WHITING — The amount it costs the city to recycle is expected to increase dramatically next year.
Mayor Joe Stahura said bids were opened recently for the next four years of garbage and recycling disposal.
He said the city's recycling cost had been zero as long as the items were driven to a transfer site in East Chicago.
"The theory was that the disposal companies sold the material and made money," Stahura said.
But he said the recycling market is now in turmoil.
"Probably mainly because of a situation in China and China not being aggressively buying our recycled materials anymore," Stahura said.
He said the city was told it will cost $90 a ton to dispose of recycling starting next year, and that disposal of trash and solid waste only costs $45 a ton.
"That's a $52,000 annual increase," Stahura said. "If we just throw it all in the trash and didn't do any recycling, it's still $26,000 more than we're paying today."
But Stahura said eliminating recycling to save $26,000 does not seem like a valid solution after the city has spent 16 years building its recycling program into what he called one of the best in the state.
"When we put the recycling bins in the alley, we've actually achieved 100% recycling throughout our community," Stahura said.
He said possible ways the city might cut the cost of recycling are to pull out corrugated cardboard and sell it to a vendor or find a way to pull all metal out and sell it to a scrapyard.
Stahura said the estimated cost of disposal for 2020 is $194,000, including the extra $52,000.
He said that in comparison, the city paid $248,000 in 2003 to dispose of all garbage.
He attributed the cost reduction to dozens of operational changes implemented over the last 16 years.
In other news, Stahura said the city is determining how to best deal with properties contaminated with lead from a long-closed lead smelting plant.
He said one option is to declare a Superfund site, and in that case, the federal government would pay the total cost of cleanup on anyone's property within the zone.
"But it'll take 15 years and we'll have a scarlet letter on every piece of property in the city because we're a Superfund site," Stahura said.
He said the city is leaning toward trying to find a local funding source instead and is compiling data to come up with a worst case scenario.
"Some of the worst case projections are as high as $20 million," Stahura said.
He said the goal is to draft and submit an acceptable plan to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management within the next six months.