Enterprise’s recycling center no longer accepts glass, tin, aluminum or plastic with a recycle number greater than 7, according to a notice from Wallowa County Solid Waste issued last week.
The change became effective Saturday, Feb. 1.
All items not accepted for recycling should be treated as household waste and taken to the Ant Flat Landfill northeast of Enterprise, the notice said.
An accompanying graphic explains the different numbers attached to different plastic products. The numbers are usually found molded into the plastic. But Leon Werdinger, who had been among the volunteers who helped initiate the recycling center, said those labels aren’t always clear.
“They’ve been poorly labeled for years,” he said.
County Commissioner Todd Nash said the decision by him and Ed Gomes, solid waste manager, was made because it’s becoming too costly to continue the 30-plus year-old recycling program.
“The landfill has been subsidizing (all) of solid waste for some time” with tipping fees, Nash said.
Tipping fees are the fees charged to dump at the landfill.
Nash said he regrets having to make the change.
“We wanted to do it as a service for the community,” he said. “But it hasn’t been paying its way. A lot of people are passionate about recycling and that’s the reason we’ve kept it open.”
Mike Grover, operator of the recycling plant, said he is passionate about recycling.
“We need this place,” he said.
He said that in his nine years working there, he has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of recycled materials Wallowa County residents bring in.
“It used to take me just a few hours a week” to handle the recycling, he said. “Now it’s a full-time job.”
The recycling business was brisk early Friday, Jan. 31 – the day before the new regulations went into effect.
Matt Kassahn, of Joseph, was dropping off cardboard discarded by his employer at the Wallowa County Courthouse.
“Change is always hard for people to adjust to,” he said of the new recycling regulations.
Lynn Steiger also was dropping off a variety of materials.
“It’s going to kind of screw things up for us, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, adding that items he otherwise would’ve recycled will now have to go into the trash and then to the landfill.
Nash said the recycling center will continue to run its aging baler to bale cardboard and paper, but even that isn’t cost-effective to continue. He said the baler, which is getting worn out, will cost about $70,00 to replace, though he and Grover agreed it still has considerable life in it.
Werdinger agreed that recycling costs aren’t offset by the tipping fees or money received for recycled waste.
“About the time you haul something somewhere, you’ve really gotten behind,” he said.
He noted that B&K Auto Salvage in La Grande is the closest facility that pays to recycle metals and has a website that lists the current price it will pay for various metals. However, the trip to La Grande would likely be too costly to make it worthwhile.
Grover said it would cost about $1,800 to ship tin – miscellaneous iron-based metals – to a recycler in Tacoma, Wash., but he is hopeful of finding a more economical – and environmentally sound – solution.
Werdinger also was concerned whether Wallowa County was adhering to state regulations for recycling, but Nash assured the county is.
According to the state Department of Environmental Quality website, all cities with at least 4,000 people must provide recycling services. Wallowa County has just over 7,000 people and no cities anywhere near 4,000 population.
One factor in the decreasing value of recycled products has been the closing of the recycle market in China. Nash said when the Chinese were doing massive dam construction, they used recycled material from the U.S. as filler. But when that practice stopped, a major portion of the recycle market dried up.
He noted that the county only made about $4,000 last year in baled, recycled materials.
He said cost isn’t the only factor involved.
“It comes down to ethics, too,” he said.
Nash noted that for years recycling programs ship items to destinations where the items aren’t always disposed of in the most responsible ways.
“We could’ve done better than that,” he said.
He has talked to a number of county residents interested in recycling and hopes to form a committee to address the problem. He said it probably won’t be an “official county committee,” but he still wants to get those on board to solve the recycling problem.
“There are people who are very knowledgeable and very passionate about recycling,” he said. “We want to give them the direction they want to see.”