- The Pensacola, Florida City Council has unanimously approved a new recyclable materials processing contract with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) that will take effect July 1. The ECUA board still must approve the measure at its June 28 meeting.
- The city previously had a contract with Alabama-based Tarpon Paper, which expired in March. Last month, the public learned that Tarpon Paper had been landfilling recyclables since Sept. 2017 because of market volatility, and the city knew about it, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
- Final cost details haven't been released yet, but ECUA is expected to charge Pensacola approximately the same as its other customers, which would be half of what the city paid for Tarpon Paper's service.
Tarpon Paper reportedly has been experiencing trouble finding markets for its recovered recyclables because of China's materials ban. That's becoming a more common problem across the country and has led to stockpiles or, as with Tarpon Paper, diverting materials to landfill. The issue has trickled down the chain to municipalities, leading some to make difficult decisions about eliminating certain items from the stream or abandon recycling programs altogether, even temporarily, as seen in Oregon.
However, Pensacola's recycling program woes exceed the China-related issues other municipalities are facing. The city is taking heat for not disclosing that recyclables were being dumped despite certain city employees knowing about it. Although some leaders claim they first heard about the issue when it became public last month, others reportedly had said they didn't want to tell residents and risk breaking their recycling habits.
Some critics believe that the whole situation could have been prevented if the city had declined renewal of Tarpon Paper's contract when it expired in November 2016 and granted the contract to ECUA instead. The authority had opened its state-of-the-art processing facility in Pensacola just a couple months prior. ECUA's MRF also has the capability to process glass, whereas Tarpon Paper previously had stopped accepting that material.
This marks the second time that ECUA's presence has helped solve a recycling challenge in the region. When the facility opened in 2016 it gave regional municipalities a new outlet for their materials after they were disrupted by the closure of a mixed waste facility in Montgomery, Alabama.