While some cities are drowning in trash and recyclables since China’s 2017 ban on accepting certain common recyclable materials, Baton Rouge is largely unfazed.
Unlike cities on the west coast, the company Baton Rouge contracts with to collect garbage and recyclables, Republic Services, doesn’t ship our refuse to China, which is why we’re not directly impacted by that country’s Sword Policy, says Karla Swacker, Republic’s municipal manager for the area.
There have been shipping delays as the company’s materials management group looks for places to sell recyclables collected here. With the ban, companies on the west coast must to sell their recyclables domestically, which ups the competition for markets like Baton Rouge.
“We ship where we can get the best price,” Swacker says, adding the company will typically ship recyclables within a 400 to 500-mile radius. “It’s definitely more competitive.”
Swacker says the industry’s old pricing model had collection companies charging customers a flat fee for pick up and absorbing all processing costs. A company’s profits came from selling the recyclables, which incentivized companies to recycle as much as possible. Now that processing costs eclipse the material sales, companies are forced to turn to commercial and residential customers to help close the gap.
Republic Services hasn’t increased the recycling fee for Baton Rouge residential customers, though Swacker says its because the previous company that held the city-parish contract, Waste Connections, had already negotiated a $1 increase—from $2.09 to $3.09—before Republic took over recycling services in 2017. Republic Services has increased charges by 20% to 30% for its commercial customers over the past year.
“You have to be willing to ride the roller coaster,” Swacker says of the recycling industry. “We firmly believe the markets will come back at some point.”