Residential recycling in the Dorchester County part of North Charleston has been for naught because for several months city employees have been mixing the recyclables with household trash for disposal at a landfill, officials said.
City Councilman Ron Brinson said he recently learned about the situation, which affects about 27,000 residents. He said there is a consensus on City Council to suspend the collection of recyclables in the Dorchester County part of North Charleston if the problem is not fixed before Feb. 1.
“I’m proud of our city for what really is a noble effort to sustain this popular service … but this amounts to ‘living a lie.’ And we have to involve our constituents transparently,” Brinson said in a letter Friday to Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett.
Recycling woes are facing the area as the price of oil has dropped, and recycling has become less profitable. In November, the town of Summerville dropped some of its curbside services, restricting the pickup to paper and cardboard. Waste Pro, the company with the contract for the city, said at the time that without the Charleston County recycling center, there was no place to process the plastic, glass, cans and bottles.
Brinson and Hargett are working on a solution that would plug North Charleston into the Dorchester County recycling program. The county currently operates 12 recycling drop-off centers for residents, although it does not pick up recycling from the curb.
“We are floating the idea of North Charleston bringing their recyclables to our vendor, which is Carolina Waste in North Charleston. We believe that might work for North Charleston and Dorchester County,” Hargett said.
Except for a sliver of land in Berkeley County, the rest of North Charleston is in Charleston County, which handles recyclables from that part of the city.
“This is just symptomatic of a much bigger picture. Where does the stuff go for any jurisdiction?” Brinson said.
The problem could get worse as falling oil prices cut into the profitability of recycling. Here and overseas there are news accounts of recyclers who are struggling to compete in a new economy. Cheap oil means that new plastic can cost less than plastic created from recycled materials. In many cases, people are not willing to pay a higher price for eco-friendly plastic, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Plastic is often derived from oil, and there used to be money in recycled scrap. Not anymore. The fall in oil prices has dragged down the price of virgin plastic, erasing the recyclers’ advantage,” the Journal reported.
The Charleston County recycling center on Romney Street is closed. The county and contractor Sonoco mutually agreed to part ways when their contract expired at the end of July, officials said.
At that time, the company said it decided against renewing the contract with the county because it was no longer able to operate the aging facility economically.
“Under current market and operating conditions, we simply could not see a viable path forward to turn the operation into an economically feasible business,” Sonoco said in a statement.
As a stopgap measure, the county signed a contract with the Horry County Solid Waste Authority, and is currently trucking recyclables to the group’s Conway facility. The arrangement with Horry County is a temporary one while Charleston County builds a new recycling center on Palmetto Commerce Parkway.
“Due to your great recycling, we need a bigger, better facility,” county environmental management said in its January newsletter to residents.
The new facility will allow the county to better recycle plastics, glass, paper and other material and keep more materials out of the landfill, the newsletter says.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project was held in November on a 21-acre parcel of land. The facility has been estimated to cost $30 million, but no opening date has been announced.
Curbside recyclables from the Dorchester County part of North Charleston have been mixed with household trash and sent to a landfill for about five months, Brinson said. Previously, the recyclables were hauled to a location where they were mingled with Charleston County recyclables and sent for processing, Brinson said.
“That contract ended last summer sometime,” he said.
Charleston County’s closure of its recycling center on Romney Street affected the town of Summerville in November, angering some residents.
“The only recyclables that we are taking right now are from Charleston County. Those are the ones that we are taking up to Horry County,” said county spokesman Shawn Smetana.
The arrangement costs the county about $100 for each truckload of recyclables. Horry County will pay Charleston County $425 per load of recyclables, but it will cost Charleston County about $525 per truckload to transport them there, officials have said.