Graham city council members were hit with the same increased rate proposal for recycling that was presented to Burlington’s city council earlier this year.
The contractor, GFL, had a provision in its Burlington contract that allows other local municipalities to piggyback onto the same rates that the company extended to Burlington.
Historically, Burlington has bid out its recycling contract at 10-year intervals, and the rates submitted are then eligible to be used by other municipal jurisdictions in the county.
The rate submitted in Burlington amounted to a tripling of that city’s charges, but the rate of $6.24 per cart per month in Graham represents a fivefold increase, according to Burke Robertson, the city’s public works director.
In Graham, however, city has been subsidizing the recycling charge, with monthly charges now set at $4.00 per household. Robertson explained that the city’s average fee of $102 per year for annual recycling and trash collection ($4.50 per month for trash and $4.00 per month for recycling) is considerably under the state average, which was $190 per year during 2019-2020 fiscal year among 257 municipalities.
Meanwhile, Robertson said that the city’s cost is actually about $13.64 monthly per household for the combination of trash and recycling.
The recycling of plastic, glass, aluminum cans, cardboard, newspapers, and other materials used to be a money-maker for recycling companies inasmuch as China, in particular, bought most recycling from the U.S.
However, beginning in 2013, China began being more strict, insisting that recycled materials not be “contaminated” with non-recycling items.
Robertson said the average contamination at the cart level is typically over 20 percent, and remains at 3 to 5 percent even after being separated at a company’s recycling center.
As a result, most recycling shipments to China have been halted, Robertson explained, which has caused a major disruption to municipalities in North Carolina and elsewhere that were accustomed to inexpensive contracts with recycling companies such as Green for Life Environmental (GFL), or Waste Industries, as the company was known when it began to collect local recyclables in 2012.
The company has a facility in Graham, and mayor Jennifer Talley used that fact to try to negotiate with a company representative for some reduction in the proposed rate.
But Norma Yanez, with the company’s New Bern office, offered little flexibility – saying the company might consider “sponsoring” a city event. She left open some flexibility if Graham combined trash pickup with GFL with having Republic Services, another recycling company, transport materials to a recycling facility (referred to as a MRF, or Material Recovery Facility) it operates.
Graham asked about cutting the number of pick-ups from twice to once a month, but GFL balked at that option.
Robertson pointed out that one of the advantages of the contract offered by GFL was that there was no “fuel surcharge,” which allows the company to adjust its rates due to higher gas prices.
About 59 percent of Graham households put out recycling, Robertson said. At the new rate being proposed by GFL, Graham would have an almost fivefold increase in its roughly $75,000 annual cost under the current contract to $330,000 under a new one – which, if adopted, would take effect July 1.
Robertson pointed out that while GFL’s rates had increased significantly, at least they would be known and predictable going forward. He expressed concerns that other potential options – including giving the contract to Republic (which did include a fuel surcharge), or even having the city public works department attempt to undertake recycling (possibly with adding another truck) – could have unexpected consequences. “There could be risk involved if we try to save money,” he cautioned.
Talley continued to press Yanez for some accommodation, also alluding to the huge hit residents are going to face in the way of higher water and sewer bills. [See separate story this edition.] “We’re trying to find something to not sticker-shock our residents,” she told the GFL representative. Talley also emphasized, as she has at several recent meetings, that Graham’s demographic consists of 43 percent at the poverty level or below.
The council did not take final action, opting to allow Yanez to consult with superiors to see if any change could be made, or if some combination of the GFL and Republic Industries options could be combined for an overall better rate than GFL originally offered.
The council will presumably resume its consideration of the recycling contract and its effect on residents at the council’s May 10 meeting.
MORE GRAHAM NEWS FROM THIS WEEK’S EDITION:
Cherry Lane could another warehouse proposal, and this one wouldn’t need rezoning approval: https://alamancenews.com/could-another-warehouse-project-be-in-the-works-for-cherry-lane-if-so-no-rezoning-required-on-property-near-i-85-40/
Council adopts new water and sewer budget with rate hikes that take effect May 1: https://alamancenews.com/council-adopts-expedited-water-sewer-budget-with-may-1-rate-increases/
When is $2.00 an hour raise MORE than $2.00 an hour? Council wants discrepancies fixed:
Fire (sub)station put on hold: https://alamancenews.com/new-graham-fire-substation-on-hold/
SPECIAL REPORT: The Pines Apartments in Graham a growing concern for law enforcement over drugs, guns, gangs: https://alamancenews.com/special-report-the-pines-apts-in-graham-growing-concern-for-law-enforcement-over-drugs-guns-gangs/