New recycling fees go into effect Jan. 1; will generate $400,000 to $500,000 in revenue in 2011

San Juan County's newly adopted recycling fees will come in a range of prices — small, medium and large.

On Dec. 7, the County Council approved a three-tiered package of recycling fees — $5, $25, $50 — in its long-running effort to bolster the bottom line of the Solid Waste Division, a $2 million-plus yearly enterprise.

The county's solid waste operation, financed mostly by tipping fees (the price one pays to dispose of garbage), has struggled to cover its expenses — among them required capital improvements — in the wake of a precipitous two-year decline in the amount of garbage it collects. Solid Waste will dispose of roughly 4,000 fewer tons of garbage this year than it did just three years ago.

Recycling fees, which apply to self-haul customers and go into effect Jan. 1, are expected to generate $400,000 to $500,000 over the next 12 months, according to County Administrator Pete Rose.

Councilman Howie Rosenfeld, Friday Harbor, described the fees as a "good first step" in helping to cover the cost of recycling and keeping the Solid Waste budget in balance in 2011. He maintains, however, that the expense side of the Solid Waste ledger, and the cost it incurs for processing recyclables in particular, needs to be better understood.

"We haven't really investigated what it's costing our staff to be doing what we're doing," he said.

Ushered in by the council earlier this fall, the county's first-ever charge on recycling, a flat $5 fee that applies only when recyclables are disposed by themselves and without regard to volume, went into effect in October. (Tipping fees will remain unchanged, at this point, in 2011).

The era of free recycling is not entirely over. You'll be able to drop off, without charge, the equivalent of a standard shopping bag when you dispose of your garbage at a waste transfer station.

Recycling fees:
— $5: 1 cubic yard or up to 6 cans (32-gallon).
— $25: 1-2 cubic yards or up to 12 cans.
— $50: 2-plus cubic yards or more than 12 cans.

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