Some of Republic Services Inc.’s Indianapolis-area recycling customers will soon experience a big spike in their bills—some to the tune of a 100 percent increase.
The company, which has a contract with the city to offer garbage-pickup and recycling services to residents, has more than 30,000 recycling customers in the incorporated Indianapolis area. Republic has been allowing many of its longtime customers to take advantage of recycling services at the rate they signed up at several years ago.
But now, concerns stemming from China’s new restrictions on receiving recyclables, have prompted the company to begin enforcing the maximum amount the city allows it to charge to customers in 2018—$99 per year.
"In Indianapolis, like in many communities across the country, recycling has reached a crisis point,” Republic said in an email to IBJ. "Contamination has become rampant. In some communities, contamination levels are now putting the future of local recycling programs at risk. … We remain committed to recycling, but we must all adapt in order to preserve local programs for future generations."
For Indianapolis customers like Lance Farrell, who has been paying $48 annually for Republic recycling for years, the hike is big shock.
“$100 a year? I will look for alternatives," Farrell said. “The bins in Broad Ripple Park are there. I go there every day or two to walk the dog, so I’ll have to pack up the truck.”
Farrell said he was upset because he had already paid $48 for the year up front—but now Republic won’t serve him unless he pays more.
“If I don’t pay, they are taking my bin away,” Farrell said. “The trucks will go right by my house despite my having paid for a year. I paid in good faith for one year.”
Julie Piller, who also paid for her annual membership on May 2, said she was “never made aware that our original $48 payment was considered to be a ‘partial payment’ of any kind.”
"We were never notified of a possible rate increase at all, let alone one that amounts to double what we have paid for years,” Piller told IBJ in an email. "We're upset about this sudden change, and we regret that we're not going to be able to continue to use the service, as a relatively minor expense has suddenly become a major one."
Republic Services’ spokeswoman Jennifer Eldridge confirmed the rate increase to IBJ—and said customers outside the city of Indianapolis' contract area would also see a raise in cost starting in August. Eldridge said Republic had given notice to customers.
“Everyone in the area is going to feel the rate increase,” she said. “We have started to providing notice to customers, and there’s language on monthly bills.”
Eldrige said it is “unfortunate” that some people are being hit with a 100 percent increase, but she encouraged people to keep paying for the service.
“We are not pivoting away from the recycling business,” Eldridge said. “We are invested in recycling. As the cost of recycling increases we have to recognize how that impacts each of our communities and what we each have to do to adjust.”
The city of Indianapolis said it couldn’t do anything about the rate increases because the prices aren’t above what is specified as the maximum in the city’s contract with Republic.
"Republic’s contract requires them to offer curbside recycling and allows them to charge a specific maximum rate in each district that they serve in each year of the contract,” according to Department of Public Works spokeswoman Betsy Whitmore. "Otherwise, it is an arrangement between Republic and the resident. Whether Republic increases its charges or charges different districts different rates is not something the City can control, so long as the rate does not exceed the maximum for that district in that given contract year.”
Eldridge said the company is going to do more education about contamination of recyclables. For instance, she said, if she recycles a ketchup bottle that hasn’t been washed out, and a neighbor recycles a clean cardboard box, there’s a possibility the cardboard could be contaminated.
China doesn’t want to take those recyclables anymore, she said.
That’s a problem, Eldridge said, because “China makes up a significant amount of the buyers of recycled material from the U.S.”
Eldridge said that while recycling bales from Indianapolis are going to domestic buyers, “domestic markets are also suffering form the China ban.”
Allyson Mitchell, director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition, told IBJ when asked about the rate increase that the “regulatory shift from China has global impact.”
“Communities across the country are struggling to maintain current recycling programs while costs increase and revenues from the sale of commodities decrease,” Mitchell said.