Because of new recycling policies in China, Mashpee residents in the not-so-distant future might not be allowed to dump all their recycling into one bin at the transfer station.
The change will not happen immediately as Mashpee’s Board of Selectmen stuck with a contract for the Mashpee Transfer Station for a year, despite a plea from the contractor operating the station.
But the change will likely come about, even within the year.
“Because the markets are not improving, we will have to consider changing our operation,” Catherine E. Laurent, Department of Public Works director, told the board. She said that the market likely would not recover for another six or seven years.
Residents, again, will likely have to place paper, plastic, cans and glass into different disposal bins at the station. Dumping all recyclables into one bin, a practice known as single-stream, was seen to improve recycling rates. Ms. Laurent said the practice had increased Mashpee’s recycling rate 13 percent since it went into practice 10 years ago.
But with the market turbulence in Massachusetts for recycled paper and glass, single stream could be phased out in the state.
China has been accepting recyclables from the US for a number of years, but recently decided to adopt stricter policies for the amount of contamination in the recyclable stream. Contamination could include anything like food or trash mixed in with recyclables.
Since clamping down, China has drastically reduced its acceptance of American shipments, throwing the American recycling market into chaos.
Across the state, recycling facilities have closed down or no longer accept certain products. Paper, for example, has stacked up in tons in processing plants.
“The paper market this time last year was $125 per ton,” Wes Gregory, founder of Gotta Do Contracting LLC, told selectmen on Monday, May 21. “It went from [receiving] $125 to paying $40 a ton. We can’t operate like that.”
Glass, he said, is now thrown away too.
Gotta Do currently has a one-year contract with the town to operate the transfer station. Selectmen had agreed to a new contract for the fiscal year starting July 1 with Gotta Do again, but apparently had not signed the actual contract. Since the market continued to worsen, Mr. Gregory tried to negotiate out of the contract in the eleventh hour on Monday, May 21.
Mashpee went out to bid for the operation of the transfer station in late fall. Only Gotta Do responded. Around the same time, China’s practices began to impact the recycling market. Gotta Do provided a set fee of $50 per-ton tip fee for single-stream recycling that would not fluctuate with the market.
Selectmen considered putting the contract back out to bid for the coming fiscal year, but Ms. Laurent advised the board that the fee could be much worse if they did. The Bourne landfill, for example, charged $95 a ton at the time. So the board in early April decided to agree to the new contract with Gotta Do.
But after the town decided to go forward with the contract, Gotta Do did not sign it. Town manager Rodney C. Collins said that he sent the agreement to Gotta Do on April 21. Ms. Laurent further followed up with Mr. Gregory about his signature on the contract on May 8 and then a second time on May 14, Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Gregory told the board on Monday, May 21, that no one had asked him to sign the contract. “I didn’t think it was ready to be signed,” he said.
He did sign the agreement on Monday night, but only after requesting that the town consider a new, non-single-stream recycling operation and a new contract.
Mr. Gregory proposed to the board that instead of the fixed rate for single stream, he could charge a market rate disposal fee for all recyclables including plastic, paper, glass and others. He and Ms. Laurent said that the town could save money with the proposal. Instead of single-stream disposal, the town would pay the market rate for each recyclable product. If the selectmen chose not to, he would honor the contract but the town will eventually have to change its operation with the region.
“The reality is, it’s going to happen whether you like it or not,” Mr. Gregory said.
Selectmen said that while they would likely change the transfer station operation eventually, it would not happen in a last-minute decision.
Selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb had concerns moving forward with a new contract five weeks prior to the new fiscal year, especially considering no other competition would be involved in the bidding. “We have no leverage whatsoever,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
The selectman also noted that the markets were still fluctuating even in the last month.
“I think the facts that have been raised are a valid concern,” Mr. Collins said. “I am concerned,” he said, about changing the contract.
Selectman John J. Cotton had concerns about burning a vendor, considering Gotta Do was the only contractor to respond the original bidding process. But the board eventually decided to stick with the $50-per-ton single-stream contract.
Before deciding, the board took some jabs at Gotta Do. A number of selectmen have complained about the oversight at the transfer station recently.
Mr. Gottlieb and Mr. Cahalane both said they have seen people throwing away several bags of trash over the allowed limit, some of whom did not even have a sticker.
“You could throw a dead body in the transfer station and no one’s going to notice it,” Mr. Gottlieb said. Supervision, he said, was going to have to get better if the town signed a contract with Gotta Do for the following fiscal year’s contract.