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ECUA, City Of Pensacola Talk Recycling Deal

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

Almost two months after its vendor contract expired, the City of Pensacola is working on a new deal for the handling of its recyclables.

Tarpon Paper of Loxley, Alabama stopped accepting loads from Pensacola last September, and the contract expired in March. While residents continued to sort their trash and recyclables, it turns out both have been going to the same place.

“The materials are going to the landfill but I think as everyone knows, the global market is significantly depressed; and so we’re feeling the impact here,” said City Administrator Eric Olson.

“Our processor just hasn’t been able to find a buyer for the materials that they process, said Olson. “It’s backed up, and we’re at the tail-end of that and we have to take it to the landfill.”

China is the main culprit, says Olson, because it decided to reduce imports of contaminated recyclables.

“China’s accepting only pre-processed paper; meaning they don’t want it to go through and single-stream recycling facility which is the way most of the recycling is done in the United States,” Olson says. “China’s been the huge player in the market, and when they close their doors that leaves a lot of supply looking for somebody to take up the demand.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Workers at the ECUA recycling plant separate various materials for baling and eventual sale.

Besides an environmental issue, recycling is also a business and the materials involved are commodities like wheat. But there’s one huge difference.

“If the demand for wheat drops, you can put your wheat in a silo or you can even stop planting while you wait for the price to recover,” said Olson. “But with recyclables, the supply’s always growing. So if the market’s disrupted, the processors have to find a buyer or they have to tell their raw material suppliers to take their product to a landfill.”

The city is coming under fire for downplaying the transport of recycling materials to the landfill, for fear people may get out of the habit of separating recyclables from their trash.

“That’s true; we don’t want people to get out of the habit. It’s a conscious decision we had to make, do we tell people about the disruptions, or do you just encourage them to keep recycling,” Olson said. “We chose to just encourage people to keep recycling. We will see if the market will turn around.”

Meanwhile, talks are underway on a contract between the city and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority to use the latter’s recycling facility in Perdido, which opened in 2016.

“We are not expecting the contract to go to our board this month, but I believe it will go in June,” said ECUA spokeswoman Nathalie Bowers. “I don’t expect that it will be any different than the contracts that have been established with other municipalities such as Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa County, et cetera.”

Credit Emerald Coast Utilities Authority

Pensacola would join 10 other cities and counties in northwest Florida and south Alabama, along with the firm Allied Waste Services, in using ECUA’s facility.

“I can’t speak for the board, but I certainly think that they value a good relationship with the City of Pensacola,” Bowers said. “It’s our community and so we want to make sure that we provide the services and the recycling program continues to be viable and successful.”

If approved by the Pensacola City Council and the ECUA Board, residents would be allowed to recycle more items than allowed by Tarpon Paper. In the meantime, ECUA’s Nathalie Bowers and City Administrator Eric Olson have some advice to the public.

“Try to learn a little more about what’s going on with recycling around the country,” said Olson. “Continue sort their recycling, and keep the contamination out of their recycling bin.”

“Try to keep it up as quickly as possible; the program will be back up and running,” said Bowers.

Eight-year-old Tarpon Paper is estimated to generate $1.4 million in annual revenues and employs approximately 18 people, according to numerous business websites.

Numerous efforts to contact the firm for this story were unsuccessful.