Falling prices for recycled paper has caused a $160,000 shortfall in Howard County's recycling program -- and raised fears that it might someday be cheaper to send all the county's trash to landfills.
For several years, Simkins Industries in Catonsville has charged the county nothing to crush its paper into 1-ton blocks, truck them to its plant and recycle them for sale on the wholesale paper market, said John O'Hara, the county's waste-management chief.
But the declining price of recycled paper prompted Simkins in December to stop paying for the first step -- turning the paper into blocks for shipment.
That meant the county had to start paying nearly $20 for each of the 1,500 tons of paper it recycles each month, causing the shortfall.
If the cost of recycling plastic, glass and cans increases similarly, the price of recycling could exceed the price of sending trash to a landfill.
"The market has taken a downturn, which commodities markets do," O'Hara said.
Even at $20 a ton, the recycling cost for paper is getting close to the $33 a ton the county started paying last month to ship trash to a landfill in Virginia. Before that, it cost the county $60 a ton to bury its waste at Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville.
"It's always darkest just before the dawn," said Linda Fields, head of county recycling, expressing confidence that recycling will soon make better fiscal sense. "The numbers look very dark right now."
To cover the shortfall, county officials plan to transfer $160,000 from a contingency account. They also plan to budget hundreds of thousands of dollars extra for recycling next year. This year's budget is $2.7 million.
Pub Date: 4/03/97