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Environment: Recycling bill moves ahead despite opposition

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A bill that would require bars and restaurants that serve alcohol to recycle has been introduced in the state legislature, but wording that would have put a fee on trash that goes into landfills isn’t included.

The $3 per ton fee was part of earlier drafts of the bill and would have gone to counties and municipalities to help pay for recycling initiatives.

“To be honest, if we had put that in there it would have killed the chances of this bill,” said Sen. Ray Cleary of Murrells Inlet, a primary sponsor of the bill.

Even without the fee, the bill has some people worked up. Cleary said he started getting calls last year from owners of bars and restaurants who say they don’t want to be saddled with costs related to recycling.

But Cleary argues the costs aren’t as much of a financial burden as some have made them out to be.

The bill requires the recycling of all recyclable beverage containers and their packaging, targeting mainly glass, cardboard, aluminum and paper. It’s the inclusion of glass that seems to cause the most concern.

“Glass is the big elephant,” Cleary said. “It’s expensive to recycle and there are not a lot of recycling plants. It costs $15 a ton to recycle glass, but what they don’t tell you is it costs $12 to bury it.”

The bill would allow one year for businesses to come into compliance, and if no glass container recycling market is available by the effective date, an additional two years would be allowed for that component of the regulations.

The owners of Drunken Jack’s, a Murrells Inlet restaurant that already has a recycling program, have been asked to address the subcommittee the bill was sent to.

“What we have seen is everybody has really embraced” the recycling program, said David McMillan, a partner in Drunken Jack’s. Not only did the staff take to recycling with enthusiasm, but the public did, too, when the restaurant put recycling bins outside on the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk.

Though McMillan admits there was some “substantial initial expense” to start the program, he said it now essentially pays for itself.

“We use Fisher Recycling and there is a fee involved, but that is almost offset by the reduction in general waste disposal,” McMillan said. “If you monitor it, you can make it offset itself, which makes it economical.”

McMillan said he supports the bill and would actually like to see it expanded to include more businesses, such as fast food restaurants.

“If you’re going to go for it, go for it,” he said.

Nancy Cave, north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League and a member of a statewide coalition that helped draft the bill, said she isn’t disappointed that the fee to fund recycling initiatives was taken out of the legislation.

She and other members of the coalition —comprised of recycling industry representatives, environmentalists and community leaders — are just happy a bill was filed.

“We will do everything we can to get this bill passed,” she said. “Our hope is this would be the first of a number of bills that will help this state move forward to recycle more and move toward zero waste.”

South Carolinians produce about one ton of solid waste per person every year, according to the coalition, and the state goal to recycle 35 percent of its solid waste has never been met.

There are also economic benefits to be considered, Cleary said. Recycling is a growing industry, but “they won’t build facilities here unless the materials are here, and the materials aren’t here unless we’re recycling,” he said.

The industry is expected to grow 12 percent annually.

“I think it’s something that’s coming anyway. Change is inevitable,” Cleary said.

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