. The metals will still ship to Keene, while Weed will deliver the plastics with the trash to Bethlehem.
“I don’t want to stop people from recycling,” Keith said regarding the transfer station’s plan to still accept plastics. “If the market ever turns around we’ll never get the people to recycle again.”
The rising costs to recycle include all materials, not just plastics. Weed said later. Whereas paper once earned revenue for towns from buyers, now towns have to pay vendors to take it. There is still a buyers' market for cardboard, though it pays far less than it once did.
“The recycling market has flatlined,” Weed said.
The future for plastic recyclables took a severe hit when China, which received 7 million tons annually of the world’s plastic waste, announced severe cutbacks in 2017 and in 2018 to stop receiving plastic refuse altogether. Last year China only received 1 percent of the amount of plastic it accepted in 2016. Meanwhile, many communities across America have adopted a similar course to the one Weed proposed, finding it much cheaper to throw plastic away than to send it to recycling.
Weed told selectman that he does not expect to find a station with lower rates, given that almost every community across Vermont and New Hampshire belong to the same marketer, the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, a non-profit organization that helps municipalities find regional partners for recycling needs and services.
Selectman Jeffrey Lessels said this trend in the recycling industry could pose future challenges for Charlestown when the landfill in Bethlehem reaches capacity. Weed agreed, saying that the Bethlehem landfill has approximately two or three years left before full, at which time Charlestown will need a new landfill for their refuse.
Editors Note: The Selectman's name in the last paragraph was corrected to "Jeffrey Lessels" on May 21, 2019