Demand for paper saves county $300,000 in fees

January 06, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Take a second look at that junk mail you're throwing away with the trash: It might be worth something -- to Howard County.

The demand for the waste paper that the county collects from homes for recycling has increased so much that a local paper mill, Simkins Industries in Catonsville, has agreed to pay the $300,000 or so a year the county used to pay to process paper for shipment.

The agreement, effective Jan. 1, means that the county no longer will have to pay the $18.61 a ton it had been paying Browning-Ferris Industries to bale paper at its Elkridge Recycling plant.

"We've been struggling with this paper glut for so long, trying to get someone to take it reasonably," said Linda Fields, manager of the county's recycling programs. "There's always been a cost to get rid of it, and the market's improved."

The change in Howard County's arrangement lowers the county's combined cost of processing paper along with containers -- the two major items the county government collects from homes -- from about $22 a ton to about $7 a ton.

If the same material were dumped as trash at the county landfill in Marriottsville, it would have cost taxpayers about $60 a ton. Burying the 26,000 tons of recyclables collected last year would have cost more than $1.5 million.

Simkins sweetened its arrangement with the county because of the increased demand for waste paper, said Jeff Lester, marketing manager for Simkins Baltimore.

"It hasn't moved in the last five years -- until now," he said. "Paper has been a dead commodity for the longest time."

Barry Polsky, spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association in Washington, D.C., attributed the sudden change in the market to large-scale changes in the paper manufacturing industry.

"The industry has invested a lot of money in recycling facilities and in de-inking facilities, and obviously has to feed those facilities. Demand has gone up considerably, and that will drive up prices," Mr. Polsky said.

Mixed paper, which includes newspapers, office paper, junk mail envelopes, glossy magazines and non-waxed cardboard, makes up about two-thirds of the recyclable material collected at residential curbsides in Howard County.

Because paper represents 40 percent of the county's overall waste, recycling officials have focused on boosting paper collection. That was done early in the recycling program by collecting virtually all kinds of paper and cardboard together, rather than requiring county residents to separate different types of paper.

Ms. Fields estimates that the county's method generates about 50 percent more paper than if it collected only newspapers, as does Anne Arundel County.

The county's mixed paper recycling program began with a 1991 contract with a new Baltimore paper recycling company called Mid-Atlantic Recycling Corp., which promised to take the paper free. The company sorted the paper, making it more valuable to paper mills.

But so many local governments also were collecting paper that the market was swamped, and prices dropped. Mid-Atlantic reneged on its agreement in early 1992 and demanded to be paid for taking the paper. The county refused and stopped sending its paper Mid-Atlantic.

Within a few months, however, officials discovered Simkins, which would take baled paper free. The company dissolves the paper in water with corrugated cardboard and presses it into paperboard, the material used in cereal boxes and other products.

That 1992 arrangement cost the county about $33 a ton for baling at the BFI recycling plant and trucking to Simkins, which straddles the Patapsco River between Catonsville and Ellicott City.

In early 1993, Simkins agreed to pick the paper up, saving the county $12 a ton, and BFI gave the county a $3 a ton discount because of the unexpected volume of paper it was processing.

"This time, we whittled it down to zero," said Ms. Fields. "The fact that we have a paper mill close by makes a huge difference in what we can do with recycling."

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