Per Nate Boyer, volunteer, from Facebook Post
The Liberty Recycling Center of Northumberland is closing. The last day to drop off materials will be Saturday April 25, 2020. (Office: The recycling center shut down early due to the COVID-19. They will not be reopening prior to shutting down. The Center is officially closed.)
The closure is due to both a shortage of volunteers and a severe decline in the market for recyclable materials.
Here’s a longer explanation for anybody interested in more details.
The recycling center is run jointly by local non-profit organizations from Norry and Sunbury such as Kiwanis, Lions, and Masonic Lodge. The groups rotate weekly and volunteer their time to open and maintain the center, sort materials, load materials into balers/compactors, then tie, unload, weigh, inventory, and stack the bales, among lots of other work to keep the center functioning.
A few individuals volunteer additional time above and beyond the scheduled weeks for their groups to find the best bids on materials, arrange the sale of materials, and load trucks. A couple other individuals volunteer their own time and vehicles to pick up materials from area businesses to increase the volume of material processed and available to sell at the center.
The recycling center generates revenue from the sale of the recyclable materials. Out of that revenue it pays electric and water bills, supplies like baling wire and propane for the forklifts, and machine maintenance and repairs. Any proceeds remaining at the end of the year after these expenses are divided equally among the participating non-profit organizations, which then use that money toward their own local service projects and donations. The borough does not employ anybody to work at the recycling center and the volunteers do not personally get any of the proceeds. The recycling equipment has been purchased over the years primarily through recycling grants.
When I started helping at the recycling center 5+ years ago, there were five non-profit groups participating, and the center generated enough revenue for each group to get around $2500 annually for their efforts.
A few years ago the number of participating organizations dropped to four, and the proceeds decreased to around $2000 per group.
For 2019, the number of participating organizations dropped to three, and the number of participating members within each group also decreased. This means each group is now running the center every third week. The majority of the remaining volunteers range in age from 60 to 80+. On top of that, the price of recyclable materials has dropped to the point where there wasn’t enough revenue in 2019 for the groups to get anything after expenses, despite the remaining volunteers putting in twice as many hours (or more) compared to past years.
The center has been advertising for additional volunteer groups for about a year. Two groups expressed interest, but after visiting the center and learning the amount of work involved or being uncomfortable operating the equipment, both of those prospective groups declined to participate.
Prices for recyclable materials have been declining for several years, but really took a turn down in 2019. Off the top of my head, from conversations over the last few days… Cardboard has been the highest volume material at the center for many years. It was around $140/ton in 2016, around $75/ton in 2018, and down to around $40/ton in 2019. Magazines went from over $100/ton a few years ago to around $55/ton in 2018 to $0 in 2019. They can give them away, but not get paid for them. Several years ago the center was able to collect all numbers of recyclable plastic and get as much as $0.20 – $0.30 per pound for it. Today there is only one main buyer in the area, only for certain numbers, and they pay $0.06/pound. The center actually SPENDS $150 – $200 a year to recycle glass. Steel cans are down to $0.02/pound. Press board / mixed paper fell from around $40/ton to around $22/ton for 2019. The price of newspaper hasn’t dropped as severely, but the volume of newspaper has decreased as fewer people subscribe to print media.
In addition to the volunteer shortage and the unsustainable prices, the large horizontal baler needs the motor and hydraulic pump rebuilt or replaced, which is likely to cost several thousand dollars, and the health/economic events of the last couple months have pushed the markets even lower. If the center was to stay open, each member of the dwindling volunteer base would have to continue to put more and more hours into it, and financially the center would struggle just to break even.
Northumberland has had a volunteer recycling program since (I believe) 1972, but is not legally required to have a recycling program. Pennsylvania law requires recycling for municipalities with a population over 10,000, and for municipalities with a population of 5000 – 10,000 and a population density greater than 300 per square mile. Larger communities like Sunbury and Lewisburg fall into these requirements, but Northumberland’s population is only around 3500. Larger communities pay municipal employees to run their recycling centers, either through local taxes or recycling fees, or both. But they also have larger tax bases to support them.
I am of course sad to see the Liberty Recycling Center close, but I also recognize that in the current market and with a shrinking and aging volunteer base, the math just doesn’t work for the volunteers or the borough to keep it open. I want to thank all of the past and current volunteers and organizations for putting their time and effort into the recycling program, keeping thousands of tons of material out of the landfill, and for putting the proceeds back into the community.
In the coming weeks I will try to compile a list of other area recycling centers, what materials they accept, what they charge (if anything), and their hours.