China’s foreign waste ban reaches Fairfield
FAIRFIELD — China used to be the world’s dumping ground for recyclable materials since the early 1990s. And for a while, the market was booming.
That changed at the beginning of this year and as a result the town is looking at rising costs related to recycling operations.
China stopped its intake of other nations’ rubbish and recycled materials, arguing that hazardous materials were having a negative impact on their environment.
The decision sent shockwaves throughout the market worldwide, driving the prices of these goods down and operational costs up as countries and businesses readjusted strategies.
“The demand for these materials was so high years ago that these haulers and processors were making money and the market now has technically crashed because China has tightened up on their materials,” said Mike Zembruski, director of the Solid Waste and Recycling Department said.
Zembruski, who has been in the department since 1990, added that recycling and waste disposal is just like any other businesses and that includes revenues and expenses that are subject to market forces.
“The market was so strong that (the Chinese) didn’t care about contamination. The little contamination they had didn’t really bother them because they’re getting money for their materials,” Zembruski said.
According to Zembruski’s estimate, recycling costs alone could reach up to $250,000 this year, a budget line that in previous years actually generated revenue for the town.
The town brought in $71,008 in 2016 from recycling revenues, and $63,595 in 2017, according to the department director.
With budget season around the corner, Zembruski said if rates and costs increase, fees for residents at the transfer rates could also see a hike, though such action would have to be approved by town bodies.
Recycling Coordinator Audrey Sciuto said it’s what happens to material after it gets dumped at the transfer station where the changes — and cost increases — will take place.
Currently, Fairfield residents are given the incentive to recycle and sort their disposable materials. Items like used oil, antifreeze, batteries, electronics and metal are not charged when dropped off at the town’s transfer station.
Footwear, clothing, linens and stuffed animals are some of the items that can be donated. According to an information sheet at the transfer station, “95 percent of all textiles can be recycled” in any condition.
Neighboring towns are also feeling the ripple effect.
In early December, New Canaan town officials saw a fivefold increase in what they’re paying City Carting of Stamford to take their recyclable materials, a total of $197,000.
This year, Stamford paid $700,000 to a company to process its recycling materials, a remarkable change from last year when the city generated $95,000 in revenues from the same practice.
“The market tanked but it’s getting better now,” Zembruski said. “As the material gets more valuable the price will go down, but there are still operation costs and transportation costs.”