Solid Waste Director Suki Janssen warned commissioners last week that county recycling programs are in danger of running out of funding by mid-2022.
Traditionally, recycling has been break-even, with the cost of processing recyclable materials offset by revenue from selling them. The recycling market collapsed in 2018, though, and still hasn’t recovered, Janssen said.
The commission previously approved a small waste minimization fee that’s tacked onto the trash bills of both ACC and private haulers’ customers, as well as a recycling education fee that was supposed to be included in water bills, but then-county attorney Bill Berryman said that fee was illegal.
The landfill fund now supports dozens of recycling programs, including recycling drop-off centers, Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful’s litter pickup and roadside flower-planting, the Teacher Reuse Store, the Recovered Materials Processing Facility and the Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM). However, it was never meant to support recycling and is slated to run dry within two years.
“The point is, great services do cost,” Janssen said. “An alternative funding source for these integral programs is going to be required if we want to maintain these programs into the future.”
To start, Janssen is proposing moving KACCB and its $270,000 budget into the general fund, where it would be funded through taxes rather than landfill tipping fees. She also wants to raise the waste minimization fee from 60 cents to $1.20 per month for households and from $1.60 to $8.20–$16.40 per month for businesses, depending on size, and to start charging the University of Georgia 70 cents per student annually. That would raise $390,000 a year.
Other programs, like the CHaRM and recycling facility, may need to be moved into the general fund within three years, Jannsen said. With little market for recycled goods, the RMPF has become a money-loser. It’s projected to need a $315,000 subsidy. Solid Waste is asking businesses for innovative ideas “so we can maybe flip it back to making revenue instead of losing money and paying fees to process recyclables,” Janssen said.
Another issue is finding a way for self-haulers to pay for recycling. They don’t pay the waste minimization fee because they don’t have a trash collector, but many frequently take advantage of ACC recycling programs, and others don’t even live in Athens. Janssen said the county needs to “figure out how we can truly get all of the community to pay for the recycling education we provide to the whole community.”
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