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It Pays to Recycle

December 29, 2005

The sale of recycled materials processed at the county recycling center has brought in revenue of $6.2 million this year, compared to yearly revenues of $2 to $4 million over the past 11 years. Besides the obvious benefit to the environment, residents would have had to pay out $4.7 million to process the recycled materials as garbage.

“When our recycling program pays for itself, that is a real bonus,” said Spano. “We already know conservation of resources is wise environmentally, but when we can do that and save tax dollars simultaneously, that’s outstanding.”

Westchester County’s recycling center, also called the Daniel P. Thomas Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), receives recycled materials from 35 of the county’s 43 cities, towns and villages. Recyclables, such as aluminum and tin cans, plastics coded 1 and 2, newspapers and corrugated cardboard, are separated into distinct categories at the MRF and sold to companies that reuse such materials.

Aluminum, for example, brings in the highest price at $1,120 per ton. Plastics coded #1 (such as soda bottles) are currently sold for $385 per ton; clear plastics coded #2 (milk and water jugs) are presently being sold for an all-time high price of $760 per ton while mixed-colored #2 plastics (laundry detergent bottles) sell for $675 per ton. The demand for paper remains strong with old newspapers selling for $85 per ton and corrugated cardboard being sold for $65 per ton.

Residents’ full participation in curbside recycling is critical to a successful recycling program. They can help boost recycling revenues further by recycling all plastic containers that are coded 1 or 2 on the bottom of the container, as well as all newspapers, magazines, junk mail and corrugated cardboard.

“It’s important that residents know that their involvement in curbside recycling makes a huge difference to our success,” said Spano. “They also need to know how to maximize the benefits. Putting old newspapers on the curb in a plastic bag reduces its value.”

Contamination of the recyclable material lowers its market value. Recycling companies expect to get the specific material that they paid for, not diluted and mixed with other materials. Plastic bags with the newspapers, for example, can lower the recycling value if the market finds too many in the load.

Non-specification recyclable material can also be a problem: if an aerosol can is empty, that is recyclable. But, if the aerosol can still contains paint, it is a hazard at the MRF. Spray paint cans must either be emptied before recycling or wrapped in newspaper, taped and disposed of in the garbage.

The previous record for a 12-month period was in 1994 when revenues eclipsed the $6,100,000 mark. Yearly averages since then have been between $2 and $4 million. For the past 12 months alone (December 2004 through November 2005), revenues have totaled $6,212,226.87 for a monthly average of $517,685.57. By contractual agreement between the county and the operator of the MRF, the county receives 80 percent of the total revenue while the operator, acting as the marketing agent for this material, receives 20 percent. This agreement provides the marketing agent with an incentive to seek out markets that consistently return the highest possible revenue.

The increase in MRF revenues can be attributed to rising demand and higher prices for recycled materials, especially plastic jugs, newspapers and cardboard put out at the curb by residents. Much of this demand comes from outside the United States as resource-deficient countries look for cheaper ways to compete in global markets. Though the MRF was never envisioned as a profit center, revenues from the sale of recyclables processed at the MRF serve as a means to cover overall solid-waste management program costs. For each ton of solid waste that is recycled, the county not only receives revenue from the sale of the recyclables, but avoids the cost to dispose of this material as garbage altogether.

In addition to the presently favorable market conditions for recyclables, the Westchester County MRF has maintained its reputation as a reliable source for consistent, high-quality products with those who buy recyclable goods. This can be attributed to the work done by the county’s contractor, City Carting of Westchester.

The MRF has an education center where tours are given free of charge to people of all ages, Monday through Friday. The tours educate people about the recycling process. The center has an observation tower that overlooks machinery used to separate and sort materials to be sold to end markets. From the tower people can also see the tipping floor, where truckloads of curbside collected recyclables are delivered. A brief presentation and educational video is shown to explain the purpose and benefits of recycling.

The MRF is located in Yonkers, exit 6A/Stew Leonard Drive off the NYS Thruway/I-87, just opposite Stew Leonard’s and Home Depot. A tour of the MRF may be arranged by calling 813-5441.


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