WILMINGTON — The cost of recyclable disposal is soaring, and Wilmington is one of many communities feeling the increasing financial burden.
On June 24, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to approve a recommendation by the Town Manager to begin paying Russell Disposal’s full asking price for recyclable goods beginning Oct. 4, and to remain with the company through June 30, 2020. The town will, at the same time, go out to bid for a new contract to begin in fiscal year 2021.
The contract with Russell Disposal was supposed to be a 10-year contract. The town is currently entering its fourth year in that contract. Russell has indicated to the town that it may not stay in business if its current contracts are not amended. Wilmington modified its contract with Russell last year, and is currently paying the company at a fixed rate of $50/ton.
Hull explained that waiting until FY2021 would be beneficial both in terms of giving the town time to make allowances in the budget to allow for the additional cost, and in addition of the new contract by Town Meeting vote, which gives the town flexibility to extend or exit the contract based on services provided.
The town will also continue to pay off the barrels provided by Russell over the course of the original 10 years specified by the contract, instead of having to come up with $525,000 on the spot to pay them in full. These barrels are standard, and will be able to be used by the new company.
DPW director Mike Woods explained that the scope of the issue extends far beyond Wilmington. The costs can be attributed to China’s National Sword Policy, an effort to cut down on contaminated recyclable material being shipped to the country.
“The world of solid waste is a very difficult one at this time for the entire world, and the United States specifically,” he said.
Woods explained that the town originally actually got 5 cents per ton to dispose of recyclables. At this point in time, disposal comes at a cost of $94.50/ton.
Woods also added that having a recycling program is mandated by the state, and that, despite new issues, it is, at its core, a good idea.
“I personally think it’s the right thing to do, but it’s a very expensive thing to do,” he said.
Members of the board expressed both apprehension and resignation with regard to the update.
“My concern is we entered into a 10-year contract with a company, everyone I’m assuming was voluntarily and willingly doing so knowing that there are variables and costs, and we’re now saying that we’re going to let them out of it in five years and they’re giving us the courtesy of letting us pay off the barrels in the five years we should have had in the contract anyway,” said Selectman Jomarie O’Mahoney.
O’Mahoney also asked if there were any clauses in the original contract about early termination, and whether the town should fear finding itself in the same position a few years down the road.
Woods answered that, due to the fact that the situation is entirely out of the company’s control, there is not much the town can do. Additionally, Woods noted that, should trash begin to pile up in the streets, it would take several weeks to bring in a new company on an emergency basis, and that it would come at an even greater financial cost to the town.
McCoy, the one vote of dissent, expressed concern about willingly reneging on a contract at a cost to the town. He also noted the absurdity of the current situation.
“It’s amazing that it costs more for recycle than… for trash,” he said.
Selectman Jonathan Eaton noted the widespread nature of the issue.
“There are forces larger than us at play that have kind of dictated that really us and all of the other communities in the country are really scrambling to try to figure out a solution to this,” he said.
Board Chair Greg Bendel asked Woods to continue with community outreach measures to cut down on contamination in the recycle stream.
“It’s probably not known by folks that your strawberry container, your blueberry container is not recyclable,” he said.