Despite a lawsuit that cost MIRA $1.3 million, and its recycling contractor, the president of Connecticut’s largest waste collector said its single stream recycling service won’t be interrupted or cost more for its members.
The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority’s board voted earlier this week to pay FCR – owned by Republic Services – $1.3 million to settle a lawsuit in which the contractor alleged that the amount of contamination in loads of recyclables MIRA delivered was more than allowed by contract, and that the high levels of contamination were causing it to operate at a loss. The settlement also allows FCR to terminate its contract with MIRA after April 30.
The contract called for no more than 5 percent contamination, but single-stream loads MIRA delivered contained almost 20 percent contamination according to a study conducted by the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2015.
Mixed among cans, bottles and newspapers delivered to the facility in 2019 and 2020 were garden hoses, blinds, diapers, wood, paint, small refrigerators, dead animals and a kitchen sink, according to court filings.
MIRA President Tom Kirk told CT Examiner that the quasi-public agency would be able to find a new contractor without an interruption to its recycling service, and MIRA will absorb the increased costs and will not charge an additional fee to pick up recyclables from its member towns.
The settlement also resolved disputes over who was liable for a 2019 fire at the recycling center, and over who was responsible for cleaning the facility and restoring it to its original state, minus wear and tear, at the end of FCR’s contract, Kirk said.
Kirk said contamination has always been a concern with single-stream recycling, where people can put all recyclables – paper, plastic and metal – in the same bin. The justification for single stream was that, despite the contamination, it was still more convenient for people and diverted more recyclable material from landfills.
“The numbers, even with the contamination, are much better than they were for the dual stream,” Kirk said. “So I’m anticipating, at least for right now, that there will be no change, or consideration of a change.”
Since China effectively barred imports of recyclable materials in 2018, U.S. recyclers have seen the market for those materials collapse – in some cases so that recyclers have to pay to get rid of their materials.
While China’s “sword” policy will continue to have major effects on the market and revenues for recyclers, Kirk said MIRA will not have an issue finding another contractor. He said that the authority was currently evaluating proposals for the job.
Kirk said he expected there to be new markets for the material eventually, but that they may be slow growing and may not make up for the lost demand from China.
“Quality of recyclables, and all of the tools we have at our disposal to improve that quality, is going to be an important issue for the industry,” Kirk said. “The most important tool we have in that regard is educating residents and ensuring that the right items end up in the blue bin.”