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Environmentally responsible practices may be trendier than ever, but they’re generally worth the effort. If just 20% of American households switched to electronic billing in lieu of paper invoices, we’d save 151 million pounds of paper every year. But for households that still utilize paper products, recycling programs are often a great option to offset the waste.

Most citizens know that recycling regularly can help protect the planet. After all, recycling one ton of cardboard saves over nine cubic yards of landfill space. However, ecological sustainability doesn’t automatically translate to financial sustainability. One recycling plant in Kent County has found that its practices are no longer economically viable, resulting in an increase of their recycling rates. If Kent County businesses want to go green, they may have to fork over more green to do so.

When the county first opened the recycling facility in 2010, it was able to actually turn a profit by selling the commodities it produced, such as plastic, aluminum, and tin. Profits continued to rise until 2011, when the prices of those commodities started to drop due to changes in the marketplace, like the lowered price of oil. In 2011, Kent County was able to get around $152 a ton for those commodities, but by 2015, they could fetch only about half that price. Last year, their losses totaled $1.6 million.

The facility has been in the red for the last four years. Darwin Baas, the director of Kent County Public Works, says that the losses simply weren’t sustainable. As of January 1, 2017, the county implemented a new fee schedule with a goal of making recycling a sustainable undertaking once more.

For local waste haulers, the recycling fees will come to $35 a ton. If you’re bringing loads from outside Kent County, those fees increase to $40 a ton. “That allows us to operate at a break-even point, which is what we need,” said Baas.

Last year, the county put a $10/ton fee in place as an attempt to replace lost revenue, but that clearly wasn’t enough to bridge the gap. Annual operating expenses total around $4 million, so the facility needed much more than the anticipated revenue of less than $2.5 million in 2015. These new increased fees will provide nearly 38% of the facility’s overall budget; the remainder still comes from the sales of commodities.

Adding to the financial crisis are the costs tied to contamination of the materials they receive at the facility. Baas estimates that around 15% of the materials they get can be labeled as non-recyclables or contamination. They regularly receive Styrofoam, tarps, and brake rotors at the facility, all of which have to be removed and disposed of. The county budgets $150,000 a year for this sole purpose.

One incident was even more catastrophic. A partially full cylinder of propane was unknowingly brought to the facility and caused an explosion, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

And while businesses are expected to bear the burden of these increased costs, the Director of Public Services, James Hurt, noted that individual residents shouldn’t be concerned about increasing bills.

“We are not intending to pass that cost on to our residents, to our customers as an additional cost,” he said. “Our community recycles enormously; it’s a very strong recycling community. We certainly don’t want to deter recycling from occurring.”

Hurt went on to say that the increased fees are built into the city’s current budget, and that he anticipates the city will continue to absorb those fees throughout the year.

“Recycling is important,” he said. “It’s one of our core values. We want to continue to promote that.”

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