City Government

Boise Pays To Ship Recyclables To Portland, Seattle

Information provided to a citizen by Boise City’s Trash Programs “solid waste coordinator” touched off a GUARDIAN investigation revealing Boise is shelling out big bucks for tons of junk.
When a GUARDIAN reader inquired about distribution of revenues (if any) from recycling under the new “Curb It” program, a Boise staffer wrote to her, “It depends on the market for materials. Aluminum always pays but plastics is usually an expense. By contract with Allied Waste, they keep the revenues and pay the losses (bear all the burden). All revenues received by Allied Waste for recyclables helps to keep local collection fees lower.”

We asked the official spokesman for the Public Works Department to explain the funding and financing for recyclables and learned the contract is not at all as portrayed by the staffer.

Bottom line: Boise pays nearly $165,000 a month to collect and ship recycled “commodities” to Portland or Tacoma, but claims a savings of $155,000 in trash that doesn’t go into the land fill for a monthly outlay of about $10,000. The weak link in Boise’s trashy financial outlook is they think prices for paper, aluminum and plastic will go up at a time when Boise alone is generating a 40% increase in “product.”

Simple economic laws of supply and demand are tilted against any increase in commodities prices (to offset shipping costs) since the INCREASING supply is acting to DECREASE the value of the product. Meanwhile the cost of shipping is not likely to go down.

We posted a previous warning about RECYCLING.
Here is what happened in AUSTIN, TEXAS.

Click MORE for the official response to our request for a paragraph summarizing the details of the contract with Allied Waste.

“The contract between the City of Boise and Allied Waste Services covers both the collection of household waste and the collection and sale of recycling materials. There is a flat rate per household for the collection of household waste; the City pays the landfill costs directly. For recycling, there is a separate flat rate for the collection and sale of recycling materials with the revenue from the sale of recyclable materials used as an offsetting cost component to the flat rate paid to AWS.

When the recycling program was created over twenty years ago, the AWS reimbursement rate for recycling was established by taking the cost of collecting recycling materials and then deducting an annual target revenue from recycling commodities. The commodity price assumption was revisited annually in order to provide for a fair assumption of risk. As Megan Kershner pointed out, this created a system in which AWS would absorb losses or gains during the course of the year as commodity prices fluctuated. However, it is important to note that the following year’s readjustment of commodity pricing would recapture the gains or losses of the previous year to ensure the burden or benefit would be shared equitably between the City and AWS. This was a workable approach until the fall of 2008 when recycling commodity prices changed dramatically.

This dramatic swing in commodity prices warranted a more frequent adjustment than annually. In May 2009, the City Council approved a monthly recycling commodity revenue target rather than an annual assumption that was built into the rates for the coming year. This new schedule was set up to ensure the ongoing financial stability of the entire solid-waste program during a down period in the commodity market.

To address your question regarding the overall benefit/cost of the recycling program –AWS currently is reimbursed $2.39 per household per month for recycling collection and commodity sale. For 69,012 households, this is a total cost to the City of $164,939 per month.

For a fair analysis, this needs to be compared to the cost of disposing of the same material in the landfill. In July of 2009, the city of Boise collected 681.04 tons of recycled materials, which is approximately 1,700 compacted cubic yards. The cost to dispose of this at the landfill is $11 per compacted cubic yard for a total of $18,729.

The cost of collecting an additional 1,700 compacted cubic yards is the other component that must be calculated. In July 2009, the city of Boise collected approximately 5,800 compacted cubic yards of household waste. Under the current contract cost of $6.71 per household (based on 69,012 households on the system) this comes to a total of $463,070 or $79.84 per compacted cubic yard. Using that same cost per unit, adding another 1,700 compacted cubic yards to the system is estimated to cost $135,728 for the month of July. Combine this with the $18,729 for landfill disposal fees and the total is $154,457 per month to dispose of material that is currently recycled.

This is a net difference of $10,482 during a period when commodity prices are at a record low. Across the entire system, this comes to $0.14 per household per month or $1.74 per household annually. As recycling commodity prices rebound and landfill rates increase, a positive return for recycling is almost certain to be realized.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss the positive environmental impact recycling has on our community!

