Going green much harder for businesses
A bartender at Moe's Crosstown Tavern loads 11 bins filled with bottles and cans into his truck every other day and takes them to the county's recycling center.
Pat McGuigan, who fuels the truck with discarded cooking oil from the tavern's fryer, and his fellow bartender Greer Farrell were alarmed by the huge number of bottles and cans that Moe's, like many other businesses, threw into the trash bin each night.
So about a year ago, they made a pitch to the owner: McGuigan would regularly take the stuff to the recycling center if the owner would pay him with some of the money he saved by reducing the amount of garbage he had to pay a private company to haul away.
Most local businesses pay private companies for trash collection. If they chose to recycle, they must pay for those services as well. That's different than most homeowners who pay taxes, but not additional fees, for such services.
"The most frustrating part of a business taking on recycling is that it really takes a lot of work," Farrell said. "It's a shame it's so difficult."
But business recycling must increase if the county is to reach the goal County Council approved in March to boost recycling from 10 percent to 40 percent of the stream of municipal solid waste. A solid waste consultant hired by the county recommended that businesses make up about 10 percent of the increase. But businesses face a lot of obstacles to "going green" even if they want to recycle more.
Theresa Martin, a marketing specialist for Charleston County's Environmental Management Department, said the county's plan to increase recycling will take some time to complete because it's a huge undertaking. "But we're working on it," she said.
The county now doesn't have the resources to pick up recyclables from businesses, she said. "Some businesses would require a pick-up everyday," she said, unlike the every-other-week schedule for households. "It's a manpower issue," she said. "We would need more drivers and more trucks. Right now, we're just trying to get all the neighborhoods in every other week." Businesses can pay a private service to pick up their materials, she said. They can also bring them to the recycling center on Romney Street, or to one of the county's 50 small drop sites. When companies recycle, she said, they reduce the amount of trash they produce. Private trash companies usually charge by the volume of waste they pick up, so pulling out recyclable materials saves some money on trash pick-up costs.
But that doesn't apply to downtown Charleston businesses.
The city of Charleston picks up downtown garbage six days a week, said Mike Metzler, deputy director of operations. The area is dense with restaurants, bars and hotels, he said. And most businesses don't have the space on their property for a dumpster. They also don't have space inside to store recyclables, he said.
So, most businesses throw almost everything away. The city takes 80 percent of what it picks up downtown — including cans, bottles and cardboard — to the incinerator in North Charleston, which County Council recently voted to close at the end of the year. The rest goes to the Bees Ferry Landfill.
Susie Ridder, general manager at the downtown Vendue Inn, called the county recently looking for help to start recycling materials from the restaurant and rooftop bar. "If we could recycle beer bottles," she said, "it would be huge."
Ridder said the inn is a small business and simply doesn't have the resources to hire a company to pick up recyclables every day. It also doesn't have the space to store the materials or enough staff members to transport them to a recycling center. "We're very interested," she said, "but we need somebody to work with us."
Chris Fisher, owner of Fisher Recycling, said many businesses really want to recycle, and the number of them that do is growing.
He said maybe a "pay-as-you-throw" system would help. By that, he said, means that recycling should be picked up free, but both homes and businesses would be charged for the amount of garbage they throw away.
Christine Cooley, a member of the city's Green Committee and chairwoman of its Sub-Committee on Recycling and Solid Waste, said her group is recommending the city make commercial recycling universal and mandatory.
The group's recommendation will be included among many the Green Committee submits to City Council in the fall. The group isn't going to recommend specifically how it's done, she said. But the downtown area is crucial, she said. It would make a good place to pilot a program, she said.
"There's a huge amount of recycling there," she said. "And it's done successfully in other congested downtowns."