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Mayor: Collapse of recycling market was major factor
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McKeesport officials have reversed their decision to bring trash collection in-house and will instead contract for services in 2020 with County Hauling of Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County.
At Wednesday's meeting, council by 7-0 vote approved a contract with the trash collector, a division of Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, to pick up waste and recycling citywide beginning Jan. 1 at a cost of $79.75 per ton. The company will replace Big's Hauling as McKeesport's residential trash collector.
Big's was charging $112 per ton, City Administrator Tom Maglicco said.
Mayor Michael Cherepko said McKeesport obtained the surprisingly low price through a reverse-bidding process, where officials set the price they wanted to pay per ton and then challenged bidders to make their best competing offers.
The city would be hard-pressed to collect its own trash for less than $79 per ton, he said.
In February, McKeesport agreed to lease six trash trucks for $1.24 million over five years. Three of the trucks were already delivered and stored at the city garage off Market Street in preparation for city public works employees to begin trash collection Jan. 1.
City Solicitor J. Jason Elash said that although the trucks are technically leased, the city is able to sell them to another user without any penalties. Cherepko said he believed the trucks --- acquired through the state's COSTARS joint purchasing program --- would be relatively easy to sell.
The city will likely keep one of the small trucks for collecting trash at Renziehausen Park, he said.
Uncertainty over the cost of recycling forced McKeesport's decision to scrap the idea of collecting its own trash, Cherepko said.
Until recently, most of America's recyclables --- especially plastic bottles and containers --- were being sorted and processed in China. But in 2018, China stopped accepting 95 percent of the plastic it had been processing.
Other countries imposed their own bans on accepting plastic for recycling, which has caused backlogs at recycling centers and forced some processors out of business. The decision has caused a ripple effect throughout the worldwide recycling industry that ecologists earlier this year called a "crisis."
"There are a lot of things that made me nervous, none more so than recycling," Cherepko said. "At one time, you used to get paid to take recycling. Now, you have to pay to get them to take recyclables."
With the recycling market in chaos, it was conceivable that collecting a ton of recycling was going to cost at least as much as collecting trash, he said, and any predicted savings from bringing trash collection back in-house were going to vanish.
The city also has been concerned about a number of retirements --- and pending retirements --- from the public-works department and the need to replace and train personnel.
"The bottom line is we're down (employees)," Cherepko said. At the same time the city was going to be hiring employees to collect trash and drive trash trucks, it also was going to have to be ramping up for snow plowing and treating streets for the winter, he said.
"I feel very comfortable and it takes a lot of stress ... off our shoulders," Cherepko said, adding that worries over staffing both normal functions and adding trash collection was a serious concern for city Public Works Director Steve Kondrosky.
"Mr. Kondrosky has not been very happy with me this year," Cherepko said.
City officials will notify residents of the change to County Hauling, he said. For now, Cherepko said he expects current trash pickup schedules to remain in place, although some neighborhoods could change days.
"We haven't gotten to that level of detail yet," he said.
Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published November 07, 2019.