Recycling in Omaha (copy)

Sherrie Eastman, who works in accounting support for First Star Recycling, helps manage the recycling of cardboard at the facility.

Recycling makes practical sense and is understandably popular. Such practices help relieve long-term pressure on landfills. They promote a community mindset of responsible environmental stewardship.

But as now become clear, the economics of recycling have been transformed. China and other Asian countries have begun refusing to accept recyclables from the U.S. and other nations. That change has flipped the cost calculations for the recycling industry. Communities across the U.S. are finding they must pay a significant amount in order to continue their recycling programs.

Omaha is struggling with this dilemma, as shown by the effort to find an affordable path forward on the next recycling contract. City leaders were understandably taken aback after Firstar Fiber, the city’s current recycling firm, submitted a bid that would require the city to pay up to $4 million annually.

No one questions that city government — and hence Omaha residents — will need to pay significantly more for recycling in the next contract, but the $4 million figure goes beyond a reasonable limit. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert was right to reject the proposal and direct the Public Works Department to start a new bidding process.

The chances for competitive bidding should be increased by Stothert’s directive that Public Works develop a new bid request beyond the five-year window used in the recent bidding. Another possible help: Americans’ moves away from plastic use and toward paper could help the paper recycling market improve in coming years, with a possible reduction in cost to Omaha taxpayers.

Participation in the bidding process by FCC Environmental, the city’s trash contractor under the 10-year contract that begins in 2021, would provide needed competition. Public Works estimates that in the first year of that contract, Omahans’ recycling of aluminum cans, cardboard, newspapers and plastic will total a major amount — about 20,000 tons.

Omaha deserves a workable long-term recycling program. It’s right for city officials to seek a new bidding process, encouraging more competition, to bring the program within affordable limits.

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