Recycling options decline in parish

Published 6:27 am Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Recently, two paper-recycling projects have been quietly put on hiatus after federal regulations hiked up the cost of doing business for the service providers.

Both Nellie Byers Training Center in Bogalusa and the Washington Parish Activity Center operate work-training programs for adults with development disabilities. The centers are known as sheltered workshops, and they employ these individuals — referred to as clients — with a small stipend, below minimum wage. In exchange, the clients get trained to perform low-skill jobs.

One of those jobs had been sorting paper products as part of a larger paper-recycling program. The program had been a win for the centers because it brought in money that could be used, in turn, to pay the clients.

However, the programs at both sites are closed because the Department of Labor recently determined the sites would have to pay their clients more if the paper was being sold out of state, due to interstate commerce regulations.

Joey Pierce, the work program director at Nellie Byers, said their paper-recycling program ended in July. He said he would launch the program once again, if they could find someone in the state of Louisiana to buy the paper. If the paper is transported solely within state lines, Pierce said, the interstate commerce regulations wouldn’t apply and the Department of Labor wouldn’t require a pay hike for the clients. However, Pierce said in-state paper buyers haven’t been offering enough money.

“The price of paper has dropped so low we just wasn’t making any money on it,” he said.

Pierce said he would still accept Mardi Gras beads for recycling and paper for shredding.

“We hated to quit recycling the paper but we didn’t have any choice,” he said.

Debbie Brock, the Washington Parish Activity Center’s executive director, said they also can no longer afford to recycle paper. Brock said labor regulations plus a decline in the value of recyclable paper has hit the area’s sheltered workshops hard.

“We were ending up paying them rather than them paying us and making money,” she said.

Brock said before they quit recycling paper, they had been paying $600 to recyclers to haul off 22 tons of paper. She said she suspects the decline in value is related to a decline in the sales of recycled paper material.

“I think it’s a lack of usage,” she said. “I think people aren’t buying the products that are made from recycled newspaper.”

Brock said she’d be happy to talk with other sheltered workshops and other organizations that recycle paper to come up with a solution.

“I wish there was a way we could come together as a group,” she said. “Is there something we’re not aware of? I’m not against brainstorming ideas … Is there something else? I have no idea. Where do other paper companies send their stuff? What are they doing to dispose of their waste? I don’t know.”

The sheltered workshops are not alone in their recent recycling policy changes. The Choctaw Landfill, the parish’s location for recycling collection, has recently stopped taking all plastics.

They had been taking plastic marked No. 1 or No. 2, but since March, they have refused it all.

Troy Barber, the solid waste supervisor and recycling coordinator, said he was tired of having to sort through the plastic to remove plastic bags and plastic containers marked higher than No. 2.

“I can’t afford to put a man there to watch it every day,” he said.

Barber said he is not opposed to collecting plastic at some point again in the future, but he needs to figure out how to make people understand to only drop off plastic marked No. 1 or No. 2. These plastic items are generally food packages.

He explained that he could pay someone to come and collect the plastic and sort it, but that wouldn’t be cost effective.

“I just know I can put it in a landfill cheaper than I can pay someone to pick it up,” he said.

Barber said even though the plastic drop offs are closed off, people still pitch waste in the areas, which he must then go, pick up and throw into the landfill. Such blind indifference to a posted sign leaves Barber with little faith in the public’s ability to read and follow directions.

“We want this to be a service to the people, that’s why were here. But they make it a challenge sometimes,” he said.

However, Barber said the landfill is accepting other recyclable products including most electronics, tires, large batteries, cardboard, paper and metal.

The landfill has never accepted glass for recycling and they’re not likely to anytime soon, Barber said.

“There’s not much market for glass,” he said. “Glass is basically sand and there’s plenty of sand available in this area.”