China ban disruption forces Belmont, MA to split recycling costs with local hauler
- The Belmont, MA Board of Selectmen voted this week to split the cost of recycling with long-time hauler FW Russell & Sons (also known as Russell Disposal Inc.), as reported by the Belmontonian. The town will pay the company up to $45 per ton, totaling about $24,000.
- The board voted to approve the contract amendment to avoid service disruption or litigation, according to Wicked Local Belmont. F W Russell & Sons said either were a possibility following market disruption from China's import policies.
- Belmont is switching to automated recycling pickup in July, and its current contract with FW Russell expires in just five months. Belmont has for years had a dual-stream recycling system, which is now being processed as single-stream. Recent changes caused the town to alter its request for proposal (RFP) to include language that will shift the town to a single-stream system.
Driving this contract modification, which is upending a decades-long tradition in this Boston suburb, is not local economics or politics, but global markets. China's import policies have created recycling stockpiles and shifting realities across the United States. Massachusetts has been feeling these effects more than others for a variety of reasons.
In this part of the state, the major MRF operator is Casella, which has historically exported around a quarter of its recycling to China. In a recent interview with WBUR, an executive with Casella said, "the markets started to tighten up" as a result of the new restrictions. Part of the amendment contract between Belmont and FW Russell is the company showing the towns invoices from Casella to authenticate the costs.
While it's no longer unusual to see recycling changes because of the shifting marketplace, the situation in Belmont appears a bit more extreme than other cases. Some municipalities stopped accepting certain types of plastic, for example, but Belmont is upending a 30-year local tradition and switching from dual-stream recycling to help haulers which are seeing lower profits at MRFs.
Also unusual is that FW Russell threatened litigation against the town if it did not agree to help share the cost burden. While it is unclear what the lawsuit would have entailed, or whether it would have been successful, it is noteworthy that a hauler would take such a step.
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