Recycling trends: roll carts in - glass out

Cities around the state have made changes to their recycling programs as part of an effort to keep up with the changes in technology and economics of recycling.

"Local governments have made adjustments to their programs as recycling has grown and evolved during the past 25 years," said Richard Chesley, recycling program manager for the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Some cities have added residential electronics recycling collection in response to legislation banning specific electronics from landfill disposal, while others are working to begin food waste recovery initiatives, he said.

"Also, local governments are beginning to refine their outreach message to better communicate with residents the fact that, while recycling is not a free service, it is still an essential part of solid waste management that offers numerous economic and environmental benefits," he said.

In another trend, the volatile recycling marketplace has caused some Upstate cities to stop accepting glass as a recyclable.

In late 2015, Mauldin’s primary vendor for processing recyclables closed, forcing city officials to look for another avenue to discard recyclable material. The previous vendor paid the city $10 per ton of recyclable material. New vendors now charge $15 a ton to process the same material, including glass. By eliminating glass, the city will be charged just $5 per ton for nonglass recyclable material.

Mauldin officials contacted another company and evaluated options to try to find a solution to these changes, but alternate solutions would raise the cost to residents to more than $40 a ton of recyclable materials if glass were included.

"The market for recyclable materials will fluctuate, and we will remain vigilant for the best option to manage recyclable materials for our citizens," Mauldin City Administrator Trey Eubanks said.

According to Mauldin officials, the change reflects a trend in the recycling market nationwide. As the value of recycled glass declines and the efforts to separate and clean the material increase, it has become a burden on most companies to process glass. Glass also breaks easily, infiltrating nonglass recyclables and making some cardboard or plastic renewables less valuable in the process.

Ultimately, the cost to process glass has outpaced its value in the marketplace at this time, making it difficult for municipalities to find companies willing to process the material at a rate that keeps the burden low for taxpayers.

The City of Columbia continues to accept glass in its recycling carts even though it now loses money on the glass it collects, Columbia’s Recycling Coordinator Samantha Yager said. But the city has seen an overall savings after its delivered 34,152 roll carts to Columbia homes in July 2015, she said.

Cities across the country are moving away from recycling bins to roll carts.

Last summer, Columbia changed the way it picks up recycling, moving from 18-gallon bins to 95-gallon roll carts. Almost one year in, the city has realized a savings of $250,000, said Yager.

By using larger carts, the city was able to cut back from weekly to twice a month pickups. The city also began using an automated fleet, where all the recyclables go in one truck, instead of having workers sort the pieces before being placed in the recycling trucks. That change allowed Columbia to cut the number of routes, from nine a day to four, reducing its fuel costs and its workforce by five positions.

One of the biggest gains for the city was the drop in workers’ compensation claims and lost time for injuries. The city had seen a lot of rotator cuff and back injuries when workers had to lift the heavy recycling bins.

"The carts presented a savings that helped win over our council. Like everyone, they are looking at the bottom line," she said. "To be able to say that we will see a $250,000 savings was huge for us."

The move to roll carts has increased the amount of recycling by Columbia residents—from 344 tons of recyclables collected each month in bins to 502 tons a month collected in the roll carts during the first six months of the program.

Columbia has also experienced a reduction in the amount of garbage it collects, down from 1,800 tons a month to 1,700 tons. "Any way to produce less garbage and keep it out of the landfill is positive," Yager said.

Plus, Columbia residents love the cart system.

"I’ve heard everything from ‘The carts are better than sliced bread,’ to one lady who called and said, ‘I’ve never recycled before but these carts make me want to recycle,’" Yager concluded.