Recycling in Escambia County has once again ground to halt.
The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority was notified by email this weekend that their processor, Infinitus Renewable Energy Park was shutting down. The Montgomery Advertiser has a story about the issue here. A story on RecyclingToday.com indicates prices on the commodities market have impacted IREP’s bottom line.
ECUA spokeswoman Nathalie Bowers said the email from IREP’s CEO indicates the closure is temporary and is due to a contractual disagreement between IREP and the City of Montgomery, its anchor customer.
It has left ECUA scrambling to find a home of the recycling it collects on its routes.
“From what I understand it’s got to do with their revenue stream,” Bowers said. “They‘re not getting from the City of Montgomery. That leaves us without a facility. Again.”
Recycling has had a bumpy history since the ECUA began the program, which is something that most residents view as a basic service government should provide that adds to the quality of life in a community. One processor, West Florida Recycling, buckled under financial pressures from the cyclical market for recyclables and issues with its storage and handling of the material.
That has led to temporary stopgaps — including a period when recycling collected went to the landfill until an alternative could be found. The IREP facility seemed to meet the need in the market, especially while the local processing facility project was pursued.
Pat Johnson, director of solid waste for the county, said that at the Oct. 15 committee of the whole meeting, county commissioners will talk about finalizing an interlocal agreement that would allow ECUA to build the temporary facility at the landfill.
“We would just work together to help them pick out footprint that would work best for the facility and help them get that site ready,” Johnson said. “One of the good things about that location is the sitework is already done for us. We can hit the ground running.”
Johnson said ECUA and the county still are negotiating with the finalist to build the permanent site, Mustang Renewable Power Ventures. Mustang, which will serve as owner and financial backer of the project, is partnered with Sims Recycling as operator and Van Dyk as equipment provider.
The local stopgap solution
About 30 percent of what ECUA collects can be taken to a processor in Baldwin County, Ala., they have used in the past, Bowers said.
“We’re working o n finding other options that might take portions of the stream,” Bowers said. “We might use some temporary equipment and process some of it ourselves. The last resort is the landfill.”
The county charges $45.06 per ton to use the landfill.
ECUA is looking at expediting the construction of the temporary processing facility they planned to use as a stopgap after May 2016, when their contract with IREP expired.
“Randy (Rudd, deputy director shared services at ECUA) and the team are looking at all the different options,” Bowers said.
In practical terms, the temporary facility could open in the first quarter of 2016. The equipment has been purchased. It will need to come to Pensacola from Oregon.
Plans in June called for the temporary facility, priced at about $6.5 million, to be built at the ECUA’s Central Water Reclamation Facility in the central part of the county. Now plans call for it to be built at the county-owned Perdido Landfill.
That’s where the permanent facility would be built as well. That project carries an estimated price tag in the $70 million range, Rudd said. There is a two- to three-year construction period for the facility. Vendors would pay capital costs.
The ECUA and the county will contribute tonnage, a negotiated tipping fee and the land at the landfill.
The idea was first made public last May, when State Rep. Clay Ingram helped act as mediator to lay the groundwork for this agreement.
Issues hinted at earlier this year
There were hints earlier this year that bumps could be in the future. Back in June, Rudd said IREP has been “slow to pay.”
The contract requires IREP to pay ECUA $10 per ton of recycling it brings to the Montgomery plant. ECUA brings 22,000 tons of recyclables to Montgomery a year, Rudd says.
IREP cited a downturn in the global recycling market, fueled in part by lower oil prices, for its issues.
“There is so much plastic in recycling, and when oil is cheap and it’s cheaper to make new plastic than recycle it, that’s what companies do,” Rudd says. “We’re on our third (recycling) processor (since recycling began in 2009) and every one of them has faced the same issue. That’s why so many communities end up doing themselves.”
Recycling is a service everyone expects and wants, Rudd said. This project helps stabilize the market conditions for that locally.
“We need a facility that can weather the highs and lows in the market,” Rudd said in June. “The long-term answer is a joint facility between the county and ECUA.”
As for today, Bowers says ECUA is urging customers to continue separating their recyclables.
“Our challenge has always been finding a place close enough that can handle the volume,” she said. “We certainly want to do everything we can to keep our program going and continue. That’s been a challenge, but we’re committed to it, (though) I think our commitment has been tested.”