Commercial customers in the county are now charged for recycling, while free household recycling will continue — for the time being

The company that runs the Ontario County landfill and recycling center is losing money on recyclables. America’s recycling industry is in the dumps, for one thing. That’s due largely to new restrictions by China, long the world’s leading buyer of recyclables.

Waste companies like Casella Waste Systems, which manages the county landfill/ recycling site, are now paying to process many of the recyclables they used to be able to sell.

Recycling is costing Casella “more than what they are getting,” said Canadice Town Supervisor Kris Singer, who heads the county committee overseeing the landfill. “They are not even breaking even.”

The dilemma has been the subject of several discussions between county leaders and representatives of Casella, which has a contract with the county to manage its landfill and recycling operations. That contract is good news for households, at least for now. Under the contract, Casella is not allowed to charge for residential recycling. While it would be possible to amend the contract, with approval of the county Board of Supervisors, that is not currently on the radar. However, commercial customers within Ontario County that had been recycling for free now pay.

Casella had already been charging to take recyclables coming in from outside the county; now that commercial rate applies to customers within Ontario County, said Singer.

Naples Town Supervisor Tamara Hicks said concerns over recycling costs prompted her to talk with Casella representatives. She was assured that residential and municipal recycling remains free in Ontario County, per the contract. “Also, we have been having an ongoing conversation with Casella at the county that there is a cost to recycle,” Hicks said. “Casella currently charges commercial customers $80/ton to recover some of their cost.

"The “free to municipals” arrangement will end at some point in the future, we do not know exactly when,” she added.

Another big part of the problem, besides lower commodity prices overall, is sloppy recycling.

In the early days of recycling, people had to wash bottles and cans, and sort paper, plastic, glass and metal into separate bins. Now there’s single-stream recycling, which allows all recyclables to be tossed into one bin. While single-stream has benefited efficiency, and customers like it, it’s been a challenge on the contamination side.

“It is important that folks understand what can and cannot be recycled,” said Hicks. She and Singer mentioned the added cost of contaminated recyclables. Those are all those materials that land in the recycling bin but shouldn’t be there. It may be a metal can with food left in it, plastic bags that are not recyclable, or shredded paper — material that seems like it should be recyclable but is not.

Ontario County launched a campaign awhile back to educate people about recycling. Casella also runs its own campaign. But people are still confused and sometimes lazy.

Singer said if a portion of materials in a truckload of recycling is contaminated, the entire truckload must be landfilled. She said people shouldn’t be discouraged. She urged everyone to read up on what should and should not go in the blue recycling bin. She said it’s important to recycle for the health of the environment and to cut the need for landfills.

Includes reporting by The Associated Press