County Looks to Change Up Recycling Program

By Beacon Staff

There could be some major changes coming for recycling in Flathead County. While the current program keeps tons of recyclable material out of the landfill each year, it rarely results in profits for the county.

Now, facing a significant increase in the cost to maintain the current contract with Valley Recycling, the county has decided to see if there is a better, more efficient way to handle the Flathead’s recycling needs, and will call for program proposals from private companies.

Last November, the Flathead County Solid Waste Board identified the potential financial problems that could face the county’s recycling program in the future.

At the time, the county’s most recent five-year contract with Valley Recycling was scheduled to end on Jan. 31. Representatives from the company had informed the county that the recycling program has not been turning a profit, and if the contract is to continue, the county’s costs would likely increase by 20 to 30 percent.

The board noted that such an increase is an untenable position for the county, because the recycling program has already lost $361,091.14 since 1998.

The only year the program actually garnered income was in 2000, and that was a total of $1,028, according to data from the Flathead County Solid Waste Department.

Every other year since, the expenses have outweighed the income from the program. For example, in 2010, the expenses hit over $195,450, while the income was about $97,945, leaving a loss of over $97,500.

With this in mind, the board agreed to put out a request for proposals from companies that have a different take on how the recycling program could be run in Flathead County.

“We’re trying to use their expertise to find out if there’s a better way to make this a more efficient program,” Solid Waste Director Dave Prunty said.

In an interview last week, Prunty acknowledged that recycling is a challenge for rural areas of the country because the markets are usually located on the coast.

“We’re going to pay for recycling services here because our markets are so far away,” Prunty said. “That’s just the cost of living in Montana.”

But that doesn’t mean the county has to stick with the status quo, Prunty noted. The county has multiple options for the program, he said, including dropping it altogether.

That likely won’t happen, he said, because there is a need to keep the recyclable materials out of the county landfill. However, it’s important to have a cost-effective program for the taxpayers, he added.

The county will retain control of the recycling bins at three of its green box container sites – Columbia Falls, Creston and Somers – and at the landfill. Otherwise, the companies could suggest any sort of configuration, Prunty said.

“This is going to be real interesting,” Prunty said. “The way we’ve structured this thing is we’ve said we want them to recycle at three container sites and landfill. We can continue with the current bin configuration, but if (a company has) a great idea we’re interested.”

Currently, some of the most popular recycling sites are on private property, he said, such as Albertson’s and Super One grocery stores. The schools also have bins, which the county added in 2008.

The county’s costs for the recycling program would stay static, Prunty said, with a set amount each month regardless of the amount of recycling collected. The company would get the money for the sale of the material, he said.

Prunty said the county will remain in a month-to-month contract with Valley Recycling for the next five to six months while this plays out. He said the county is close to releasing the request for proposals, and expects they will be due back sometime in April.

It’s an opportunity for the county to become more efficient, Prunty said.

“It’ll be pretty interesting on how (the companies) respond here, because we just don’t know for sure,” Prunty said.

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