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Proposed Valpo trash rate increase could come with changes to recycling pickup

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Valparaiso residents would pay more for less service, under the city's proposed trash rate increase. Valparaiso City Services is asking the city council to raise the rate from 12 dollars to $19.50 a month, starting this fall.

City Services Director Steve Poulos told council members Monday that the rate has stayed the same for 10 years, while costs continue to increase. "Landfill costs are going to go up. Recycling values . . . are unpredictable. Fuel prices continually fluctuate. Labor costs will always go up, and capital purchases are always increasing," Poulos said.

A financial analysis shows there's currently a shortfall of $100,000 per year in operational costs. That goes up to $1.1 million when equipment costs and wear and tear on city roadways are included.

In addition to raising rates, the city is looking to save money by cutting recycling pickup to once every two weeks and eliminating free recycling pickup for businesses using a private service for trash. "Frankly, if you look at $19.50, it's right in the middle of the pack, comparable to other communities that not only have internal operations like the city of Portage, but also, people that have hired a privatizer — and we actually fall below that average," Poulos added.

This comes as less household waste is being recycled in the city of Valparaiso. Poulos said the U.S. as a whole recycles about 32 percent of its waste. But Valparaiso's diversion rate has dropped to about 21 percent, slightly higher than the state average.

"I think, first of all, it's a lack of education. And secondly, without proper education, I think people are, frankly, confused, and if you look at the ordinance that was established in 2012, the way recycling has evolved, there's, frankly, errors in it, as of today, and there's quite a bit of ambiguity," Poulos explained.

For example, Valparaiso technically allows plastic bags to be placed in recycling toters, even though they can clog up machines during the sorting process.

But council member Robert Cotton cautioned that making recycling too complicated could cause people not to recycle at all. "I used to recycle everything. I mean, there are many things that had the recycle symbol on it, that I later found out, even if it has the recycle symbol, we don't use it. Too much explanation, too much education is going to cause paralysis and perhaps lead to more people simply just putting stuff in the normal trash," Cotton said.

Meanwhile, resident Walt Breitinger felt that banning plastic bottles — at least from City Hall — could help reduce waste, and he criticized council members for bringing them. "Plastic bottle, plastic bottle, plastic bottle, plastic bottle!" Breitinger said, referring to individual council members. "Some people believe that we are recycling some small percentage of them. For the most part, they're ending up in the landfill. People should bring their own reusable container or drink from the drinking fountain."

All of this comes as the actual cost of recycling has gone up, due to China's decision to ban imports a few years ago.

The Valparaiso City Council will take public comments on the proposed rate hike on September 12, before making a final decision. If approved, it would take effect in October for bills due in November.