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The county has to pay to haul off recyclables, but it's still a good deal

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Environmental sensitivity rates high on the list of reasons to recycle, but there are also financial benefits to be considered.

While recycling doesn’t generate a profit for Georgetown County, it creates a sizable savings for taxpayers by keeping about 14,000 tons of waste out of the landfill every year.

The landfill, which accepts construction and demolition materials as well as household waste, receives more than 85,000 tons of debris per year.

“In the short run, [recycling] costs more time and energy for us to collect and ready materials for the marketplace, but if we didn’t recycle we would lose [landfill] space and have to expand the facilities faster,” said Ray Funnye, the county’s director of public works.

A landfill expansion is an expensive proposition.

“The design cost of building a landfill is great, the construction cost is great and the cost to maintain and to close a landfill is great,” Funnye said.

Then, once it’s closed, 30 years of post-closure care is required, creating an additional cost. Together, he said the costs add up to be “astronomical.”

The county is preparing for an 8-acre landfill expansion that will carry a $4.5 million price tag for design and construction. After that, the county will have to pay to service that area for the 8-10 years it is projected to last. The county’s 2011 landfill budget calls for more than $2 million for operations, maintenance and salaries.

Once the space is full, cost to close it is projected to be another $2 million, then post-care will “easily reach $1.5 million,” Funnye said.

By comparison, the county’s recycling program has a budget of about $925,000, which includes operation and maintenance, salaries and a few capital improvements. Most of the revenue for the program comes from user fees paid by taxpayers, but about $100,000 comes from the sale of recyclables dropped off at the county’s 14 recycling centers.

Once the materials leave the collection centers, they go to a material recovery facility at the landfill where they are sorted by inmate laborers. Then, a buyer is called in to pick up the materials.

The county sells its recyclables to Sonoco of Charleston. The sales generated $121,000 for the 2009 fiscal year and about $95,000 through May for 2010. Funnye projects sales will bring about another $7,000 to $8,000 by the time the fiscal year ends at the end of the month.

“The market varies from year to year,” Funnye explained. “Some years there is a big demand for cardboard and plastic; other years the demand is smaller. We don’t know what [materials] will bring until we research it. And the market could change any day.”

The sale of recyclables generated less for the county this year, because of the economy, according to Funnye.

“Everybody is spending less, so we have less recyclables,” he said. “It’s all tied together. When the market took a nosedive, all recycling collections went down accordingly.”

The county keeps track of the volume of material coming in from each center. The Pawleys Island Center, which was recently expanded, is easily the busiest. It took in 4,833 tons of waste this fiscal year, including 712 tons of yard waste, 223 tons of newspaper, 160 tons of glass, 135 tons of cardboard and 105 tons of mixed recyclables.

The Murrells Inlet center, which was also recently expanded, collected a total of 3,056 tons of material.

In May, Fisher Recycling - Grand Strand collected and recycled more than 15 tons of glass, plastic, aluminum, tin, paper, newspapers and cardboard, said Kira Roff, a co-owner. Most of their customers are on Waccamaw Neck.

“For businesses, recycling is not only environmentally responsible, it is also fiscally practical,” Roff said. “Recycling results in fewer dumpster collections and can reduce the size of the dumpster, with the waste stream no longer containing recyclables.”

Roff’s business, which opened this year, handles a number of Waccamaw Neck restaurants.

Drunken Jack’s in Murrells Inlet signed on with Fisher in April and is already seeing a financial reward, said Somer Heise, the restaurant’s director of human resources. The restaurant is preparing to eliminate one of its eight outdoor trash bins.

Drunken Jack’s recycled nearly three tons of material last month. Pawleys Island Tavern and Bistro 217 each recycled nearly 1 ton.

Roff said she expects the numbers for this month to be higher.

“At these rates, total material recycled annually could top over 200 tons,” she said.

Many of Fisher’s local clients didn’t have recycling programs before contracting with the company, Roff said, so that will mean a lot less waste going to the landfill.

“The more recycling we have in the county, the better,” Funnye said. “Recycling, we know, is the way to go for a number of reasons.”

As a result, he said, the county tries to make it as easy for residents as possible.

“We work very diligently with employees to make sure they understand the importance of this and encourage people to recycle when they come to the facilities,” he said.

Attendants are on hand at all the county’s recycling centers to assist people who have questions about what can be recycled and where recyclables should be deposited.

To learn more about the county’s recycling program, visit georgetowncountysc.org/recycling.

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