In the course of the April 23, 2019 work session on the FY 2019-20 budget, former Councilman Gary McDonald brought up the question of whether Bay Disposal & Recycling, LLC, which picks up the Town’s curbside recycling, is “dumping these items into a landfill,” as The Beacon reported 4/24/19.
“Mr. McDonald mentioned this prospect,” we reported nearly eight months ago, “and other Town officials concurred with him. . . . [We distinctly remember Councilman Christopher Nason agreeing with Mr. McDonald.]
“This appalling bit of news,” The Beacon continued, “elicited no action from the Town Council, and no definitive explanation from [former Town Manager Peter] Rascoe, who did not dispute the allegation.”
A dedicated recycler since the mid-1980s, when I lived in Baltimore, I was horrified. I beseeched every member of the Town Council, as well as Mr. Rascoe, to investigate this claim. “Pick up the phone,” I implored.
At last Tuesday evening’s Town Council meeting, we learned exactly what Mayor Tom Bennett; the former Town Council, which included current Councilman Jim Conners; former Town Manager Rascoe; and follow-up Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett have done about the landfill allegation since April:
The Beacon believes that, based on his performance Tuesday, if newly sworn Councilman Matt Neal had been on the Town Council in April, we would have received a prompt explanation. He would have found out eight months ago.
Joshua Smaltz, Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager, appeared before the Town Council at its December regular meeting to request an increase in the monthly per-home collection rate that the Town now pays. In the course of the Council’s dialogue with him, Councilman Conners sought to dispel “rumors” about the company dumping recyclables in landfills. He asked Mr. Smaltz to address the rumors.
In so doing, Mr. Smaltz actually confirmed them: The issue is not whether recyclables are going to landfills, but who’s physically doing the dumping.
Bay Disposal seeks an increase from a monthly fee of $5.42 per home in Southern Shores—which itself is an increase of 10 cents over the original June 15, 2018 contract price—to $7.40 per home. According to the contract, which Mr. Smaltz and Mr. Rascoe signed, there are 2,394 homes in Southern Shores.
As Councilman Neal astutely pointed out, the contract between Bay Disposal and the Town, “lacks an escalation clause.” In fact, as Mr. Neal noted, the contract states that additional fees or costs are Bay Disposal’s responsibility. The Town has no obligation to even consider Bay Disposal’s request for a rate increase, effective Jan. 1.
Mr. Neal was the only Council member who addressed Mr. Smaltz’s request for a rate increase as a matter of contract, rather than as a request for help. He (again astutely) observed that if the Town agrees to amend the contract to increase the monthly rate, further amendments may be necessary. He even brought up the possibility of a more extensive rewriting of the contract.
THE PROBLEM OF CONTAMINATION
According to Mr. Smaltz, the $1.98 monthly per-home fee increase—which Mr. Neal termed “considerable”—is necessary because Bay Disposal’s “processing fees” for “transporting and processing the recycling” have increased precipitously.
At the time of the Town’s June 2018 contract, Bay Disposal was paying $20/per ton of recycling material for processing. This amount gradually increased. As of Nov. 1, 2019, he said, the company was paying $110/per ton. In just “the last two weeks,” he noted, that cost has increased to $120/per ton.
From Jan. 1, 2019 to Nov. 1, 2019, Mr. Smaltz said, Bay Disposal collected 482.06 tons of recycling from Southern Shores, at a processing cost of $22,813.95. If the company were to pay $120/per ton, that amount would be $57,847.20.
In response to inquiries from Councilmen Conners and Leo Holland, the Bay Disposal manager explained the recycling process, which starts with the curbside collection.
Bay Disposal’s recycling trucks transport the loads they collect to the company’s “recycling transfer facility” in Powell’s Point, where they are transferred to a “53-foot tractor-trailer” that hauls the material to three recycling plants in Virginia. These plants sort and process the material, rejecting any recycling that is “contaminated.”
“Anything unclean,” such as unwashed glass jars or bottles, “is contaminated,” Mr. Smaltz said; but there are other causes of contamination, upon which the Outer Banks Site Manager could have elaborated, but did not.
Plastic bags, for example, which he said “are an issue,” are considered recycling “tanglers,” The Beacon learned in doing some quick research online, because they “get tangled in the equipment at the recycling processing facility, wasting time and resources,” according to The Recycling Partnership, a national non-profit organization.
Styrofoam is also a common problem, even egg cartons, meat trays, and packing peanuts that have the recycling symbol imprinted upon them. These products are recyclable, says The Recycling Partnership, but NOT in the curbside recycling service system. Typically, local grocery stores take them back, or local governments set up drop-off locations for foam packing, the nonprofit observes on its website.
Any material that one of the Virginia recycling centers rejects as contaminated ends up in a landfill. This year, Mr. Smaltz said, these centers hired “third-party graders” to assess the arriving recyclables so as to ensure fairness in the sorting and rejection process.
Material that is not considered contaminated is sold to an overseas buyer, which, Mr. Smaltz said, may decide independently to reject it for reasons of contamination. Anything that an overseas buyer rejects is returned to the United States and dumped in a landfill!
China was the first country to refuse recycling because of contamination, he said. India and Thailand followed suit.
If Mr. Conners listened to everything that Mr. Smaltz said after the manager first denied that his company transports recyclables to a landfill, he would have learned that landfill dumping is exactly what is occurring—only a processor or buyer down the “recycling stream,” not Bay Disposal itself, is doing the actual dumping.
