Ravalli County Recycling will cancel residential pickup of recycling, and will no longer be able to buy aluminum cans.
Given that recycling costs outweigh profits — and also make it impossible to break even — RCR has other big decisions to make.
“These are hard decisions for a group dedicated to the issue of how to responsibly deal with human-generated waste in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley,” said Janice Lee, president of the nonprofit. “We are having a hard time making it, and have more tough decisions down the road.”
Ravalli County Recycling has been offering recycling opportunities for nine years in the Bitterroot Valley. With the falling prices for the recyclable items that they accept, they are losing money and cannot continue to operate at a loss.
RCR is no longer buying aluminum cans, but recyclers may still donate them. Aluminum cans are profitable, but paying clients for the cans narrows the margin.
Modern Recycling, just north on U.S. Highway 93, still buys aluminum cans Tuesdays through Saturdays.
The board's decision to suspend residential curbside service of recyclables starting in October was based on employee wages, gas prices, insurance costs and vehicle upkeep and repairs.
“Curbside pickup has not been profitable for some time but we have continued the service because Bitterroot residents really want to recycle,” Lee said. “ … It is important. It is a public service with no profit. However, the cost of residential pickup is larger than fees collected.”
Lee said that customers will receive notification in their quarterly bills.
“A current board member who pays for this service at her home said she didn’t think raising fees would solve the problem as current fee levels are already high,” Lee said.
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RCR still does take cardboard and still collects collect cardboard from behind businesses in town with a big packer truck.
“That makes a profit and selling aluminum cans makes a profit – that’s it,” Lee said. “Nothing else we are doing here is making a profit.”
If the price of cardboard stays down, RCR will have to pay about $2,000 for the bales of cardboard in the recycling yard to be hauled away.
“It is costing us to get rid of those,” Lee said. “Still, people have so much of it. It was okay when cardboard was worth something and we could still get money back from other items as well. The only way we could bale it at all was that we had volunteers do it. Otherwise it would never have been worth doing.”
Lee said cardboard is the conundrum.
“It’s the thing that we have the most of and the thing we are losing the most on,” she said. “It is difficult.”
RCR's mission includes encouraging recycling in the valley and keeping recyclable material out of the landfill. The board feels that both of those conditions will still be met even with the changes.
But other changes are coming.
Ravalli County Recycling is located at 759 U.S. Highway 93, north of Hamilton, but that property is for sale. When it sells, the recycling center will have 60 days to move and so far no alternative sites have been found. The move will likely include further shrinking of services at a smaller location. This restructuring could mean less time worrying about the financial business of recycling and more time devoted to educational outreach.
The board will continue to keep the public informed about changes. To comment or share ideas contact Lee at email@example.com or visit the Ravalli County Recycling Facebook page.