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Changes coming to Dawson County recycling program
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Changes are coming to the Dawson County recycling program.

As the county grapples with rising costs associated with recycling and the small to non-existent market for plastic recycling, local officials are planning to shift to a program that accepts clean cardboard, paper and metal only, from the Dawson County Transfer Station on Burt Creek Road.

At a meeting of the Dawson County Commissioners on Sept. 17, commissioners unanimously approved the development of a new recycling program that can be reviewed in six months, to determine its effectiveness.

While presenting to commissioners at the meeting, Dawson County Public Works Director David McKee explained that this update was kicked off by the growing problem of how the county is dealing with plastic recycling and what is happening to plastics when they are deposited at the transfer station. 

McKee said that there is a common misconception circling that plastic deposited in the county is being thrown away, but that isn’t correct. Instead, plastics are currently being taken, bundled and stored by a third-party company. At one point they might have been shipped overseas to truly be recycled, he said, but that doesn’t really happen anymore because there isn’t a market for plastic recycling.

“There is a market for cardboard and paper recycling because those recycling and remanufacturing facilities are already up and running in the United States,” he said. “So they can cart this material there. That is not the case with plastics and it is not the case with glass, simply because plastics are shipped overseas, and now there’s not a market for plastics.”

With growing program-wide costs and added costs for contaminated items, McKee said that taking plastics just doesn’t make sense anymore.

By re-examining the program each year, they can reassess if the market has changed enough to start taking plastic items again, he said. 

“This is a forever changing market, and a year from today there could be a use for the plastics and our facility could be adjusted at that time to take the plastic,” he said.  

Under the new program, which is still under development by the county and Advanced Disposal, recycling of clean cardboard, paper and metal would be accepted at the county transfer station, McKee said. 

But until the program is fully implemented, the county will continue taking the same recyclable materials, McKee said.

“We’re not shutting it down, we’re modifying what we’re doing, but we’re still recycling and we’re not throwing the money away,” District 2 Commissioner Tim Satterfield said at the end of McKee’s presentation. “When we’re throwing $20,000 a year and up, for something that we’re throwing away, it’s just hard to spend that taxpayer money.” 

One change to the program which has already been initiated, McKee said, is that the three public recycling trailers which were placed at public locations around the county will not be returning. 

The trailers were removed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic due to safety concerns, but after considering the problems with trash dumping and contaminated recycling, county staff recommended that the recycling program should only occur out of the manned transfer station.

“It was getting abused, there were people taking advantage of it, putting trash in there, because they are unmanned,” he said.  

At the transfer station, they will be able to prevent people from dumping trash, and weed out contaminated recycling, like dirty pizza boxes and cans, before they make it into a load and cost the county extra money.

“The industry got real, real strict. They went from taking a little bit of contamination or dirty recycling every now and then, to where if they see any of it, the whole load is contaminated,” he said. “That’s why education on this new program is going to be a big deal, so we don’t end up with a lot of contaminated cardboard and paper.” 

McKee said citizens should keep an eye out for information on the new recycling program in the coming months via the county website and Facebook page.