A proposal before the City Council would increase the trash rate from $15.20 per month to $15.88 — a hike of 68 cents

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FARMINGTON — City officials are proposing a slight increase to trash collection rates in response to a downturn in the recycling industry.

Public Works Director David Sypher said his department has suggested a 68-cent hike that would increase the trash rate from $15.20 per month to $15.88. The City Council on Tuesday will vote on whether to hear public comment on the proposed rate change at its next meeting on July 25.

Sypher said the move comes as the demand for recyclable materials has plummeted in industrial countries like China, increasing operational costs for Waste Management, the city's sanitary services contractor.

Low oil prices have also made it cheaper to buy new petroleum-based products, such as plastic, rather than repurpose used materials, he said. Considering the rising cost of recycling, Sypher said the city's proposed rate actually constitutes a discount.

"It’s really not a big change," Sypher said. "I think people are getting a good deal."

Farmington residents pay for curbside recycling services as part of their monthly trash bills, but those who wish to participate must request a container. Sypher said that currently 52 percent of residents participate in the program, which recycles cardboard, plastic and aluminum cans. Glass must still be taken to the Waste Management facility at 101 E. Spruce St.

Sarah Pierpont, interim executive director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition, called Farmington’s 52 percent participation rate “OK,” but said there’s always room for improvement. She added it’s important for cities and contractors to rethink rates to maintain and promote recycling programs during the industry’s downturn.

"They need to focus on covering their costs and not depending on the value of materials," Pierpont said. "The markets go up and down."

Isha Cogborn, a regional spokeswoman for Waste Management, echoed that sentiment.

"Even though the economics of recycling have become more challenging, we continue to do it because it’s the right thing to do," she said in a email.

Cogborn said Farmington has a short but successful history with recycling. The city first partnered with Waste Management to provide curbside services in 2008.

A 2010 community case study by Waste Management stated that prior to the start of the program, the city had "little history with sustainability initiatives." The study stated that while city officials initially expected a 20 percent participation rate in the first year of the program, actual turnout was nearly 50 percent.

But since then, participation appears to have stagnated.

Mayor Tommy Roberts said he supports recycling programs, but some residents have yet to come around.

"I know there are a lot of people who don't recycle and won't recycle because they don't agree that it’s an important community issue," Roberts said.

Roberts said repurposing old materials not only benefits the environment, but can also takes the stress off local landfills.

"That’s an important concept to get by," Roberts said.

According to the most recent statistics from the New Mexico Environment Department, San Juan County in 2014 had had a 2 percent recycling diversion rate, which measures the amount of waste kept out of landfills.

Cogburn said as trash continues to pile up, recycling programs delay expenses cities would otherwise incur from building new landfill facility or transporting waste farther for disposal.

Sypher said the city will continue to partner with Waste Management to conduct outreach to promote participation in the curbside program. After all, he said, the service is essentially free.

"Everybody already pays for it," Sypher said. "They might as well use it."

To sign up for curbside recycling, call Waste Management at 505-327-6284.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606. 

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