Bethlehem pays $1 million and charges households $70 annually for recycling. Both are likely to increase.

Bethlehem and its residents are likely to face higher recycling fees, after the city’s curbside collection contractor opted not to renew its deal beyond 2022.

Recycling practices may also change, as Bethlehem now offers separate collection of containers and paper products for recycling. It can generate more revenue than so-called single-stream recycling because buyers get cleaner materials, but it presents challenges for the carrier, city officials said.

In October 2018, the city signed a four-year, $4.3 million recycling and yard waste collection contract with Republic Services Inc. Earlier this month, the company told Bethlehem that it was declining to exercise the first of five potential one-year extensions in the 2023 deal, so the city will have to solicit bids for a new carrier. The five one-year extensions were to be worth an additional $6.5 million to the carrier, according to the contract.

Mayor J. William Reynolds’ administration briefed City Council on the situation on Tuesday. Laura Collins, city manager of community and economic development, said recycling haulers face challenges such as staffing, supply chain and fuel costs.

“What we’re seeing in other communities…what’s happening because of these trends is increases of 50, 60 sometimes 70 or even 100%, which is obviously very significant,” she said.

Asked for comment, Republic Services confirmed that it was ending its contract with Bethlehem, saying, “In the first contract, our company got a four-year service contract, and we fulfilled that agreement. For the moment, we have decided not to extend this contract.

State Mandate

Pennsylvania in 1988 began requiring recycling in municipalities like Bethlehem, with a population of at least 10,000. At least 89% (more than 11 million) of state residents have access to recycling through 1,114 municipal curbside collection programs and 775 county and municipal collection programs, the Department of Environmental Protection said. Pennsylvania’s environment in 2021. Pennsylvania counties reported recycling more than 27 million tons from 2015 to 2018, the DEP said. This has helped reduce the volume of waste going to landfill, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 10 million metric tons per year, according to the department.

Amy Sturges, deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, said she was not surprised Bethlehem was considering higher costs for recycling. This is a situation that other municipalities will likely face as well if fuel costs do not continue to drop and they are unable to hire and retain adequate staff. And all of that means residents pay more.

“These communities are not really able to absorb these kinds of mandatory costs and I think naturally they are passed on,” Sturges said. “With contracts with a recycling provider, those prices are fixed, so we’ll see as renewals come in whether or not those contracts need to be negotiated at a higher amount.”

Bethlehem last raised recycling fees per household in 2016, to $70 a year, Reynolds said.

“It seems unlikely that we can keep it at $70,” the mayor told the council.

Double flow city

Complicating Bethlehem’s recycling future is that it offers — and residents are used to — dual-stream recycling. This means separating recyclables into different bins – one for glass, plastic, aluminum, steel cans, etc. and the other for things like cardboard, office paper, magazines and newspapers. Single-stream recycling is more common statewide, in which all recyclable materials are deposited in the same container, said Collins, the city’s DCED manager.

Republic Services currently brings dual-stream recycling to the city’s yard waste center at 1480 Schoenersville Road, where it is then transported to a recycling facility and sold as merchandise.

“Double stream is generally understood to result in a cleaner product to start at the curbside pick-up point, with less contamination, and we believe the benefit we realize when disposing of the material is higher” , said Collins. “The single stream is generally thought to be more convenient for consumers, which could increase the number of participants in the recycling program and more products.”

The city plans to solicit bids for dual-stream and single-stream recycling, Collins said. She noted that double-flow requires a different type of truck than single-flow, which leads to additional costs for transporters.

“It’s such an added cost to them that they’re willing to walk away from this pretty big deal,” she said of the expiring deal.

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at