To recycle or not to recycle? Utah cities ask residents if they're willing to pay more

South Ogden has surveyed residents and has scheduled public comment for Tuesday evening on whether the city should continue its recycling program. (Photo: Matt Michela / KUTV)

A handful of cities in Weber County are grappling with how to handle the increasing cost of household recycling programs.

South Ogden has surveyed residents and has scheduled public comment for Tuesday evening on whether the city should continue its recycling program.

Matt Dixon, city manager of South Ogden, said the company that processes its recycling has provided notice of a cost increase, from about $39 per ton to more than $53 per ton.

“It’s tough to have those external forces that put that kind of pressure on the community,” Dixon said. “Nobody wants to say they’re anti-recycling or that they don’t support recycling, but are you willing to pay $1 more a month? $2?”

Communities nationwide are struggling with more expensive recycling programs, as China has become more selective with what it will accept.

Cities in Weber County are working jointly on a recycling contract, and some are weighing whether to trash the program altogether, according to Jay Lowder, public services director for Ogden.

“If we can’t get the recycling cost down to where it’s controllable, there’s a real strong chance they will stop recycling,” Lowder said, adding that his city is committed to recycling.

He said the recycler — the Ogden company Recycled Earth — is “doing the best they can” given the tough market.

David Rawson, who owns the recycling company, said the proposed increase would amount to 12 cents for the average blue bin.

“We don’t want to go away from the program because of 24 cents per household per month,” he said.

Rawson, who just invested in a new recycling facility, said it would be short-sighted for cities to cancel their recycling programs.

“It is going to cost to move the product,” he said, “and the short-term increase right now preserves the already-set-up structure to help us. If we don’t do — if we cancel the program — it’s really tough to get that back.”

He said China used to take 75 to 85% of the country’s recyclables, and now, they hardly take any. Once more domestic companies are able to reuse the material, Rawson hopes the market will stabilize. He remembers a time when cities along the Wasatch Front made millions of dollars from their recycling programs.

“Will it go to free? No,” Rawson said. “Will it be about what landfill costs? Probably.”

South Ogden residents seem to be willing to pay more for recycling, based on the results of an emailed survey that about 400 people completed. About 65% of respondents said the city should continue to participate in recycling even if it costs more than trash.

“To me, it indicates... that recycling is important to our community,” Dixon said.

Ogden and South Ogden have not yet calculated the potential added cost for each household, officials from both cities said.

No decisions are expected in South Ogden on Tuesday. It’s one step in the process of gauging public opinion on the topic.

“It is good for the planet, and I think it is good for our community,” Lowder said. “It’s just how much we pay to do it is the only question.”

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