BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
All those plastic bottles and milk jugs that county convenience center users separated and tossed into the plastic recycling bin over the past month actually went to the same place as the rest of the garbage -- the Greeneville-Greene County Transfer Station and Landfill.
No signs at the convenience centers or public announcement by the county ever indicated that consumers' plastic materials were no longer being recycled for future use, but were instead being tossed into the landfill along with other trash.
According to the Solid Waste Monthly Report submitted to the Greene County Commission, so far this year the county recycled an average of nearly 15,000 pounds of plastic per month.
A FINANCIAL ISSUE
The reason the county has stopped recycling of plastic comes down to a dollars-and-cents issue, county officials say.
While the county government makes money on most of its recycling endeavors (paper, glass, aluminum, etc.), the payment the county receives for a load of plastic headed for recycling recently took a sharp nosedive, according to Solid Waste Director Hubert Metcalf.
County Mayor Alan Broyles also confirmed that recycling of plastic had been stopped, and said he had anticipated questions about the action.
"It's just not feasible for the county to do it at this time," he said.
STOPPED IN AUGUST
In a separate telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun on Monday, Metcalf said the county has not been recycling plastic since sometime in August.
He added, however, that the stoppage is not a permanent halt to the plastic-recycling service.
"We have temporarily halted it until the prices go back up," he explained. "The prices have dropped so low that we are going in the hole trying to haul it.
"Hopefully, it will go back up and we can start again.
"Hopefully, this is just temporary," he stated.
That drop in the price the county was paid for plastic collected for recycling was the difference between being paid 7 to 12 cents per pound and being paid 3 to 4 cents per pound, according to Metcalf.
Being paid 7 to 12 cents per pound may allow the county to break even on hauling the plastic for recycling, he said.
But being paid only 3 to 4 cents for the plastic (equal to about $60 per truck load for the plastic itself), he continued, would result in losses to the county of between $100 and $250 per truck load.
The county makes the truck rounds each week.
Metcalf explained that collecting a full load of plastic requires a driver to spend a full day visiting each of the 17 convenience center in the county.
"So we just decided to quit hauling until the price went back up," he said.
WHY NO ANNOUNCEMENT?
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of flack -- a lot of people that's going to be disappointed when they hear that.
"That's one reason we didn't put the signs up, stating that we weren't recycling; we didn't want people to get out of the habit of recycling.
"It's not that we're trying to deceive the public," Metcalf later added. "This is the first time that we've had to do this [stop recycling] in a long time.
"But [the price paid for plastic] won't even pay our fuel costs right now.
"We're waiting, and hoping that the market price will come back up, and we'll resume as soon as possible."
Broyles also said that it has never been the county's practice to publish a notice.
"There have been other times, too, when the prices went down that we just carried [recyclables] down to the mainstream," Broyles said.
"I don't know when that's been; it hasn't been recently. I didn't know that there was supposed to be a public notice.
"We leave it up to the department heads to make the determination whether or not [recycling] is [financially] feasible," he added.
"We did inform [Reynolds] over at the Partnership. It wasn't like we didn't tell anybody.
"When the economy picks up, we'll consider [recycling plastics] again."