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The City Journals

Draper’s recycling reality - as much as 50% of recycling still ends up in landfill

Mar 27, 2019 01:43PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Though residents separate garbage and recycling, Draper city officials have realized that much of what was intended to be recycled is ending up at the landfill. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

What if, rather than paying for your recycling to be processed and your garbage to be hauled away to a Utah landfill, you could have your garbage and recycling processed for free, turned into an alternative fuel source and bypass the problem of a landfill altogether? 

That was the offer made to the Draper City Council at the Feb. 19 meeting by B&D Development. The company is seeking an agreement with Draper City to handle both Draper’s waste and recycling. B&D representatives explained that it would have to be both. Their plan involves selling what recyclable materials they can and then processing the remaining waste into pellets that can be burned in old coal-burning plants.

Steve Price, CEO of B&D, participated in the meeting via telephone. He said depending on which cities participate, B&D would potentially build a location in Herriman. Price said he has the authority to develop this technology in the U.S., that Utah State Senator Curt Bramble (R-Provo) has recently joined B&D, and that this technology has existed in Germany for over 20 years. Draper City would only need to pay for the materials to be transported to the B&D site for processing.

Twenty-two Utahns traveled to Germany last September to see the process themselves, including Draper City Council members Mike Green and Alan Summerhays. “It’s impressive,” Green said. Draper City paid for both to make that trip.

Recyclable materials end up in landfill

At the Feb. 19 city council meeting, it was disclosed that much of what Draper residents think is being recycled is actually ending up in the landfill. That is because the world of recycling — and which plastics, papers and metals there is a market for reselling worldwide — has changed. The problem is compounded when one person does a thorough job of cleaning and sorting what can be recycled, but their neighbor throws items in their recycle bin that don’t qualify as recyclable, thus contaminating that whole load and forcing it to be taken to the landfill. 

The stark truth told to the Draper City Council was that as much as 50 percent of what Draper residents think is being recycled actually ends up in the dump. 

“We need to be clear with our residents what is being recycled and what isn’t,” said David Dobbins, Draper City manager. Rocky Mountain Recycling (RMR) currently handles Draper’s recycling. RMR notified Dobbins that on rain or snow days, if there is any wet material (whether paper, plastic or metal), the entire load is considered contaminated and must be taken straight to the landfill.

RMR used to pay the city back for a portion of the recycling they were able to sell.  According to Dobbins, the average annual revenue paid to Draper City by RMR was $45,000. The city no longer gets money back because of the market change, yet the city does have to continue to pay RMR to accept Draper’s recycling, fees that are higher than garbage fees. Hastening action on the issue is the fact that Draper’s recycling contract with Rocky Mountain Recycling ended March 15. 

Expressing skepticism, exploring options 

But what about the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is? 

That was the alternative perspective offered by Mark Hooyer, executive director of the Trans-Jordan Landfill (TJL). Hooyer’s background includes more than 20 years as an engineering consultant on issues including air quality and solid waste.

 “The recycling woes that our communities are experiencing need to be addressed and the council is right about that,” Hooyer said. “I’m here to balance out this discussion.” 

Hooyer explained Utah is one of the cheapest places in the U.S. to put waste in the ground, a fact he said he’s not proud of, but one that needs to be taken into consideration. He expressed skepticism over why B&D is trying to sell this in Utah where rates are low and land is plenty rather than in large cities where space is less and costs for waste are much higher. He warned that permitting a project like this could take years because of the emissions involved in the process.

Draper is one of seven member cities of TJL. The others are Sandy, West Jordan, Midvale, Murray, Riverton and South Jordan. Each city has a city employee who sits on the TJL board. 

According to Hooyer, Draper is one of the only cities that hauls its own waste and recycling. Most cities hire a company to do that. After being picked up curbside, Draper’s waste goes to the landfill and the recycling goes to an MRF (materials recovery facility). The MRF removes what is truly recyclable and takes what isn’t to the Trans-Jordan Landfill. 

“The MRF is dumping a lot of what residents thought was being recycled. It’s not the MRF’s fault, but they can’t find anyone to buy that material. It used to be China, but China is no longer accepting a majority of what the U.S. recycles, which is a reversal of their last 25 years’ practice,” Hooyer said. 

Draper currently pays $16 per ton to Trans-Jordan Landfill for waste. According to Hooyer, Draper sends 20,000 tons of garbage to TJL per year and Draper has about 2,000 tons of recycling annually. Dobbins explained that Draper pays $50 per ton for recycling and he anticipates the city will pay more in the future. 

“Should we be paying $50 a ton for a good portion to end up at the landfill?” Dobbins asked the council. Dobbins said Rocky Mountain Recycling is a market-based program and that sometimes the only option is to take what were intended to be recyclables to the landfill. Dobbins told the council that B&D is a greener and more environmentally friendly option that he felt was at least worth exploring. 

No room at the landfill

Meanwhile, Trans-Jordan Landfill has partnered with five other waste entities to form Northern Utah Environmental Resource Agency (NUERA). 

“Because we’re running out of space (for landfills), four of the entities went together and bought the Bayview Landfill in Utah County. That happened four to five years ago. We’re busy master planning for the future. We may have no room for you,” Hooyer warned the council if they choose to pursue an agreement with B&D and it fails. 

“We’re all partners in this. You should say let’s look for solutions together,” Draper City council member Tasha Lowery told Hooyer.

Draper’s recycling dilemma was continued as an agenda item at the city council’s March 5 meeting. Again, because of the complexity of the issue, the council unanimously voted to continue this item for further discussion while the city discerns their options. Mary Squire, a volunteer on Draper’s planning commission, is trying to help the city investigate options. “I feel very strongly about this so I want to help the city figure this out,” Squire said.   

According to Dobbins, RMR has agreed to continue to work with the city for a period of time under the old contractual agreement while the city figures out its options. 

Mayor Troy Walker expressed frustration that RMR is getting paid to take much of Draper’s intended recycling to the dump and that, in those scenarios, residents are paying a higher fee for recycling per ton and then fees on top of that for what isn’t recycled to go on to the landfill. 

“It can’t be just a feel-good program, it has to be a real program,” Walker said.