Hope this helps explain.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. $10,000.00 to keep $155,000 worth of trash out of Boise’s landfill and send it to Portland or Tacoma? I’m OK with that. In fact, to make up the difference, I give the City of Boise permission to charge me my share of that 10,000…what’s that work out to? 5 or 10 cents a month…someone check my math? I think the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I recycle is worth a nickel/dime a month. Seriously…I had never recycled until the curb-it program was “forced” on me…and I was dang surprised to find out just how much of my “trash” was recycleable. Sometimes the right thing to do should cost a bit more and be a bit more painful for each individual. The right thing to do isn’t always convenient or cheap!

    EDITOR NOTE–Amen on the warm fuzzy! GUARDIAN world headquarters has long been an advocate of recycling…and accuracy when informing citizens. Would you pay those same few pennies for more GUARDIAN coverage? 🙂

  2. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 27, 2009, 2:35 pm

    But, but mayor Dave, “has his life back” now that he doesn’t have to sort the cans, plastic and paper. His very words as reported in the Statesmen. You can’t make this stuff up.
    I wonder what trucking company is doing the shipping and if there is any connection to whomever and whatever.

  3. Now that would be a waste of my hard earned cash…I come here more for the humor factor. Plenty of other silly sites out there to amuse me. By the way…for those of you that stalk this site and have negative comments on everything and everyone…Golf, Fish, Bike, Walk…whatever…but, get a life!

  4. I see the pros and cons to the whole program. It seems pretty silly to be shipping this 400 miles for the initial processing. I wonder what the length of this contract is? And who will be building the MRF(materials-recovery facility) locally. Hopefully a private company and not the city.

    Boise is often compared to the likes of Austin,TX in more ways than one. Did Boise rush this Curb-It program like Austin rushed theirs.

  5. Keynes is Safe
    Aug 27, 2009, 3:14 pm


    You seem to be suggesting that, with only about .002 of the nation’s population, and a good deal less of the worlds’ population, Boise’s 40 percent increase in product is driving down world commodity prices.

    You are a damn good photographer, and pretty darn good at rooting out government corruption. However, as an economist, don’t be surprised if you get a dope-slap from the invisible hand.

    And, even if it costs a bit, it is far better than filling the foothills with the stuff.

    EDITOR NOTE–In an effort to duck the dope slap, my point is that if Boise is increasing the recycle effort, so are other cities nationwide, hence “flooding the market” with paper, aluminum, and plastic.

    How many ways can I claim to be a greenie?…I have recycled for years, don’t drive big gas hogs, I insulate my home, don’t use domestic water to irrigate, don’t smoke. There is a certain “carbon cost” to hauling tons and tons of stuff to the West and processing it. In short, the reader asked a fair question and got a bogus answer.

  6. Keynes is Safe
    Aug 27, 2009, 4:39 pm


    Consider it ducked. Or, perhaps better still, deflected to the obfuscater at the city with the the pathetic response. Economics aside, the communication cops ought to cite any bureaucrat that takes four paragraphs to get around, “To address(ing the) question”

  7. Can’t you see what is going on here?
    This is just the bottom of the first inning! Long about the top of the 7th. inning, the city will propose that we spend 35-40 million dollars on our very own re-cycling plant. They will surely spell out to us all the money we will save by not shipping our “stuff” to Portland or Tacoma.
    After all the lies we have been told by this administration, it is hard to imagine anyone living here acting as though they are surprised by anything these people do.

  8. So it goes to Portland… then what? Are we going to get a bill from some third world country becuase our plastics were dumped on their beach by some contractor?

  9. Tis nothing Gr$$n about Green… Not the recycle, not the wind-power… just lots of feelgood expensive silly ideas. Build a nuke and breath freash air again. Jane Fonda is so old she’ll never know we did it.

  10. I don’t have a problem with the City spending money to keep recycleable materials out of the landfill. Some of us recycled before there was a recycling program, but let’s be honest: we were in the minority.

