Refuse and Recycling Fees Finally Exceed 1991 Rates for 5 Centre County Townships
2023 marks the first time in 30 years that the rates for curbside refuse and recycling collection in five Centre County townships surpass the fees residents were paying in 1991.
Prior to 1992, the Centre Region Council of Governments annually set the maximum fee garbage haulers could charge homeowners for refuse collection. At the time, the Centre County Solid Waste Authority (now the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority), provided curbside recycling services as part of the tipping fee they charged for refuse disposal at their transfer station. The maximum fee for 1991 was $20.50 per month, and the disposal fee at the transfer station was $80 per ton.
With plans in place by the CCRRA to charge separate fees for refuse disposal and recycling collection, the COG elected officials decided to seek competitive bids and secure one private-sector hauler to provide curbside refuse and recycling collection to the residents of College, Ferguson, Patton and Harris Townships, beginning in March 1992. (Benner Township joined the contract in 2010.)
That decision was perhaps one of the most controversial topics faced by the COG since its inception. With social media nonexistent back then, residents expressed their opinions through the local newspapers, on morning radio talk shows or at public meetings. The papers and airwaves were filled with commentary.
There were fears of price gouging, of union strikes leading to trash lying in the streets for weeks and of a monopoly that would lead to rapidly increasing monthly rates. At the end of the first contract year, then-COG contract administrator Cathy Prosek reported in a Centre Daily Times article that the 7,950 refuse customers generated an average 0.96 tons of refuse per household and 0.2 tons of recycling per household that year. Additionally, she estimated the contract saved residents over $600,000 during the first year, with the monthly rate of $13.89.
From 1992 to 2022, monthly collection rates have varied from a low of $12.45 to a high of $20.19.
Curbside recycling provided by the CCRRA has grown from an initial six materials to collecting over a dozen different materials today. Electronics and scrap metal have been added to bulk waste collections (both taken at no charge for recycling).
Today, the average COG household generates 0.79 tons of refuse annually, and 0.18 tons of recyclables. Back in 1992, five trucks running on 99-cent-per-gallon diesel fuel were enough to complete all the routes. Today a fleet of a dozen compressed-natural-gas vehicles at $3.29 per gallon equivalent performs all the refuse collection.
After 30 years of household monthly rates below that 1991 monthly fee of $20.50, 2023 will see those rates rise above that level to $23.38 ($14.86 for refuse and $8.50 for recycling) per month. The low-usage rate will remain below the 1991 level at $19.38 ($10.88 for refuse and $8.50 for recycling). Similarly, the CCRRA refuse tipping fee will exceed the 1991 rate of $80 per ton as it increases to $84 per ton.
Inflation, increased equipment costs and increasing labor costs (wages and health care) have contributed significantly to these higher rates. COG rates are still among the lowest in the state and county for similar services. Rates in outlying areas of the county are approaching $34 per month, without curbside recycling. Our recycling program includes items that have been eliminated from many other municipal programs, like green, brown and clear glass.
Adjusted for inflation, that $20.50 maximum fee would be $45.20 in today’s dollars. It is beyond the scope of this article to calculate what that annual savings over the years amounts to for today’s almost 16,000 customers. We remain focused on providing residents with the most economically and environmentally responsible refuse and recycling collection programs we can. Based on state and national trends, we can expect rates to continue to increase in the next few years. We are doing our best to minimize those increases while maintaining the level of quality expected by our customers.
We encourage residents in the COG curbside collection contract area to voice opinions and help us set priorities moving forward by taking the 2023 customer survey at crcog.net/survey.
Ted Onufrak is executive director of the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority, and Shelly Mato is the COG Refuse and Recycling Program administrator.