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Mayor Tim Keller, Director Matthew Whelan Update Community on Record Recycling Costs and the State of Solid Waste

Solid Waste Department Cost of Recycling Services Rises 900% in Two Years

Sept. 17, 2020

The City of Albuquerque Solid Waste Department (SWMD) has seen an increase of 900% in recycling costs over a 3-year period and is facing an estimated revenue loss of $1.6 million to the department’s enterprise fund as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

China, which had been the largest market for recycling in the world, changed the importing guidelines from 90% clean plastic to 99.9% clean plastics, resulting in a cascading effect on recycling worldwide and increasing costs dramatically. Back end costs for recycling have risen from $350,000 in 2017 to $3.5 million in 2020. Even as departments in other cities have raised rates, cut services, or both, the City of Albuquerque has done neither.

The impact of coronavirus is exacerbating an already challenging landscape. Residential refuse and recycling pickups have increased 22%, from 778 tons of refuse in August of 2019 to 874 tons in August of 2020. In addition, unscheduled residential large item pickup tons collected have increased 86%, from 23 tons in May of 2019 to 44 in May of 2020. Commercial refuse collection—a critical source of revenue for the department—has lost 550 business customers, a negative financial impact of $1.6 million. Illegal dumping, which is cleaned up at the City’s expense, has increased of 110%. 1,638 sites were cleaned in 2019. So far in 2020, that number is 3,447. Scheduled large item pickups increased 27% from 45,331 in fiscal year 2019 to 57,483 in fiscal year 2020. 

“I’m thankful to our workers—the drivers, convenience center employees, and other team members who keep Albuquerque beautiful in a world where costs and demand for services are constantly rising even as they have fewer and fewer resources to do their work,” said Mayor Tim Keller. “We take their work for granted too often, and it’s only getting harder for them to deliver on a daily basis.”

“These challenges aren’t going anywhere, but our team is committed to continuing to provide stellar service to our city,” said Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan. “They love Albuquerque, and it shows in the work they do to keep our community clean, respond to illegal dumping and graffiti, and support our residents’ efforts to recycle sustainably.”

SWMD is one of the largest departments in the City, with approximately 500 employees. Department Services include residential refuse and recycling collection, commercial refuse and recycling collection, operation of 3 convenience centers and a landfill. Clean City programs including large item pickup, median maintenance, litter and graffiti abatement illegal dumping clean up and abandoned building board-ups.