Curbside recycling is something Stillwater residents requested for many years.
It finally became a reality in 2013 and initial reports described it as a successful program that would extend the life of the city’s landfill and save money. But the markets for many recyclable materials have dried up over the past few years and problems have emerged.
Costs have risen and residents have not consistently sorted materials to keep contamination out of their recycling.
The City of Stillwater has been forced to examine options for dealing with its solid waste after receiving a letter on Aug. 7 from recycling processor Cedar Creek Farms, LLC, a local company owned by Henry Wells, that said the company would no longer accept the city’s single-stream recycling because it contained excessive amounts of trash.
A compromise has since been reached and Wells has agreed to continue accepting the city’s recycling through the end of his contract, City Manager Norman McNickle said. That gives the City of Stillwater up to three more years.
McNickle will give a presentation about Stillwater’s recycling situation Monday evening when the members of the City Council put on their trustee hats and convene as the Stillwater Utilities Authority.
The recycling landscape has changed since the City of Stillwater launched single-stream curbside recycling in July 2013.
In April 2014, city staff gave a report to the SUA that said 669 tons of material had been processed in the program’s first nine months, with about 13-15% of that material being diverted to the landfill. At the time, the City of Stillwater paid $28.84 per ton to dump refuse in the landfill north of town and paid Cedar Creek Farms LLC $20 per ton to process recyclables.
Cedar Creek Farms, LLC, kept the money earned from selling the recyclable materials. The City of Stillwater was to pick up residual waste and haul it to the local landfill at its own cost.
The City realized other savings in dumping fees, as well as in employee time and payroll, according to that report.
By the time the city’s contract with Cedar Creek Farms renewed in April 2017, its cost per ton for processing single-stream recycling had increased to $29.33 if residual waste, meaning materials that can’t be recycled, made up less than 20% of the material processed.
The rate the City pays escalated rapidly as the amount of residual waste increased.
The City agreed to pay $42.88 per ton at 21-25%, $56.44 per ton at 26-35% and $70 per ton at 36-50%.
The rates were adjusted up to 3% annually, based on the rate of inflation.
In 2017, the City of Stillwater announced it would stop picking up several different types of plastic that no longer had viable markets.
McNickle says recycling no longer saves money for the city but it is popular with residents. Unfortunately some people still aren’t doing it correctly, which causes headaches for the people separating and processing the materials.
During the most recent recycling audit, Stillwater averaged about 26% residual materials, McNickle said. That’s higher than the national average, but not by a huge margin.
Wells has reported having problems with a large number of people putting their recycling in trash bags before they place it in the cart. The bags aren’t recyclable because the thin film clogs machinery that sorts the materials. That means the whole thing will go in the trash pile.
Other people place trash that is obviously not recyclable in the carts. It’s not always the amount, sometimes it’s the nature of the materials.
Workers have regularly found hazardous and objectionable items including medical waste like colostomy bags, used hypodermic needles, animal feces and used kitty litter, McNickle said.
Stillwater resident Art Bieri said he has taken recycling directly to Cedar Creek ‘Farms for many years and he has heard its staff talking about finding those types of things in the recycling they’re expected to sort by hand.
Bieri has also watched the large piles of trash building up at Cedar Creek Farms.
The City of Stillwater agreed to help Cedar Creek Farms deal with the piles that had accumulated and Wells has agreed to ensure they don’t build up again, McNickle said.
The City hauled 419 tons of material to the landfill over the past few weeks at a cost of about $10,000. McNickle said doing that was far cheaper than any alternative.
He says most of the material the city hauled off could not have been recycled and would have gone to the landfill anyway.
Moving forward, the City of Stillwater has agreed to step up its public education program about what can and cannot be recycled, emphasizing that plastic bags and bagged materials are not acceptable in the recycling stream.
It will also limit single-stream recycling to residential accounts, make sure commercial cardboard recycling containers have proper signage and put padlocks on them.
People have been dumping garbage in the commercial containers meant only for cardboard, McNickle said.
“It’s in the City’s best interest to make the deal with Cedar Creek Farms work,” McNickle said.
Stillwater’s distance from both of Oklahoma’s major metro areas would make recycling extremely expensive if there weren’t a local option, he said.
The Stillwater City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Stillwater Municipal Building. The meetings are live-streamed at Stillwater.org and broadcast on Suddenlink Channel 14 and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99.