Problems with Weber County waste piling up at Recycled Earth

Friday , June 08, 2018 - 5:00 AM1 comment

Weber County’s recycling mess seems to have escalated into a full-blown dumpster fire.

After recycling became too expensive to handle, the county’s municipalities turned to Ogden-based Recycled Earth for a short-term contract to sort, bale and move the materials to third parties. The change saved the Weber County’s transfer station from the hundreds of thousands of dollars it was hemorrhaging since 2011, but Recycled Earth may now be mired in more spoils than they bargained for. 

“I wish they would see the good we’ve done for the community, from the huge piles of mixed recyclables we send to mills, to ... making wood mulch, all the good things we’ve done out of the garbage we’ve been given,” said David Rawson, who owns Recycled Earth with his wife, Amy. 

The Rawsons’ neighbors, however, are fed up. Paul Wheelwright owns Wheelwright Lumber, which shares a fence line with Recycled Earth to the south. Since last winter, he said he’s had to deal with hundreds of gulls and a loathsome stench. There’s more going on at the site than recycling, he said.

“It basically smells like a landfill here,” Wheelwright said. “Even today I’ve had complaints from customers and employees. One customer pulled a truck around and it was just plastered with seagull excrement.”

Neighbors of the recycler have since taken their complaints to the city, the Weber-Morgan Health Department and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The recycler is working on short-term solutions, like scaring the birds with screamers and shill alarms. The bigger headache is finding a place to move all the garbage that’s attracting them there.

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Since Recycled Earth began handling the county’s recycling, its problems have been two-fold.

First, China — the world’s biggest buyer of recycled goods — decided the world’s waste was too messy. The country stopped taking a lot of the United States’ recyclables earlier this year, and their list of banned materials keeps growing.

RELATEDGlobal shifts in recycling market creating mess for Northern Utah

Second, Recycled Earth found Weber County residents aren’t great at sorting their recycling, dirtying the stream and making it tough to find other buyers.

“You hit the nail on the head with these guys, they’re getting that single-stream recycling material that has as much waste in it as it does recycling,” said Allan Moore, Solid Waste Program Manager for the Department of Environmental Quality. “Recycling has become quite the problem, especially with this China sword.”


View the Utah DEQ’s most recent inspection reports at Recycled Earth

April 12, 2018

March 16, 2018


That leaves the recyclers stuck with a lot of unrecyclable trash.

But Wheelwright claims the problem with Recycled Earth is bigger than messy recycling.

“They have been taking raw garbage,” he said. “We can observe them from our property.”

Rawson denies that they’ve taken any municipal solid waste. He said the odor and gull problems are due to bad recycling habits. They don’t just take recycling from Weber County cities. They’ve been accepting materials from commercial haulers that collect at other places, too, like schools and businesses.

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“Recycling, it’s not a pure science. Human error causes a lot of the problems,” he said. “I’ll have food waste show up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had recycling come in from a school with yogurts that are unopened or milk cartons that are unopened.”

In February, Ogden City conducted an audit with Recycled Earth. They found 45.5 percent of the residential stream is “residue” — the wrong types of plastics or dirty materials or garbage like food waste that just can’t be processed.

RELATEDOgden sees small improvement in recycling habits, but garbage is still mixed in

Rawson said his business currently processes about 4,000 tons of waste each month from cities and commercial haulers. Around 50 to 60 percent is “residue,” he said.

It takes two to three days to sort the loads. The residue is immediately sent to landfills, Rawson said, then recyclable materials are stockpiled for up to two weeks depending on trucking schedules. 

“We need to be patient with Recycled Earth and our ability to grow,” Rawson said. “It doesn’t just happen overnight.”

Moore and other state officials have given Recycled Earth’s operators until June 15 to move their recycling inside a new building on a concrete floor, which should solve the bird and odor problems. But Rawson said that deadline will be tough to meet.

“We’re still trying to get the building finished,” he said.

Flowchart: Can I recycle this? What can and can’t be recycled in Weber County

Part of the problem is Recycled Earth doesn’t have any long-term contracts or cities committed to sending a certain volume of waste to the site. That makes it difficult to get loans to fund improvements to the facility’s infrastructure. Recycled Earth workers are currently using the facility’s construction and demolition pick line, for example, to sort municipal single-stream recycling.

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“I’m inundated with this blowing material that’s tough to recycle on the equipment I have,” Rawson said. “(But) if I lose the material, which the state has threatened, and if I don’t have it inside, I’m going to go bankrupt.” 

Ogden City and Weber County are drafting requests for proposals to get a more permanent recycling contract, although any business would be able to submit a proposal, not just Recycled Earth. 

“I think they’ve been doing a great job considering the recycling business right now. It’s not going well and it’s not getting any better,” Washington Terrace Mayor Mark Allen said of Recycled Earth.

Allen also chairs the Weber County Solid Waste Utility Subcommittee.

RELATED: Beyond recycling, Utahns need to start thinking about reducing waste

Meanwhile, Ogden City officials said they also feel Recycled Earth has met the terms of their recycling contract. But they’re investigating the facility for the separate issue of taking other garbage, which would be a violation of its city-issued permit.

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“There is a concern they’re handling additional materials that are not recycling materials and taking delivery of waste that’s outside of what’s permitted,” Assistant Ogden Attorney Mark Stratford said. “We think they have been accepting loads that are not primarily recyclables.”

Officials with Ogden City Planning said they issued an enforcement letter that requires all municipal waste to be removed from the site by June 9.

Recycled Earth opened in 2010 and got its start by handling construction waste. The business employs 35 people.

Wheelwright Lumber has been around since 1908 and opened in its current location in 2004. Paul Wheelwright said he employs between 80 and 100 people, but he’s ready to pack up and relocate if the problems at Recycled Earth aren’t resolved. That doesn’t mean he has no empathy for his neighbors to the north. 

“The Rawsons, they are nice people … everyone wants to be compassionate with that, but you can’t with something like this,” Wheelwright said. “They say ‘we know it’s a problem, we’re trying.’ But it should have never occurred in the first place.”

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen. 

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