    This is good landfill management. How hard would it be in the current political/social/NIMBY climate to establish a new landfill? Freakin’ impossible.

    Regarding the “bogus answer”: how do we know whether it was intentionally misleading or if it was just coming from a misinformed staffer? I understand that the city officials are not popular here, but that doesn’t mean that every action of the city is sinister.

    PS: re: “don’t use domestic water to irrigate”. Are you importing from Canada?

  11. As Penn and Teller said on their Showtime show (Bullsh@@) you will know when recycling plastic, paper, and glass are a good deal strictly from an economic standpoit when you see homeless people picking them up on the street or in garbage cans like they do aluminum. That’s not to say that the other benefits of recycling aren’t important, too. I do wonder, though, whether trucking them all that distance doesn’t negate the evironmental advantages. Volume to the landfill is down considerably.. even without this.. because of the lack of construction.

  12. Hmm, shipping it to Portland might have a bit less environmental impact if we could just hook it onto a train that was going that way anyhow.
    (Sorry, Guardian, just couldn’t resist a plug for your favorite target — rails.)

  13. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 28, 2009, 6:10 pm

    The bottom line was the way we were doing our recycling was working with out $165K times 12 and will go up in cost on top of it.
    Follow the math: The city is saying that the waste thats recycled saves the city $155K in landfill cost. That whole amount is from the way we are doing it now with not sorting our recyclable. I wonder how much more there is over what we had when we were sorting this trash to be recycled. Lets say the new way offers 50 percent more. What this comes down to is we are really only saving half of the $155K in dump cost because we already had the other half saved. So we are now spending $165K to cut $77.5K cost. A loss of over a million dollars per year.

  14. Casual Observer
    Aug 29, 2009, 7:07 am

    The shipping part of the story is a red herring. All of the trash that is not put in the land fill has to be shipped somewhere. Even if it is sorted before it is shipped, the various “product” streams, or raw material streams, or commodity streams, however you want to think of them, have to be shipped to a processing plant, none of which are in Idaho.

  15. It all makes sense to me. Our recyclables have to be shipped out anyway since there is no facilities to recycle them here, separated or not, and no market here even if we could recycle them into commodities.

    The extra expense of shipping should be offset, at least partially, by reducing the number of cubic yards of waste going into the Ada County Landfill. Does the current contract bill The City of Boise by the yard or by the year. I hope The Guardian has looked into that side of the equation.

  16. Where is all the yard waste, as in bush and tree trimming, going to go when people only have the one can? It might work for a two person family, but could hardly work for a multiple member family. It seems to me that yard waste should be recyclable = maybe not across state lines. Just a thought.

  17. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 30, 2009, 8:18 am

    ericn1300, The old way we did this was sort our own recyclable trash. That recyclable trash was sold and the buyer paid the shipping to get it to where they wanted it to go. Even if the recyclable trash that was sorted in the past was giving away for free and the new owner paid for the shipping that would make sense over this new way. When simple arithmetic is used the raw truth comes out that this new way of dealing with unsorted recyclable trash is going to cost the taxpayers over a million dollars a year and counting upward in dollars. Say nothing of the tons of new pollution from all of this shipping and the wasting of natural resources so mayor Dave can “have my life back”.
    All of this tells me one and or two things. It sure seems to me that Dave is an elitist who is too proud to touch his recyclable trash to sort it. Or, someone is making a ton of money shipping this stuff and if so the old words of wit in this kind of deal are, “follow the money”. Which leaves me with one question: How much money will be wasted before the tax feed come to their senses and pull the plug on this waste of money and we go back to sorting our own recyclable trash.

  18. Mr Watcher, where the heck do you come up with “unsorted recyclable trash is going to cost the taxpayers over a million dollars a year and counting upward in dollars.” when the story we’re debating states “a net difference of $10,482”? You use the cliche “follow the money”, I say “show me the the money?”.

    How do you come up with a million bucks a year for collection and transfer of recyclables for 69,012 households? If it were so, I’d jump to get that contract.

