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Mahoning recycling grows in items, costs

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County Green Team’s recycling efforts have made it through the worst of the COVID-19 lockdown and have seen a huge increase in recyclables.

However, while the program has seen more materials coming in, it also has seen an increase in costs and less accepted types of recyclables.

“Corrugated cardboard (OCC), and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics are seeing healthy demand,” said Green Team Director Lou Vega. “Increased home delivery due to the pandemic has driven up stateside need for OCC.”

He said the increased interest for No. 1 and No. 2 plastic results directly from the higher cost of oil.

“While we prefer a reduction in single-use plastics, having a demand for them is helpful,” Vega said.

Other materials such as aluminum and steel recyclables remain stable. Glass and No. 3 through No. 7 plastics remain nonlucrative and are unwanted at this time, he said.

On the demand side, Vega said China was the single largest buyer of American recycling exports. Because recycling is a market-based system, the cost to process recycling has increased significantly without the Chinese demand. This negatively impacted Mahoning County by increasing the cost of the dropoff program by nearly $200,000. The curbside recycling program has seen similar price increases.

Vega said in 2020, when the curbside recycling program was suspended during April and May, mainly to protect employees from the spread of COVID-19, the dropoff sites were able to meet the added demand because residents who had curbside pickup took their bins to a dropoff site.

“Service was doubled at each location at no additional cost to the district,” Vega said. “Republic Services provided the additional service in lieu of operating the curbside program for those months. Overall, more than 6,683 tons were collected in 2020, a 65-ton increase from 2019.”

At the same time that recycling efforts in Mahoning County are going strong, demand in Ohio for use of recyclables remains. A handful of companies in the state are using recyclables and manufacturing new items for use.

According to the district, Pratt Industries, PureCycle Technologies, Mondo Polymers Technologies Inc., Green Line Polymers, Phoenix Technologies International LLC, Evergreen Plastics Inc, Pinnacle Recycling, Absolute Polymers and Plastics R Unique are some of the Ohio companies in the recycling chain.

The 2021 annual budget for the Green Team is set at $2.4 million. The funding is derived from landfill disposal fees. These fees and their use are defined by the Ohio Revised Code. The Mahoning County Solid Waste District is bound by the Solid Waste Management Plan, which is ratified by the majority of municipalities in Mahoning County, the Mahoning County commissioners and ultimately the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Mahoning County has two active landfills from which these fees are sourced.

“Mahoning County is the only county in Ohio with free curbside recycling,” Vega said. “It is all paid for through fees charged by Republic Service Carbon Limestone landfill.”

Specialty programs will continue. The most recent was the tire collection held at the Canfield Fairgrounds on July 10. Vega said it was a big success with more than 4,000 tires filling two-and-a-half trailers.

“Our tire contractor is Liberty Tire from Minerva, Ohio,” he said. “The bulk of these collected tires will be used for tire-derived fuel (energy) applications. Tires produce 25 percent more energy than coal. Others will be shredded into crumb-rubber and reused into new products like parking bumpers.”

Vega said the one big problem with the dropoff sites deals with contamination and outright dumping of garbage. There are 27 dropoff sites, and the Green Team has a helping hand when it comes to monitoring the sites.

The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department visits all the sites each week with a pickup truck. The deputies remove items that should not be in a recycling bin.

“I’ve found an air hockey table, televisions, stereos, tires and shelf units, and we get appliances all the time,” said deputy Ed Maloney. “We check the bins and sites under our Community Service Program.”

Vega said some sites are equipped with cameras that can catch illegal dumping. Cameras and calls from concerned citizens help to mitigate the problem. Also, the Green Team has partnered with the sheriff’s office to investigate complaints.

For the future of Mahoning County recycling, Vega said: “I believe that technology will play a significant role in waste handling in the future. I see a world where landfills are not needed. I envision a place where mothballed landfills will be surface mined to reclaim the precious material that has been previously buried.”

jtwhitehouse@vindy.com

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