OCEAN CITY — Citing a recycling program that was moving too far into the red, the City Council unanimously axed its most well known green program on Tuesday.
Although officials say Ocean City is not totally abandoning the popular “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, but rather outsourcing the program in a “rethinking” strategy that will save the town upwards of $1 million, the fact of the matter is the town will be abandoning its traditional recycling pickup practices, rendering those little blue bins essentially obsolete for residents.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins and Public Works Deputy Director Dick Malone outlined to the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday the reasoning behind their recommendation to eliminate the recycling portion of the city’s solid waste removal program, which will dissolve nine positions, internally relocate five employees and see one member of the 15-person recycle division opt for retirement.
“When I took over as deputy director, the first thing I did was look at all the budgets for the 12 divisions that I oversee, and when I got to recycling my mouth dropped open,” said Malone. “But, with that said this was a very hard sell for me because I’m a huge advocate of recycling. But, when I looked at the numbers of what it was costing the town to continue this recycling program, I couldn’t justify asking the taxpayers to pay almost two times more to put something in the recycling bin as they would to simply put it in the trash.”
Malone said the program was costing the town $394 per ton compared to just $162 a ton for trash despite a little less than a quarter of a million in revenue brought in from the recycling program itself on an annual basis. In comparison, the budget for the FY2011 recycling program was at approximately $1.5 million. Simply put, the expense to run the program was just getting too high for the town to manage.
“No matter how desirable the program may be, it appears that it is no longer economically sustainable to continue in its current format,” said Adkins. “We wanted to continue the recycling program in some way but we had to eliminate this massive cost.”
Malone and Adkins said that rising tipping fees per ton for solid waste prompted the outsourcing of the town’s 32,000 annual tons to a renewable energy incinerator plant in Chester, Pa. called Coventra, which is one of the largest of its kind in the country.
That move, according to Malone, saved the town upwards of $700,000 this year. He said the decision to essentially expand the scope of the town’s agreement with Coventra to now include the town’s recyclable materials would save the town an additional $1 million for fiscal year 2011, with about 60 percent of that sum being from payroll savings.
“This makes sense and it also makes dollars and cents, and if we don’t look into it and make changes when we can, we aren’t doing our job for the taxpayers of Ocean City”, said Malone. “We want our residents to be green but we don’t want to kill their pocket books in the process.”
Although it may look at first glance that the town is simply recanting it’s two decade long quest to educate residents and visitors on the merits of separating and recycling their materials, Malone argues the end result of the trash and now the recyclable materials that are being shipped to the huge incinerator plant outside of Philadelphia is clean and renewable energy.
Malone said that the only negative he sees with this program is the initial perception of the change itself.
“The glaring negative I see in this is the fact that people will have to reboot their way of thinking concerning what they do with recyclable materials,” said Malone. “Since the mid-80’s we’ve been telling people to separate their recyclables, and now we are taking a step back and asking them to just throw it away and trust us to take care of it.”
Simply put, when an aluminum can is thrown in the trash now, it will be sorted out by huge cross current magnets at the Coventra plant and will be recycled similarly to what people are used to, as will all metals, according to Malone.
However, as for other materials, as with solid waste, they will be incinerated and turned into renewable energy and sold back to the so-called grid, helping to power homes up and down the northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Mayor Rick Meehan praised both Adkins and Malone in a move that will surely bring a bit of controversy to an area that has become increasingly environmentally conscious over the years.
Malone says that he’s already received some angry phone calls, and he expects that may continue.
“If people can accept the fact that we aren’t abandoning recycling and this is simply doing it a different way to produce clean renewable energy, then they will be fine with this move. If they can’t get behind this new way of thinking, they will probably never be okay with what we are doing now,” he said.
The last day for the recycling program in Ocean City will be April 26, when large recycling receptacles will be emptied and taken back by the town of Ocean City. As for the small blue bins that many residents were given to sort out their recycling, the city will not take them back unless residents wish to relinquish them.