With China halting import of most recycled materials, now is not the best time for a city to seek contracts for a new recycling vendor.
But that’s the position Janesville finds itself in. It began soliciting contract offers earlier this month and will close the application period Friday, April 26.
John’s Disposal in Whitewater has processed the city’s recycling for the past two years. The city considered extending the deal, but because the company requested “fairly dramatic” changes to its agreement, Janesville decided to open applications to others, Operations Director John Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb did not recall the specifics of some of those requests. He said they came in response to a changing landscape for the recycling market, one that has been transformed by China’s banishment of most imported recyclables.
In February, Whitcomb spoke to the city council and encouraged the public to be more careful when deciding which items to place in recycling bins. It would help Janesville’s recycling output be a more marketable commodity.
A higher quality recycling product is necessary in an oversupplied market tightened by China’s decision, he said.
Janesville’s current contract with John’s expires at the end of June. The contract is written to adjust to market conditions—in lucrative times, the city earns money for its reusable paper and plastic, Whitcomb said.
Now is not a lucrative time. Janesville has budgeted $40,000 in expenses this year for John’s to process its materials, he said.
Whitcomb expects John’s to submit a bid for another contract. He “gets a sense” that Badgerland Disposal, which is building a new facility in Milton, will also submit a bid. It’s possible another one or two companies also will apply.
Whoever Janesville chooses, Whitcomb expects the city will have to take on more risk through higher processing fees. Higher costs could be mitigated if the recycling market suddenly changes, he said.
The city would prefer the vendor have a station in Janesville to receive collected recyclables because that would reduce the city’s transportation costs. Right now, the city collects recyclables and hauls them to Whitewater.
If the vendor had a receiving center in Janesville, the company still could transport them elsewhere for processing. For example, Waste Management, which used to have the city’s recycling deal, once proposed to collect in Janesville but process the materials in Germantown, Whitcomb said.
The operations division will handle the contract itself, and the deal does not require council approval.
“Hopefully, markets over time improve. I am expecting some changes from the proposers than what we’ve seen in the past given the conditions and my discussions with others in the industry,” Whitcomb said. “China has disrupted the markets dramatically.”
Rock and Walworth counties saw some of Wisconsin’s highest rates of population growth in 2018, continuing the region’s economic upswing following the Great Recession.
Rock County’s population swelled by 809 people in 2018, slightly less than its 2017 increase, according to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Walworth County, meanwhile, grew by 762 people, the most its population has spiked in one year since at least 2010.
Among all Wisconsin counties, Rock and Walworth counties ranked seventh and eighth respectively for population growth. Dane, Waukesha, Brown, Outagamie, St. Croix and Eau Claire counties ranked higher.
In 2017, Rock County’s population rose by an estimated 926 people, the most it had grown since at least 2010. According to the 2018 estimates, Rock County’s total population reached 163,129 and Walworth County’s reached 103,718.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates largely match the state Department of Administration 2018 estimates for Rock and Walworth counties, which lists Rock County’s population at 160,349 and Walworth County’s at 103,535.
Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl said county residents historically have been split on local population growth. He said some value the county’s vastness and don’t want it to resemble a sprawling urban area. Yet growth is integral to finding workers and developing a workforce, he said.
“Certainly people leaving is a negative,” Bretl said. “Trying to grow the population base at least so there’s enough working age people to hold jobs is increasingly important going forward.”
John Beckord, president of Forward Janesville, said a rise in population means more people with disposable incomes. It also could enlarge the local workforce, he said, but he couldn’t say if that was the case last year without knowing the demographics of Rock County’s growth.
For example, Beckord said, some new residents might be retirees or young families with children. When asked which demographic is best for economic development, Beckord said his hunch is that young families are more likely to hunker down in Janesville long term and provide decades of service to an employer.
Beckord also said the surge in population helps explain Janesville’s increasingly tight housing market.
Rock County Planning Director Colin Byrnes said not all growth is necessarily good. It depends on who the new residents are and where they are located, he said, and he couldn’t speculate on the local impacts of the estimates released Thursday.
In the 1990s, Bretl said, Walworth County was consistently among the top four fastest-growing counties in the state, adding an average of 1,700 new residents each year. That began slowing sharply before the recession, he said.
Bretl said more people in the county require additional services. A certain percentage of new members will engage with local courts, health and human services and law enforcement.
But he said some growth is necessary for counties to maintain prosperity, economic growth and viability.
“Those places that are shrinking or are aging significantly without having younger folks moving in,” Bretl said. “That’s a problem.”
Rosemary “GG” Burkhamer Cornell
David Karl Dykeman
Marilyn F. Finn
Shirlee K. French
Colleen M. Rick
Virginia “Ginny” Thorne