Wilton is facing a financial dilemma thanks to international enviro/geopolitics.

China, which has historically purchased approximately one-third of the recyclables from Europe and the United States, has changed its policy, and has reduced the amount of recyclable material it will take from abroad. It has also lowered the level of contaminated recyclable material it will accept. This change is having a negative, domino effect that will likely have significant financial repercussions here at home in Wilton.

At Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice explained that recyclables collected in Wilton eventually get hauled to City Carting in Stamford for processing and resale (after a short stay at Wilton’s transfer station). City Carting (and other waste and recycling companies) used to pay municipalities for their recyclable materials. However, because of China’s policy change, it has now become prohibitively more expensive for such waste management businesses to handle recyclables, and they now will have to absorb the excess materials.

As a result, those companies will no longer pay municipalities for their recyclables; instead the relationship will completely flip, and towns will now have to pay those same companies to haul recyclables away. That’s even if the waste management companies will still take the recyclables in the first place, as they too will now reduce the amount of recyclable material they’ll take as well as raise quality standards for what is acceptable.

As towns begin to renew waste management contracts, they’re facing unexpected budgetary impacts as a result of the changes overseas. Like Stamford, which just voted to release $700,000 from its $1 million contingency fund to address the situation it hadn’t planned for at budget time, so too will Wilton have to address the issue.

Wilton’s current City Carting contract ends at the end of FY’19, and a new contract will need to be negotiated by then. According to Vanderslice, that cost to Wilton could be as high as $100,000. That’s on top of the current $300,000 loss the transfer station operates at, as well as the cost to the town of replacing equipment there.

Vanderslice says there’s an “obvious” solution.

“The obvious solution for this is for everyone to take personal responsibility for their own actions and reduce the amount of their own personal waste, now that China doesn’t want to be the receptacle for everyone’s trash. But we all know with the Carry In/Carry Out policy, that’s a lot easier to say than to do.”

She did say that education and awareness is a key component of getting residents to do more and to encourage personal responsibility. One measure the town is taking is to partner with Keep America Beautiful, which sponsors a National Recycling Week awareness campaign in November. Wilton’s Environmental Affairs Department will be working with Keep America Beautiful to develop a multi-week program leading up to that.

In addition, Chris Burney, (wearing two hats as both director of Public Works and Board of Education facilities director) is working with the Board of Education on a zero waste program in the schools, and he will look for other ways to address the issue. “Hopefully with all that’s happening in the schools, the kids will be encouraging their parents,” Vanderslice noted.

She added that the town is looking at regional solutions, as other neighboring towns are also facing the same problem.

“We’re taking about it and are there things we can do together?”

Vanderslice noted that there will be more ongoing discussion at upcoming meetings.