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West Seneca rethinks recycling by moving to biweekly pickup

West Seneca is the latest community to grapple with the changing recycling industry, and it will mean changes for residents.

Under a new contract with Modern Disposal Services, recyclables will be picked up every two weeks instead of the weekly pickup now in effect. Fewer items will be allowed in the recycling totes, and the whole contract will cost more.

Recycling costs have increased after China, which took in much of the recyclable materials from the United States, stopped accepting anything but the purest items. That is a problem for many of the recycling facilities here, where communities employ single stream recycling – with all types of recyclables placed in the same container – to increase participation.

"A lot of the stuff going into the recycling bins is not recyclable," Councilman Gene Hart said.

The market for many recyclable materials has tightened, and instead of companies paying communities to recycle, it's the communities that are having to pay for the service.

A glut of some of the materials has emerged for the processing markets, said Andy Goldstein, recycling coordinator for Erie County. That affects the materials recovery facilities, or MRFs, he said.

"New contracts all boil down to them paying for this material to be recovered," Goldstein said. "If there's a glut the price goes down. In many cases, MRF operators have to pay somebody to take this material to recycle them."

West Seneca approved a contract with Modern that will cost nearly $700,000 before the processing fee of $43.75 per ton is applied. The town estimates it will cost about $200,000 more than the old contract. But if the town kept the weekly pickup, the cost would have been about a half million dollars more, Hart said. The town increased the recycling budget by $30,000 this year.

The town decided against choosing the "risk-reward" option. That could have provided the town with rebates, depending on the cost of each commodity each month. But the town also could end up paying more each month.

"We decided not to, because the way the markets went in the last four months, we felt the risk was too high," Hart said.

While some residents may complain about the biweekly pickup, Town Board members felt they had no choice. An online survey asking for opinions garnered about 1,500 replies, Hart said, with the sentiment "about 50-50," he said.

The switch to biweekly is expected to occur about May 1, Town Attorney Tina Hawthorne said. She said there are at least two informational meetings planned, along with two newsletters. Modern will help with the outreach to residents. Hart said a Facebook page on recycling is planned as well.

The key, town officials believe, is making sure residents know the new rules, which will mean no colored glass, and a change in plastics: only clean plastic with No. 1 or 2 on the bottom will be recycled.

"Much more of it could be recycled if people would take the time to wash the cans and wash the plastic bottles," Hart said.

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