Changes in the economics of recycling have affected cities across the United States, including here in Shelby County. As the costs of recycling services rise, municipalities are looking for new ways to keep their programs afloat.
As of this month, the City of Collierville is saving money by trucking its curbside materials out of the county, but that also means one popularly recycled item—glass—can no longer be dropped in the bin. It will affect about 12,000 homes.
“Of course it’s disappointing," says John Fox, operations manager for Collierville’s public works division. “But we’re just trying to do the best with what we have so that we can provide a high-quality service for the lowest cost for our residents.”
The trade-off, Fox says, is that the suburban city will be saving money by transporting its recycling 70 miles east to the West Tennessee Recycling Hub in Henderson, Tennessee.
The Recycling Hub isn’t set up to process glass. Fox says that shards from bottles broken in transit can also damage recycling machinery.
Prior to this month’s change, Collierville's recycling was processed through Republic Services, the same company used by the City of Memphis.
Locally, Republic is the largest provider of single-stream recycling, the method where plastic, paper, aluminum and glass are collected in a single load to be sorted later.
But as the global recycling market has plummeted, prices to sort and ship these products have increased for Republic Services.
The company used to pay Collierville about $25 per ton of recycled material. As of this summer, that price shifted to the city paying them close to $100 per ton.
While Collierville’s recyclables are now travelling a longer distance, it’s still more resource efficient, Fox says. The city had five trucks in operation each day, picking up and dropping off recycling loads.
“Now we just have one truck doing a long haul trip, Fox says. “Those tractor trailers have a much better fuel efficiency than our recycl[ing] trucks.”
Fox says that recycling directors of other municipalities have reached out to ask about Collierville’s new program, but he isn’t aware of any one else following suit.