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Regional News

Recycling comes at a cost

Office of Onondaga County Comptroller
Onondaga County's Waste-to-Energy Facility in Jamesville

There will be some important decisions in the coming months about trash in Onondaga County.  An audit of the independent agency that takes care of trash removal and recycling shows that there could be changes in store for how you pay for trash and recycling pick up.

OCRRA, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, has been has been around for over 30 years. It’s the agency that runs the wildly successful "blue bin" recycling program and operates the Waste-to-Energy Facility, which burns trash brought in from independent haulers. One thing County Comptroller Bob Antonacci’s audit of an almost $35 million OCRRA budget makes clear, is that the trash portion of the agency is subsidizing the award-winning recycling part.

“OCRRA is doing a fantastic job of recycling. So all that recycling material burned 15 to 20 years ago is now being recycled. So they’ve really done a great job to their detriment,” says the comptroller.

The thing that concerns Antonacci is that people aren’t aware about the dependency between trash and  recycling, and would like to see more transparency on that front. Right now there is no individual fee for recycling, but that could have to change.

"I think it’s going to have to be that way, or you’re going to have to increase your tip fee, and say, 'hey, built into this tip is recycling programs,' but identify it, and put a number on it so people understand. I don’t want to call it a green tax, but it is what it is.”

In the midst of this discussion are negotiations between OCRRA and Covanta, the company that runs  the waste-to-trash plant. If Onondaga County does nothing, then Covanta will be able to take control of the plant in mid 2015 for a dollar. One impact of that is that the plant could then import trash from anywhere, because it wouldn’t fall under current legislation the requires trash in the Jamesville facility to be local.

“If Covanta takes over that plant in May of 2015, there’s court cases in that regard, it would become what’s called a merchant facility, and Covanta would own it and wouldn’t have to follow the law on prohibition of garbage,” says Antonacci.

There is already some concern about that among residents in Jamesville.