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2018-08-08 / Front Page

DelCo Landfill Manager Ahead of Recyclables Tariffs

‘Trash 2 Cash’ Open House Aug. 11
By Lillian Browne

Delaware County Solid Waste Facility Director Sue McIntyre pulls misplaced netting from a pile of recyclables at the county’s state-of the art facility. Lillian Browne/The ReporterDelaware County Solid Waste Facility Director Sue McIntyre pulls misplaced netting from a pile of recyclables at the county’s state-of the art facility. Lillian Browne/The Reporter
WALTON - Delaware County Solid Waste Management Facility Director Sue McIntyre views garbage differently than most people. When staff under her supervision finish sorting, processing and handling it - it becomes a commodity, to be sold on a domestic and international market. She turns trash into cash.

In recent weeks, due to the imposition of international tariffs on imports and retaliatory moves by other countries to tax U.S. exports, McIntyre has been forced to keep a watchful eye on a global political chess match, which has a direct impact on how she does her job.

Part of her vigilant attention to international markets began five years ago with the enactment of China’s “National

Sword” policy aimed at cloaking the country in a “green fence” which set standards for lower contamination levels of imported recycled materials.


Delaware County subcontractors at the county’s recycling facility hand-sort items for quality control of end product. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Delaware County subcontractors at the county’s recycling facility hand-sort items for quality control of end product. Lillian Browne/The Reporter As part of that policy, any brokered materials being shipped to China were required to have a “residue rate” of contamination of less than two percent.

In response to President Donald Trump’s tariffs on goods imported from China, that residue rate was reduced even more, placing a stranglehold on the U.S.’s export market.

Delaware County, McIntyre explained, sells recycled materials through brokers and does not export directly to China.

However, the recycling commodities market is an international market and up until this time last year China represented 80 percent of the buying power for recovered commodities in the world.


The multimillion dollar recycling and composting facilities have extended the life of the Delaware County landfill upwards of 20 years. Lillian Browne/The Reporter The multimillion dollar recycling and composting facilities have extended the life of the Delaware County landfill upwards of 20 years. Lillian Browne/The Reporter ”They are the biggest player when it comes to buying recycled commodities,” McIntyre said.

In contrast, Delaware County, Mc- Intyre said, is “chump change - an itty bitty player and a pip-squeak” in the recyclables market. Delaware County, she said, will never make an impact on buying. The only way Delaware County commands the marketplace is through quality.

Delaware County has always been quality focused, making certain that materials are consistent with very little contamination or residue.

“We may not generate that much, but when you want something that’s very specific, we deliver,” McIntyre said. The level of quality control at the recycling facility provides a bit of insulation from price fluctuations, but that doesn’t mean the county is not affected.


Certain materials, like this plastic tubing, find their way into the recycling facility, but don’t belong there. Detail-oriented staff have expertise in extracting misplaced recyclables. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Certain materials, like this plastic tubing, find their way into the recycling facility, but don’t belong there. Detail-oriented staff have expertise in extracting misplaced recyclables. Lillian Browne/The Reporter Delaware County primarily sells its end products domestically (including Canada), and when there is an oversupply like what is being seen due to the tariff wars, domestic buyers can be very selective and “crash” prices, Mc- Intyre said.

The prices Delaware County gets for recycled materials have dropped in response. However, the degree of decline varies with material - Delaware County sells 44 different materials. Prices for scrap metal have been low for awhile, McIntyre said, and were not impacted by China’s closed-down marketplace.

Prices for plastics such as milk jugs and water bottles have seen a measurable decline in price, but nothing significant. Buyers for those materials are exclusively domestic and they produce and re-sell re-made products.

Likewise, prices for lower-value plastics such as yogurt and cottage cheese containers have remained stable. That market, McIntyre said, has never been strong and has not changed.

Where Delaware County has taken a hit is with paper - magazines, junk mail, newspapers and cardboard. Prices have crashed. Though that market is still cash positive, it has declined fivefold. ”It is not the revenue producer it once was,”McIntyre said.

Paper is vulnerable because it is an international commodity.

Delaware County, in contrast to surrounding counties, has all the pieces of the solid waste management puzzle - the landfill, composting facility and recycling operation - in one place. So when the paper market crashes, for example, McIntyre can send excess product through the composter. If other markets are slow to respond, she said, Delaware County has on-site storage capacity.

McIntyre and crew are not just garbage collectors and managers. “We are always paying attention to what’s going on around us,” McIntyre said. When she sees a problem brewing, she is quick to implement a solution and take corrective action rather than suffer the whims of politics.

The Delaware County Solid Waste Management facility has partnered with the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce to host its second annual “Trash 2 Cash” event on Saturday, Aug. 11, at the landfill, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There will be guided instructional and informational tours of the recycling and composting facilities where people can see how Delaware County manages its refuse. The event is sponsored by Casella Waste Management.

The public can make landfill staff’s jobs easier by keeping all curbside recyclables clean and dry and by not over-recycling. Items such as Christmas lights and garden hoses are not recyclable, McIntyre said, directing all residents to adhere to the listing of materials available on the landfill’s web page at co.delaware.ny.us/departments/sw/sw.htm.

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