In 2009, Charleston County decided to close its garbage-burning incinerator, revamp its solid waste program and set a goal to recycle 40 percent of its trash. It has made significant strides toward that goal over the past four years, but much remains to be done.
Q: How much has the county's recycling rate increased?
A: The county was recycling about 10 percent of its garbage in 2009 when it set its ambitious goal. It's now recycling 25 percent.
Q: Are county taxpayers paying less for the solid waste program?
A: Yes. In the 2010 fiscal year, the last year in which the county burned most of its garbage in an incinerator in North Charleston, the county spent about $43 million on its solid waste program. In fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, it spent about $29 million.
The county continues to charge a $99-per-home fee for solid waste, but two years ago, it gave homeowners a $25 rebate.
Q: When will the popular All-in-One recycling program be rolled out countywide?
A: Soon, but county leaders can't give a specific date. About 50,000, or 45 percent, of the 110,000 homes from which the county collects recyclables now are in the program, which allows residents to mix all of their material in one large roll cart. Another 25,000 homes from neighborhoods throughout the county will be added in June. The county regularly adds new neighborhoods to the program. The single-stream program dramatically increases the number of homes that recycle and the amount people bring to the curb every other week.
Q: With all of this expansion, have any controversies come up?
A: Yes. There's controversy over who should run the program, and its use of consulting services. County Council voted 5-4 this week to continue allowing county attorney Joe Dawson to run the program until several specific tasks are completed, including renegotiating landfill and transfer station contracts; finding a site and designing a new recycling facility; and rolling out the All-in-One recycling program countywide. The majority of council members think Dawson has been successful running the program. They want him to reach a logical stopping point before handing over the reins to county administrator Kurt Taylor. But several council members think Taylor should run the program now. Dawson is paid $7,500 per month for his work with solid waste.
The county also pays Kessler Consulting about $30,000 per month for its work to revamp the program. The county always has relied on solid waste consultants. It paid two solid waste consulting firms more than $4.6 million between 2000 and 2008.
Q: What about Dorchester and Berkeley counties?
A: Berkeley County started offering curbside pick-up on a subscription basis ($7.50/quarter) in unincorporated areas of the county and in the municipalities of Hanahan, Daniel Island, Goose Creek and Moncks Corner in July. Residents can mix all of their recyclables in 18-gallon bins, but the county hopes to transition to roll carts within the next year. The county also offers recycling drop-off sites .
Dorchester County doesn't offer curbside recycling but has recycling drop-off sites. Private haulers offer curbside service, mostly in the lower county and Summerville.
Q: What does the future hold?
A: If Charleston County is going to reach its 40 percent goal, it has to increase commercial recycling. The county will begin to push that after it has built a new recycling facility. Its existing recycling center couldn't handle a huge increase in commercial recycling now.
The county is trying to acquire its preferred site, a CARTA facility on West Montague Avenue in North Charleston, but that plan hit a snag a few weeks ago. County leaders say they still are working to land the facility. If it doesn't work out, they would have to choose another site.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.