Washington County is no longer taking plastic or glass recycling at the county’s five convenience centers. 

Solid Waste Director Charles Baines said that Washington County isn’t the only municipality struggling – he said the lack of buyers of plastic and glass has led to the decision to discontinue the services until further notice. 

“All the other municipalities in the area’s pretty much having the same problem,” he said. “They’re running out room to store it, we’ve got big buildings, we’ve got places, and we bale the plastic and the cardboard, and we stack it up and stack it up and stack it up, and store it, but after a while you’ve got to move it out, you’re running out of room.” 

Tri-City Waste Paper, one of the few plastic buyers in the region, closed its doors earlier this year, leaving the region with tons of plastic and officials scrambling for answers.

Tri-City Waste Paper’s parent company, Asheville Waste Paper, is still in operation, but Baines said the cost of using those services is too expensive for the county to pursue. 

“A lot of companies, they’ll tell you that they’re taking it and buying it, but like two cents a pound, or three cents a pound, and then we have to ship it,” he said. “So it cost us a whole lot more to do that than it would be to just put it in the landfill.”

Ten years ago, Baines said the money that the county made from recycling made up for labor wages, fuel to run garbage trucks and other annual expenses. 

According to data from the county, Washington County saved about $360,000 from recycling in 2008. That number dwindled to $250,000 in 2018.

Washington County, Tenn., recycling report

Net Savings$361,149.35



Baines said it’s not just recycling plastic and glass that’s the problem – the business has stalled in every facet. 

“Cardboard usually brings anywhere from like $80 to $100 a ton, normally, and I called Monday because I’ve got nine loads sitting baled up and ready to go,” he said. “They told me it was $10 a ton, and they didn’t want to come get it.”

So for now, he said the county is just taking plastic and glass to the landfill, but that still costs the county money as Iris Glen in Johnson City charges by the ton. 

The money the county got from selling recyclables used to make up for the budget, but now that’s drying up.

“As long as all the recycling stuff is down-and-out that hurts my budget even worse,” he said. “Therefore, the tax dollars (are) going to have to make up the difference somewhere down the road.” 

Baines said he hasn’t heard of a solution on the horizon. Eastman Chemical Company announced new recycling technology in April, but few details of that project have been released to the public. 

“Just as soon as we find something to do with it, we’ll definitely start recycling it, sorting it, taking it back again,” Baines said.