    And don’t go getting holier than thou on me, I have a family of six that sits down for dinner and breakfast every day and we recycle religiously, and between the four bins of sorted recyclables, the mulching lawn mower, and the the compost pile we only put out one small kitchen bag of trash a week.

    In the end it ain’t about you and me watcher, were doing things right. It’s about all the others we need to encourage to join us, and if ten grand and a “no sort” system is all it takes I’m all for it.

  19. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 31, 2009, 7:19 am

    Read up a few posts, in fact the one you replied to, to start with. Follow this one more time please. The city is taking the full amount of unsorted trash into account. What about the past way we did recycling where it wasn’t shipped to Portland. That amount was no less than half of what is being collected today. That amount of trash wasn’t put in the land fill. So to do honest math, we need to subtract that old sorted recyclable trash to see what the new unsorted trash system is really costing us. Follow this: The city is saying we are saving $155K per month by not putting this unsorted recycling into the dump. This is totally disregarding the amount of sorted recycled (old way) that never made it to the dump as well. Combining the old way which didn’t go to the land fill and wasn’t being shipped to Portland is clearly a dishonest shell game.
    What if the real numbers showed that the new unsorted way only added the amount of recyclable trash was only 20 percent more. That would mean the city is willing to spend $165K in new money to ship all of our recyclable trash to Portland for just 20 percent more trash collected by not having folks sort it out. The question not being asked is: How much more recyclable trash is this new way of collecting recyclable trash adding to what was already being collected when we sorted the recyclable trash and is the $165K cost per month worth it?
    This is as best as I can simplify this matter to explain it to you. If you still don’t get it, oh well money in a depression is easy come easy go. As the city tax feed types see it.

    EDITOR NOTE–Watcher, if it helps any the city claims a 40% increase in recycled trash under the new system. Another problem is TRASH seems to be measured in cubic yards at the dump, but compacted RECYCLABLES is measured by the ton with no way to determine percentage of profitable aluminum, or costly plastic. It is sketchy at best.

  20. backalleytrash
    Aug 31, 2009, 7:55 am

    If $10,000 is such a burden perhaps we should just throw our trash in the Boise river and let it float to Washington.

  21. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 31, 2009, 8:27 am

    Ed, as you can see there is a problem here. I understand your point on, by the ton and by the cubic yard. However the city is saying that 40 percent more recyclable trash is being collected and is using the dump size by saying all the trash saves $155 per month in land fill cost. The shipping weight by the ton is another issue.
    So lets stick with the dump size because thats what the city is saying on the 40 percent more and using dump savings to price the $155K. The 40 percent more recyclable trash is only $62K in new dump space saved. The old way when we sorted out recycled trash was saving $93K per month in dump space. This is very simple using the city’s very own numbers.
    Now the bottom line is this: We are spending $165K per month to save $62K in new dump space. That leaves a cost of $103K each month of a difference in shipping cost over dump space saved. This $103K times 12 months is $1,236,000 per year cost that was never there before with the old way we did our recyclable trash when we sorted it ourselves.
    Why is this so hard to understand is beyond me. The fact is clear the city can not use shipping weight for anything but shipping cost. They can only use cubic yards to come up with dump savings. Apples and oranges.

  22. Mr. Watcher
    Aug 31, 2009, 9:31 am

    To even make this very, very simple we can look at this matter this way.
    Joe is buying some hides of leather for a new custom leather coat. He is buying the leather by the square yard to ship to the leather shop who will make the leather coat. He’s shipping the leather with UPS and the weight of the leather is 15 pounds. The by the yard price is totally different than the shipping weight with UPS.
    This can not be more clear. We are being ripped off by a scam and people just can not see it which has me worried, deeply.

  23. Wasting the taxpayers dollars and cents, and their own scooples!

  24. sam the sham
    Sep 1, 2009, 4:12 am

    Boise is not getting it’s money’s worth from me and other single person households. I have a “small” recycling can and am proud to toss away the center of the toilet paper roll – which actually could break down in my composting. I fail to use any drink packaging which contains plastic and we don’t recycle the glass containers, nor the lined boxes which I do use.

    Oh well, I didn’t vote for it. As a matter of fact, you didn’t either.

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