Recycling costs to skyrocket across Franklin County

  • Recyclable waste is collected at the Greenfield Transfer Station. Though local transfer stations used to make money from recyclable waste, when their contracts are renewed in the coming weeks, towns will find themselves paying to get rid of recyclables. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The cardboard and paper recycling piles up inside the building at the Greenfield Transfer Station. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Recyclable waste is collected at the Greenfield Transfer Station. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Published: 12/17/2019 10:08:44 PM

Though local transfer stations used to make money from recyclable waste, when their contracts are renewed in the coming weeks, towns will find themselves paying to get rid of recyclables.

Bob MacEwen, chair of the Northfield Board of Health, which manages the town transfer station, said, for example, Northfield used to make $40 to $50 per ton of recyclable waste — containers, paper and cardboard. This was reduced to be as low as $8 per ton due to market changes, he said, with Northfield disposing of 215.44 tons of recyclable materials in 2018.

By contrast, starting in July, the proposed changes to the contract with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the operator, Waste Management Recycle America, will charge transfer stations $93.50 per ton of recyclables that are sorted using the dual-stream method, which involves separating paper products from bottles and cans. If a town were to operate using single stream, where all items are discarded together, it would cost $145 per ton to bring everything to the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility.

“Going from making something to paying that ...” MacEwen trailed off, noting that the Northfield Transfer Station uses the dual-stream method. “It’s a lot of money.”

Franklin County Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Jan Ameen said the changes are in part due to countries like China no longer accepting recyclable materials from the United States.

“The industry created a system where not enough domestic facilities take recyclables,” she explained.

According to Ameen, the changes apply to 19 towns in the district — Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Heath, Leverett, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Rowe, Shelburne, Warwick, Wendell, Whately and Orange. Orange currently uses single-stream recycling but will switch to dual-stream in the near future, Ameen said. Non-district towns of Greenfield, Shutesbury and Ashfield will also need to sign a contract.

Ameen noted that towns can separate out glass for a $5 discount per ton. She said she is exploring other options for reduced pricing.

“My job is to help towns find ways to save money and help minimize hauling costs,” Ameen said.

Making up the difference

In Bernardston, town officials are already considering how to afford the increasing costs. After the new contract proposal was submitted to the town by the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District in October, the Selectboard conveyed the information to residents in the town newsletter.

“Given the depressed worldwide market for recycled materials, it was expected that the terms of the new agreement would be less favorable than in the expiring 10-year contract,” the Selectboard wrote. “No one, not even the district, could have predicted how expensive it will be to process our recyclables.”

Selectboard Chair Robert Raymond said Bernardston may have “no choice” but to pay an estimated $15,000 more than last year if the transfer station is charged $93.50 per ton for recyclables. In 2018, Bernardston disposed of 161.9 tons of recyclables.

Raymond said the increased expense will be calculated into the town’s budget and the appropriate people are trying to calculate the full extent of the impact on Bernardston’s finances.

He estimated, for example, that if there are 650 families being served by the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, it would cost about $23 per household to make up the difference each year.

“It’s a regressive tax on poor communities, in my opinion” Raymond said.

According to Ameen, Conway received about $1,400 in recycling revenue from the Materials Recycling Facility at $8 per ton in 2018.

The effect on the town remains to be seen, said Carl Nelk, chair of the Conway Board of Health, though it will affect its budget. He is unsure if taxes will need to be raised.

“The market for recycling has just gone away,” Nelke said.

Fran Fortino, chair of Whately’s Board of Health and its Solid Waste Management Committee, said the proposed change would mean what was consistently a net gain for the town will turn into an expense. He said “the situation with recycling … around the world” has affected every aspect of the market.

“Every community in Western Mass. is affected similarly by this,” he said. “Nobody is happy with this contract that the state negotiated with the operator. … We’re all in the same boat.”

Fortino said it is “a bit of a concern” that Whately residents will reduce the amount they recycle, though he encourages them to continue recycling at the same rate because it will still be cheaper than putting recyclables in the trash.

Solutions under a time crunch?

Northfield’s contract renewal must be signed by Dec. 31. The current Bernardston contract will expire on June 30, 2020, while the town needs to sign the new contract by January 31, the change will not be in affect until July 1, 2020. Should the towns commit, the new contract will last five years.

Raymond said Bernardston will look into other potential recycling contracts through firms like USA Recycling, outside of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District, but the time constraint will be difficult.

Regardless of the entity processing the recyclable materials, Raymond noted it’s important to crush items like milk jugs and other large containers. Doing so frees up space in the bins, which means fewer hauling bills.

Likewise, MacEwen discussed with the Northfield Selectboard the option of installing balers at the Northfield Transfer Station to condense materials and reduce hauling expenses. Industrial-sized balers can cost anywhere from $6,000 to more than $60,000.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or
413-772-0261, ext. 264.


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