Recycling Centerhits hard times

Mark Webster threw a plastic bottle into one of the Ridgefield Recycling Center’s bins Tuesday. The operation has been losing money lately, and the selectmen are searching for a means to shore up its finances. “It’s a good cause,” Mr. Webster said. “May they find a way.” —Macklin Reid photo

Ridgefield’s recycling center is losing money, and the selectmen are searching for ways to shore up its finances.

“We do have some issues,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Board of Selectmen.

The center has long walked the line between the red and the black, making a small profit in years the market for recycled commodities is good, losing money on operations when the market is down.

It’s been more than year since the operation was running in the black, town Controller Kevin Redmond said Tuesday after reviewing records from the center’s operator, formerly Hudson Baylor and now ReCommunity.

“In fiscal year 2010-11, we actually made $11,500. And in fiscal ’12, we were underwater $37,300,” he said.

As far as they go this fiscal year, the monthly statements all show losses: July, about $900 below cost; August, off about $4,200; September, $500; October, $3,200.

The operating costs — before any income from selling recyclables is factored in — fluctuated between $9,400 and $11,300 a month so far this fiscal year.

So just continuing to operate the center without income would cost about $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year.

Mr. Marconi brought the situation to the Board of Selectmen’s attention last Wednesday, and they kicked around some ideas, fishing for something that would allow the operation to continue without becoming an ongoing drain on taxpayers.

“I do not think we should be losing money,” Selectman Andy Bodner said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to continue to support the recycling center.”

One idea was cutting back the hours. The center has long been open 7:30 to 3, Tuesday through Saturday. That might be reduced to just Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

There was also talk of cutting back staff from two to one.

Another idea would be to raise fees at the transfer station, which accepts trash from residents who don’t pay for private garbage collection. That additional income could go to support the recycling center’s operations. The transfer station fee has been $5 for many years, and the suggestion — made by audience member John Katz — was to raise it to $7.

A solution wasn’t agreed on.

As Mr. Marconi explained the situation to the board, the problem has a couple of contributing factors.

First, the market for recycled commodities is down, and the town had already been talking to the center’s operators — Hudson Baylor sold to ReCommunity about a year ago — concerning ways to save.

“We asked them to see what could be done to reduce costs, to be more in line with revenue,” he said.

Then, earlier this year, Country Disposal, the garbage collection company that had routes through much of the town, sold out to another firm, All American, which has its own single-stream recycling facility in the area.

So the firm picking up both trash and recyclables from most homes in town stopped bringing the recyclable materials to the town’s center.

“Our volume was way off. We were 140 tons a month. We dropped to under 40. It was a huge change.”

Mr. Marconi said he’s “had two meetings with new company and just received notice they’ll bring everything back.

“I said, ‘What are you bringing back?’ They said ‘50 to 70 a month.’ I said, ‘That isn’t what’s missing.’”

But even if all the volume were to return, “it doesn’t make the problem go away,” Mr. Marconi said.

The income was down, anyway, and the single-stream recyclables from the hauling company get lower prices in the marketplace than the sorted recyclables do.

“We were making our money on the all the wonderful people who go there Saturday morning and sort everything,” Mr. Marconi said.

Although the recycling center does accept single-stream materials now, many people are still in the habit of sorting.

And a lot of people still go to Ridgefield’s recycling center.

“I did have Charlie Fisher do a count,” Mr. Marconi told the board. “Friday, 500 cars. Saturday, 700 cars. That is incredible.”

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  • marty busdodger

    Maybe there could be a charge for individuals bringing single stream recycling to the center, to pay the cost of sorting. We would have to monitor this as some drop-off in volume may occur.

    Seems crazy to ask people who sort their own valuable recyclables to pay $ to drop them off at the center … That is a recipe for a spiraling down volume … Higher costs/ton … Shorter and shorter hours and higher and higher fees.

    We should try not to eliminate a worker or cut back the hours.

    Too bad we told Stop and Shop to take their less expensive gasoline to sell in another town. Aggregate savings to Ridgefield residents would have easily been enough to operate the recycling center even at the current loss run rate.

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