Metuchen officials reassess how to process recycling

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METUCHEN — China’s decision in January to stop taking recycling materials from other countries has had major impacts around the world.

And that decision is now starting to hit close to home.

Borough Administrator Jay Muldoon said since Metuchen’s three-year recycling vendor contract expires on July 1, borough officials have to reassess how the borough will process recycling.

“The contract we had with Colgate Recycling [in New Brunswick] was at no cost to the borough because there was a market for materials,” Muldoon said during a Metuchen Borough Council meeting on June 4. “[Colgate would] ship and sell recyclables to entities in China, which would then make products out of [the recyclables] and probably it would be shipped back to us to buy, so the economics of this has changed.”

Muldoon said China had been taking one-third of the world’s recycling — 16 million tons — every year from the United States.

“You can only imagine, when they shut the door, it’s having major impacts around the world, in the United States and here in good old Metuchen,” he said.

Muldoon said Fred Hall, public works director, recently met with representatives of Colgate since the borough’s contract with the company is reaching an end.

“Because of the actions that China has taken, there’s now going to be a significant cost to the borough to process our co-mingled recycling,” he said. “Based on our tonnage — 1,840 tons of co-mingled recycling  — collected last year, [Colgate is] proposing a cost of $45 per ton and an annual cost of over $82,000 to process recycling. … Clearly that is not in our budget. … We have an issue we have to deal with.”

Muldoon said despite the issue, recycling collection will remain the same.

“The DPW picks up all co-mingled recycling at everyone’s home [and/or] business every week,” he said. “I do not think many towns in the county do that.”

Muldoon said borough officials are working on some scenarios on how to minimize the significant cost, all the while maintaining its commitment to continue to pick up recycling.

“We are going to look at the dropoff recycling center on Jersey Avenue,” he said. “We believe we have many residents outside of Metuchen, particularly Edison, who probably go there to drop off recycling there. If you live in north Edison, you would probably pass our recycling center on the way to Edison’s [recycling center on] Meadow Road.”

Muldoon said Metuchen taxpayers shouldn’t pay for a non-Metuchen resident’s recycling.

“To not cost anything is one thing, but now there will be a cost to process or take [non-resident] recycling,” he said. “It’s not just that cost. If we need to put additional resources at the recycling center to check and enforce in Metuchen, it would cost us money. We could spend $50,000 paying someone from DPW to be there Saturday on overtime.”

Muldoon said about 28 percent of recycling tonnage comes from people dropping off recycling.

“I think some commercial businesses are abusing the recycling dropoff center, some businesses come multiple times a day to drop off cardboard and drop off recycling,” he said.

Muldoon said Hall is also checking with other recycling vendors.

“Some preliminary information [we have received] is we are all in same boat,” he said. “Obviously we will go with the best rate, but it’s not guaranteed. The situation with China is evolving … no recycling vendor is going to give us a three-year contract committed rate.”

Contact Kathy Chang at [email protected].