Crush cans at Petersburg’s baler facility (Photo courtesy of Cindi Lagoudakis)

Petersburg’s recycling program is no longer saving the borough money on the cost of shipping solid waste out of town. That’s because of a drop in the value of recyclable materials and an increase in the cost of processing that material. Now borough staff are recommending the assembly start a discussion about whether to continue it, or make changes.

When the borough first got into offering curbside co-mingled recycling collection in 2016, it was good for the borough’s bottom line and for the environment. Petersburg public works director Chris Cotta updated the borough assembly this week.

“When the curbside program was implemented, you know the commodity prices at the time were good and so for a couple of years, the program was doing really well,” Cotta said.

For those years, it cost the community less to ship out a ton of recycled goods than a ton of garbage. But that’s changed. The value of many of the items sent to the recycling center in Seattle has dropped. And recycling companies are charging more to process it. The bottom line is it now costs the borough more for shipping a ton of recyclables versus a ton of garbage.

Cotta thought the assembly and the community should be having a discussion on whether to continue with the service.

“You know with the program losing money right now, the community really needs to decide you know how committed are we to recycling,” Cotta said. “Do we want to possibly continue with something that’s going to be costing money long-term? Does the community care about recycling that much that we’re committed to that level or would we rather phase out the program, or change the program to a different format?”

Other options could be changing back to drop off point for gathering recyclables, instead of curbside collection, or reducing the material collected. Cotta said some products like cardboard and aluminum have kept their value. He also suggested a focus on composting could reduce the amount of trash shipped out.

Assembly member Jeff Meucci said he wasn’t hoping to come up with the answers at this week’s meeting.

“I’m just hoping that we can sit down one night this fall and kindof go over the options of what we have and try and come up with some new ideas about making it, I don’t know if it has to make a profit but at least make it more so that it’s breaking even,” Meucci said.

Petersburg contracts to ship a combined 2400 tons of trash and recyclables off the island each year, with about 300 tons of that material that can be reused and spared from the landfill.

With the current rates and values, the borough would save about 3300 dollars a year in its garbage contract alone to send all of that to the landfill. It would also save money on the vehicles and employee time for that program. The program is paid for by the residential and business customers of the sanitation utility.

In related news, the assembly approved a renewed five-year contract with Republic Services, the company that ships Petersburg’s garbage to a landfill in eastern Washington. The total value of the five-year pact is estimated at one and a half million dollars. It includes annual three and a half percent hikes in the cost to the borough and a one-time increase to cover a rise in shipping costs.