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Special report: Recycling dollars don’t always make sense


The logic of lugging bottles and cans to the curb for recycling has always been in the dollars and cents. But the belief that it pays to recycle might be nothing more than rubbish.

“The overall value from what we collect is probably down about 200 percent from 2008,” said Brad Bailey, President for Bend Garbage and Recycling.

Bailey said the volatility of the Chinese market has led to a steady decline in revenue from recycled materials. According to the Washington Post, several recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities across the country are paying to dispose of their recyclables, instead of the other way around.

In the cities of Deschutes County and most of Oregon, recycling companies are not run through city government. Private companies like Bend Garbage and Recycling charge collection rates to the city for profit. Despite the steep drop in returning revenue, rates in Bend haven’t changed lately.

“Fuel costs have gone down, and we try to be very efficient in how we collect curbside,” Bailey said.

He did say that long-term, if returns remain low, there could be a strain that would eventually impact rates. But for now, the biggest money-saver has been in bins — in particular, a 90-gallon roll bin that was rolled out a few years ago, and which gave residents more room to put recycling away.

“Recycling rates rose nearly 20 percent just because of the convenience and the size of our bins,” Bailey said.

So what is the value in recycling? Denise Rowcroft with Bend’s Environmental Center said it’s not measured in dollars, but in waste. As recycling revenue rates are going down, Bend’s housing rate is shooting up.

“The overall amount of stuff that goes to the landfill increases every year,” said Rowcroft. “Looking at the rates, it just follows the housing boom and recession, so we’re seeing that again.”

Timm Schimke is Deschutes County’s director of solid waste, and oversees Knott Landfill. He said as business has boomed again, waste is piling up with it.

“A combination of markets, plus the increase of disposal from the increased economic activity has turned that a bit, so we’re falling behind,” Schimke said.

And that’s where the value of recycling comes into play. Schimke estimated that Central Oregon’s recycling rate has spared the landfill more than a million tons of space. That equates to an extra seven years of life, and $10 million saved in transportation.

“You may not get a check at the end of the trip when you haul your stuff over there, but what you’ve saved in space and time to make this landfill last is nearly overwhelming,” Schimke said.

For more on limiting waste, read up on tips shared by Denise Rowcroft with The Environmental Center.

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