Flathead County residents take their trash and recycling to one of the 15 green box sites located across the Flathead. Trash as well as newspapers, certain plastics, aluminum, and appliances are all picked up at these sites and residents pay just under 81-dollars per year for the service. Public Works Director for Flathead County David Prunty said the County has been offering recycling services for fifteen years. He said the contract has gone out for bid 3 times, and been won by Evergreen Disposal-Valley Recycling. Prunty said the company collects the recyclables, sorts and ships them to processing plants. The County gets the revenue off the sale of the materials.
However, Prunty said the expenses outweigh the revenues “and it’s been the worst, or the most costly since the economic downturn. That’s really when our losses started to grow tremendously.” Prunty said the County was losing between $1,000 and $10,000 annually during the first decade of operation and grew to more than $97,000 lost in a year. He said Evergreen Disposal-Valley Recycling will have to increase its fee 20-to-30-percent on top of the growing losses.
“So we’re trying to say, ‘ok, wait a minute, we gotta’ step back and figure out , is there a better way to run this program?’,” Prunty said the recycling program has operated at a loss all but two of the fifteen years it has been in operation. One year he said it made a small profit, another Prunty said it broke even. However, Prunty said there is a benefit to not having those recyclable items into the landfill.
“There is a benefit that’s not purely dollars and cents driven on this; to have that air space in the landfill for the garbage that has to go there. So, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but when we’re losing the amount of money we’ve lost in this last contract, we’re not covering ourselves with that airspace that’s in the landfill,” Prunty said.
At the Flathead County Landfill there are two rows of bins. On one side there are blue bins for recycled materials like magazines and tin cans, and then a very full bin for corrugated cardboard. On the other side there’s a row of green bins just for regular old garbage. In front of it all there’s a huge pile with washing machines, dryers, water heaters and other applinces. Prunty said those items actually bring in a fair amount of money right now.
“When a contractor comes to the landfill to bail all of that material up, we’re generating $100,000 to $130,000 in a year, that they pay us just to come in and bail those up, and then they take them to market, they’re making money and they’re paying us that amount in essence a royalty fee to come in and do the work,” Prunty said.
Prunty said low market prices for recyclables like newspaper and high costs of diesel for transportation are factors keeping the program from penciling out.
“But it’s tough, when we’re in the Rocky Mountain West, we’ve got to get to market, and the market is the coast; either the east coast or west coast, and a lot of our stuff heads to Seattle,” Prunty said.
He’s putting out a Request for Qualifications and Proposals in the next two months. He said he’s hoping to hear some new ideas to revamp the County’s recycling program.