What is the "Tipping Point" Plan?

You might have heard something about a new “tipping point” in the City’s recycling program, and wondered what that’s all about. Here’s the background information.

Walla Walla’s recycling program has never been free; the City has always had to pay for labor and transportation of recyclables. But the program has had a “positive value,” meaning residents’ recycled materials could be sold to a processing company at a profit. The less contaminated the recyclables were, the more money the City was able to keep. This money went back into the Sanitation Fund, reducing garbage collection costs for customers.

However, due to changes in the worldwide recycling market, the cost to recycle materials has gone up considerably, and processors overseas are accepting far less contamination in the materials. As a result, Walla Walla’s recycling program has had a “negative value” since July of 2017. This means the City has paid more for recycled materials to be taken away than what we receive in exchange for them. The City is losing money every month, and customers are having to pay more.

 2019-11 Recycling Costs Tracking

That’s where the “tipping point” comes in. Under this plan, the City’s recycling partner will tell us each month how much it currently costs to process a ton of materials. If that price is higher than the cost of putting the materials in the landfill, they will be taken to the landfill during the next month. If the cost of recycling is less than that of the landfill, the materials will be processed for recycling. 

For example, during this past September, recycling a ton of materials cost $27.10 more per month than to put them in the landfill. So, under the tipping point plan, they would have been taken to the landfill.

The purpose of this plan is to save money for recycling customers. In 2017, to avoid losing money on the recycling program, the City Council added a charge to the bills of recycling customers to cover the cost differences. In 2019, this charge was $1.21 per month. The 2020 surcharge will be $1.29 per month.

But with recycling costs continuing to rise, the costs to consumers would also continue to rise. The tipping point plan should limit costs, helping to minimize the financial impact on customers. 

The City Council approved the tipping point plan at its Nov. 6 meeting, and it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. At this meeting, Public Works staff presented several alternatives, including the following: 

1. Increase the 2020 commodities surcharge to reflect 2019 costs. Based on costs over the past six months that rate would be: 123 tons/month (average monthly tonnage) *$116.50/ton (average monthly cost per ton) / 9,000 accounts (average number of accounts) = $1.60 per month – a $0.39 increase over the 2019 rate.

2. Pursue suspension of curbside recycling.

3. Implement the Tipping Point Cost-Containment Strategy as described above (or at some rate other than the per-ton tip fee at Sudbury). This is the option the Council decided to go with.

City staff recommended contamination reduction efforts occur with all alternatives that maintain the recycling program. You can help recycling in Walla Walla by recycling only the correct materials and keeping your recycling clean and dry. This will decrease overall costs, and when markets improve and we can resume recycling the materials, we will have a better, less contaminated product to sell.