Recycling may have a solid future in Escambia County.
On Thursday both the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority board and the Escambia County commissioners will be asked to give their OK to a proposal to build a mixed waste processing facility — which includes recycling — at the Perdido Landfill.
The project carries an estimated price tag in the $70 million range, says Randy Rudd, deputy executive director of shared services at ECUA. There is a two- to three-year construction period for the facility. Vendors would pay capital costs.
The ECUA and the county will contribute tonnage, a negotiated tipping fee and the land at the landfill.
“The county and ECUA are not financing the project, so our risk is minimal,” Rudd said. “Building it at the landfill, the county can keep a close eye on it and make sure they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do.
“Once this facility gets built, they could bring in recyclables from almost to Tallahassee to nearly New Orleans. That’s the region where there is no facility right now.”
The top-ranked firm is Mustang Renewable Power Ventures. The second is Infinitus Energy, owner of the facility in Montgomery that now processes recyclables from Escambia and Santa Rosa counties now brought in by the ECUA.
The relationship between ECUA and the county has often been contentious. This project could signal a level of cooperation that could benefit county taxpayers in a way that just a few years ago seemed impossible.
“I think that’s remarkable,” Rudd said. “The fact that this project has made it as far as it has is amazing.”
Said Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown: “We think it’s been a very positive working relationship. We’ve built a lot of good bridges.”
Recycling is a service everyone expects and wants, Rudd said. This project helps stabilize the market conditions for that locally.
“We need a stable facility that is going to do a good job of processing,” Rudd said. “We don’t need another West Florida (Recycling). We need a facility that can weather the highs and lows in the market. The long-term answer is a joint facility between the county and ECUA.”
Also up for consideration Thursday for both boards: Building a temporary recycling facility at the ECUA’s Central Water Reclamation Facility to cover the gap between the time ECUA’s contract with Infinitus’ Montgomery plant ends in May 2016 and the new facility at the landfill can come on line.
That facility could cost $6.5 million to build, Rudd says.
The equipment there would be used for sorting and could be moved to the new plant at the landfill. The building itself would be used as part of ECUA’s composting program at the Central Water Reclamation Facility, now under construction and set to wrap up in September.
“The challenge there is having that ready to go by next May,” Rudd says. “The engineers say it is possible but we have to move quickly. If that’s not up and running, we would have to landfill (recyclables until the new plant is ready).”
Tale of two proposals
The idea was first made public last May, when State Rep. Clay Ingram helped act as mediator to lay the groundwork for this agreement.
In December, a committee began sorting through the responses for the project.
The facility at the landfill will process garbage and recycling in separate lines. Customers would still separate recyclables from trash at home.
“It decreases dependency on the landfill,” said Pat Johnson, director of solid waste for the county. “We want to make sure that we can increase the recycling rate and provide recycling services and be able to live within our means. We’ve crunched a lot of numbers to get there.
“To a certain point, it could allow us to decrease operating costs, and that decrease will help us pay for the operating costs of this service,” Johnson said.
A composting facility on site would handle the organics from the garbage stream. The film and plastics that can’t be recycled will be converted into an engineered fuel and sent to power plants to be used as fuel.
General guidelines for the project include building a facility:
— That will recycle 75 percent of the inbound waste stream.
— That the vendor will pay for financing, design, permitting, construction and operation of the facility.
— That the vendor will provide all waste processing including composting.
The facility at the landfill will not process construction demolition and debris material.
Mustang, which will serve as owner and financial backer of the project, is partnered with Sims Recycling as operator and Van Dyk as equipment provider.
Mustang offered pricing at $42 per ton to provide all waste and recycling processing including composting, though a tipping fee of $37 per ton could be agreed upon.
They would share 50 percent of the revenue from selling the recyclables when the average market value exceeds $75 per ton.
Infinitus, which serves as owner and financial backer, is partnered with Zero Waste as facility operator and Bulk Handling Systems as equipment provider.
They offered a tipping fee of $43.76 per ton. It offered to share 15 percent of the revenue from recyclables when the average market value exceeds $185 per ton.
“Based on historical commodity values, staff and consultant agree that IREP’s proposal … would rarely provide any revenue to ECUA from the sale of recyclables,” the agenda report says.
Johnson said a negotiated tipping fee gives the vendor and the county “a more sustainable model than we received from other processors in the past.”
“It’s not sustainable off the commodities prices. It does not work,” Johnson said. “They need a stable tip fee.”
“It’s a really neat plan,” Johnson said. “It puts the whole operation on one site where you have traditional recycling, there a process to generate engineered fuel and you have a lot of organics that are proposed to be composted.”
There still is a lot to do, including negotiations, permitting, construction and logistics, Johnson said, but the prognosis seems positive.
“When we set this thing up we want to set it up to win,” he said.
Weathering a cyclical market
While Rudd says he hopes IREP will honor the remainder of its two-year contract with ECUA, once the company learn it is not not the top-ranked choice, IREP could choose not to.
If IREP doesn’t, ECUA may have to landfill recyclables until the temporary processing facility at Central Water Reclamation can come on line.
The county charges $45.06 per ton to use the landfill.
“I hope IREP honors the remaining contract,” Rudd says. “If they don’t we’ve got a problem. We’ve tried to do as much as we can to prepare.”
Rudd, who sat on the committee that reviewed and ranked the proposals, said IREP has been “slow to pay.”
The contract requires IREP to pay ECUA $10 per ton of recycling it brings to the Montgomery plant. ECUA brings 22,000 tons of recyclables to Montgomery a year, Rudd says.
IREP cites a downturn in the global recycling market, fueled in part by lower oil prices, for its issues.
“There is so much plastic in recycling, and when oil is cheap and it’s cheaper to make new plastic than recycle it, that’s what companies do,” Rudd says. “We’re on our third (recycling) processor (since recycling began in 2009) and every one of them has faced the same issue. That’s why so many communities end up doing themselves.
“Doing it ourselves, we can weather the down times better than a private company, and it gives us stability we haven’t had since the program started.”