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Despite months of negotiations, the City of Pensacola and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority have been unable to reach an agreement over recycling processing.

That’s prompted city officials to seek a renewed contract with Loxley, Ala. based Tarpon Paper, which has processed the city’s recyclables since 2014. Among other things, that means city residents can’t recycle glass, because unlike ECUA, Tarpon doesn’t process it.

Mark Buntjer, an operation manager for ECUA contractor Zero Waste, walks through the Materials Recovery Facility. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

After the closures of local processor West Florida Recycling in 2014 and Montgomery, Ala. based Infinitus Renewable Energy Park in 2015, ECUA set out to build its own regional Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF. Designed to process recyclables for cities and counties across the region, the MRF opened last year, and is currently handling recyclables from Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa counties, as well as the cities of Milton and Fort Walton Beach. Officials said the $10.6 million facility is currently processing more than 40 tons of recycled material per hour.

But Pensacola hasn’t jumped on board.

“The contract propsed by ECUA is unacceptable,” said city spokesperson Vernon Stewart. “There are many ways for ECUA to terminate the contract immediately and there would be no recourse for the City of Pensacola should that happen. They would also be charging us more than any other hauler.”

ECUA says the higher charge is for good reason.

“The language in the agreement proposed by the ECUA to the City of Pensacola is very similar to the agreements between the ECUA and Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties,” said Randy Rudd, ECUA’s director of shared services.

“The sliding scale fee charged by ECUA is $5 higher than the other agreements due to the fact that according to the City of Pensacola’s own study, the contamination rate of its recyclables is 22 percent,” Rudd said. “The contamination rates from the other MRF users is 8 to 15 percent, therefore ECUA would be dealing with more garbage in the City of Pensacola loads and therefore higher costs. The City proposed that the ECUA MRF would accept loads that are 47 percent contaminated, which is totally unacceptable to the ECUA and its MRF operator.”

But Rudd says that unlike the city’s arrangement with Tarpon, ECUA’s deal would ultimately be cost-neutral to the city.

“Under the current market value of the recyclables and the ECUA’s proposed price scale to the City, the City would pay ECUA $0 for processing of recyclables,” Rudd said. “The last unconfirmed price I heard at the City’s current recyclables processor was $12.50 per ton plus an additional fee for disposal of residue after processing.”

Employees at ECUA’s Materials Recovery Facility sort and process recyclable materials. (Drew Buchanan/The Pulse)

As you might expect, City Hall says that using ECUA would actually be more expensive.

“Since July 2014, when the city began using Tarpon Paper, the net cost of recycling processing has been approximately $72,000,” said Stewart. “In comparison, if we had been using the ECUA for processing since July 2014, the net cost would have been approximately $112,000.”

Stewart says that under the terms proposed by ECUA, the city’s cost of processing would vary greatly depending on the market for recycled materials. The city currently pays Tarpon a flat rate of $12.5o per ton, regardless of market conditions, to process recyclables. If the city had utilized ECUA in December, the rate would have been $7.00 per ton, Stewart said, but argued that the cost per ton under ECUA could increase substantially if the market for recyclables were to weaken.

“However, with the market currently on a modest rebound we are negotiating a new contract with Tarpon Paper with the intention of providing stable processing at a reasonable cost,” Stewart added.

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