MERCER — With a declining market for recyclable materials, residents of Mercer and Lawrence counties could face limited options for disposing of glass and plastics.

By the end of January, residents of small municipalities and rural areas who use the two counties’ Big Blue Bin programs will no longer be able to dispose of glass and plastic at the four drop-off sites in Mercer County and 12 locations in Lawrence County. Residents will still be able to use the Big Blue Bins to drop off paper and cardboard.

While the department’s decision affects only the Big Blue Bin programs, Jerry Zona, director of Recycling and Solid Waste for the two counties, said it could affect larger municipalities that are required to provide curbside recycling collection services. Zona said he has contacted representatives of those communities to inform them that their recycling options might also be affected.

He cited weakness in the global recycling market, with plastics and glass being the most difficult materials to process.

Zona said the cost of continuing the practice of recycling plastic and glass would have doubled the Big Blue Bin program’s cost, from about $48,000 to approximately $96,000, which made changing the program necessary. The department will begin removing the glass and plastic bins after Jan. 1, with all of the collection facilities gone by the end of next month.

This year, the program costs $2,400 per year for every container. For 2019, the department received only one bid, from Pine Township-based Tri-County Industries, at an annual cost of $4,380 for every container. With the cost almost doubling, it left the department with little choice but to cut the number of containers in half, Zona said.

“It was the most logical thing so we could continue to offer the service,” he said.

Recyclable plastics, usually #1 and #2 substances like soft drink bottles, are frequently contaminated with plastic bags and other types of plastics, which must be manually removed at processing facilities.

With recycled plastic selling for less on the open market, clearing up plastic contamination caused shrinking profit margins to disappear completely, Zona said.

Glass causes another issue. Recycling facilities have to separate every color of glass into separate categories, which usually has to be done manually.

Municipalities with more than 5,000 residents are required to provide recycling collection services. That includes Farrell, Greenville, Grove City, Hermitage and Sharon in Mercer County, and Ellwood City, Neshannock, New Castle, New Wilmington, Shenango Township and Union Township in Lawrence County.

Zona said residents who have relied on the Big Blue Bins for dropping off recyclable plastic have other options. Residents who contract with Tri-County Industries for trash collection can request recyclable containers.

Follow Eric Poole on Facebook or Twitter @HeraldEricPoole. Email him at epoole@sharonherald.com.