Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg to absorb new costs of recycling starting in 2019.

Penn Waste employees sort recycled material at the company’s Materials Recovery Facility in York County. Harrisburg will start paying $40 per ton of recycled goods it sends there in 2019, up from $0 per ton in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Penn Waste.)

Disruptions in the global recycling market mean that Harrisburg will start paying a new fee for single-stream recycling in 2019, but ratepayers won’t see any changes to their municipal waste bills.

Beginning in January, Harrisburg will pay trash collector Penn Waste $40 for each ton of recycled paper and plastic taken to its materials recovery facility (MRF), where refuse is sorted, baled and prepared for export.

City Council will get its first look at the new contract with York County-based Penn Waste at a legislative session tonight.

They’ll also hear Mayor Eric Papenfuse present the first draft of the city’s 2019 budget, which will include a new, $400,000 expenditure item for recycling services, he said.

Harrisburg has used Penn Waste’s recycling facility since 2014 but did not previously pay for recycling.

Due to recent trade disputes with China, however, consumers across the country are now paying for a service that waste management companies traditionally offered for free.

As the world’s largest importer of recycled goods, China took the American waste industry by surprise earlier this year when it announced a temporary ban on all American imports, claiming that they contained too many contaminants — non-recyclable plastics and food waste that made their way into recycling bins.

The country later imposed new contaminant standards that all but disqualified American recyclables from import.

The announcement led to a meltdown in the American recycling industry, as waste companies began hemorrhaging money on a previously profitable service.

Until last year, the revenues from exporting recycled waste always exceeded the cost of transporting, processing and packaging it, Jim Warner, co-CEO of the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority (LCSWMA), told TheBurg in May. This allowed municipalities, including Harrisburg, to haul away residents’ recyclables without charging them.

But the new Chinese contaminant standard closed the United States out of the largest and most profitable market for recycled goods.

Penn Waste recouped some of its loses this spring by imposing a sustainability fee on its commercial accounts. It also announced it would renegotiate municipal contracts as they expired.

Penn Waste spokesperson Amanda Davidson said today that municipal recycling charges are now commonplace throughout the country.

Many cities will likely pass the new costs on to residents, who could see increased waste bills in the new year. Harrisburg is a rare exception.

The city already pays $190 per ton to dispose of waste at the Harrisburg incinerator, which it sold to LSCWMA in 2013.

That fee, which is the highest in the region due to terms of the incinerator’s sale, will increase to $195 in 2019 per Harrisburg’s contract with LCSWMA.

Since Harrisburg’s tipping fees are so high, the city has an incentive to divert as much waste as possible into recycling streams, Papenfuse said.

The $40 tonnage fee that Harrisburg will pay to Penn Waste is still much lower than the cost of dumping waste at the incinerator. As a result, the city will absorb the new recycling costs without passing any fees on to residents.

The city will defray its $400,000 recycling budget with grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Papenfuse said. Any remaining expenditures will come from the neighborhood services fund.

City Council will meet in its chambers at the MLK Government Center at 6 p.m. tonight to hear the mayor’s budget full presentation.

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