After his denial, Mr. Smaltz acknowledged that his company had “six to eight loads” that it delivered to the Virginia recycling centers this year rejected as contaminated. But he qualified this waste by saying that the actual rejected material constituted “less than 50 percent of the [individual] load.”
Much more helpful to the Town Council would have been a quantification of the recycling tonnage from Southern Shores that ended up in a landfill. Just what is the Town’s cost-benefit ratio here?
“There are a lot of contamination issues across the country,” Mr. Smaltz said. No one overseas wants to buy U.S. recycling.
The Beacon wonders why Bay Disposal, as well as the Town, has not sought to educate the public about recycling dos and don’ts. (See photo below.) The “issue” of plastic bags and the problems with unwashed containers are not new.
No food, no batteries, no tanglers (including garden hoses, electric cords, etc.) . . . flatten your cardboard boxes . . . and when in doubt, throw it out.
A MATTER OF CONTRACT: COUNCILMAN NEAL EXCELS
According to Mr. Smaltz, on July 10, 2019, a peak-season Wednesday, Bay Disposal’s trucks collected 2,131 “carts” of recycling in Southern Shores. This amounted to 21.58 tons or an average of 20.25 pounds per home, he said.
In contrast, on Nov. 13, 2019, the trucks collected 910 “carts” for 8.42 tons or an average of 18.5 pounds per home in Southern Shores.
Mr. Smaltz said he would give the Town Council a “can count,” but spoke about “carts,” not “cans.” The terms are interchangeable. The contract refers to “carts,” “receptacles,” and “containers,” not cans. Homeowners who participate in Bay Disposal’s curbside recycling purchase receptacles from the company for $90 apiece.
Mr. Smaltz estimated that about 80 to 85 percent of Southern Shores homeowners availed themselves of curbside recycling this past summer, and about 35 to 40 percent used curbside recycling during the off-season. Last year, the summer use was greater, he said.
When Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey pressed Mr. Smaltz for more precise can-count data—“from your memory”—he said that in April, “when the season begins to pick up,” about 45 percent of Southern Shores homes use the curbside service. Numbers from the remainder of the year are 80 to 85 percent during the July peak; 60 percent in mid-September; 40 percent in mid-October; and 35 to 40 percent in November, December, and January.
To evaluate these numbers, it would be helpful to know how many of the 2,394 homes in Southern Shores are occupied in the off-season.
Ms. Morey expressed an interest in “subscription rate” curbside recycling, but said she was “more comfortable with the idea” when she believed, as the Mayor said he did, that only 35 to 40 percent of homeowners used the curbside service.
Mr. Smaltz did not differentiate between use by year-round homeowners vis-a-vis seasonal vacationers.
In response to earlier questioning about whether Bay Disposal could provide Southern Shores homeowners private “subscription” curbside recycling service and how much it would cost, Mr. Smaltz replied that it could, at a cost of $13 per home per month.
Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hill, and Nags Head homeowners currently have the option of purchasing a subscription recycling service, he said.
Ms. Morey asked Mr. Smaltz to provide the Town Council with as many “can counts” as he can: “Whatever you got,” she said.
She concluded by saying that she would like to “hear from the community as to what they would like us to do.”
Rather than household-use percentage, Councilman Neal focused on annual tonnages in order to assess what Bay Disposal’s “actual burden is,” what he called its “hardship.”
He pointedly asked of Mr. Smaltz: “What would you do if we didn’t give [the increase] to you?”
The Bay Disposal employee said his company would “consider canceling the contract,” which is the response Mr. Neal anticipated.
“I want to gingerly step into this,” the new Councilman said, sounding very much like an experienced contract negotiator. “The more data you give me, I would be more comfortable supporting your hardship.”
Mr. Neal asked Mr. Smaltz to “edify us on paper” as to “what the dollar hardship is to [Bay Disposal] over the value of this contract,” which expires June 30, 2021.
He also inquired as to whether Bay Disposal would consider “disconnecting” its processing (disposal) fees from its servicing (route) costs, suggesting a rewrite of the contract.
Bravo, again! Councilman Neal also might like to know whether Bay Disposal has any competitors who would offer the Town of Southern Shores a better service contract.
It was not possible to hear clearly on the meeting videotape Finance Officer Bonnie Swain’s responses to the Mayor’s questions about the increased cost to the Town if it agrees to work with Bay Disposal on a rate hike. A budget amendment would be required. The Beacon strongly urges Ms. Swain to use a microphone when she comments.
Just as Councilman Neal did, however, we can look at the contract and do the math.
The Town is currently paying $5.42 per month for 2,394 homes. This amounts to $12,975.48 per month; $77,852.88 for six months; and $155,705.76 per year.
If the monthly fee were increased to $7.40, the Town’s costs would be $17,715.60 for a month; $106,293.60 for six months; and $212,587.20 for a year.
Councilman Neal was spot on in asking Mr. Smaltz for annual and monthly tonnage amounts processed by Bay Disposal over the course of the contract, as well as an accounting of the scheduled tonnage rate increases that have occurred over the past 18 months.
These figures, as well as other data that the Town Council requested, could have been obtained and furnished to the Council by the Town staff members who met with Mr. Smaltz after he contacted the Town about the November 2019 processing fee increase.
The Town Council deferred its decision on Bay Disposal’s increase request until its January meeting.
NEXT UP: THE SEARCH FOR A NEW TOWN MANAGER
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 12/7/19