Charleston County is working on a deal with recycling giant Sonoco to combine forces on a new facility on Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston, where much of the entire region’s recycling eventually could be processed.
If you go
What: Special Charleston County Council Finance Committee and full council meetings on a recycling contract
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Second floor of the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Services Building, 4045 Bridge View Drive, North Charleston
County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor has called special Finance Committee and Council meetings Tuesday night to vote on a 10-year contract with Sonoco to run the county’s recycling operations. Republic Services now has a contract with the county to do that, but that contract expires Jan. 31.
Pryor said he thinks the majority of council members will vote in favor of the Sonoco contract, which would be implemented in two phases, and would offer points along the way where Sonoco or the county could opt out.
It’s important for the county to have a plan in place as soon as possible, Pryor said. Not only is the current contract with Republic about to expire, but the amount of cans, bottles, cardboard and other material the county takes in has grown dramatically in recent years under the popular single-stream program, where residents can mix all their recyclables in one large roll cart, instead of separating them.
“We can’t continue to do business the way we are now,” Pryor said. “We’ve got recyclables stacked to the ceiling. That’s no way to run a place,”
County Administrator Kurt Taylor, in a memo to council members, recommended that they approve the contract. “I have seen the deteriorating conditions at Romney Street,” the site of the county’s aging recycling center, he said.
Taylor now is in charge of the county’s solid waste program, after council last week voted to remove the responsibility of running the solid waste program from county attorney Joe Dawson. Dawson was making about $90,000 annually for running that program, in addition to what he makes for legal work he performs for the county.
In 2013 Dawson was paid nearly $400,000 by the county. In addition to what he brought in running the solid waste program, he made about $200,000 for legal work and about $100,000 for handling two county bond issuances.
Pryor said the first portion of the contract with Sonoco would cover the next 18 months, during which the company would run the Romney Street facility and roll out the single-stream program to the remaining eligible residents. So far, about 95,000 of approximately 120,000 eligible homes have been enrolled in the program and received roll carts.
During those 18 months, the county likely will begin building a new and greatly expanded recycling center on the Palmetto Commerce Parkway, Pryor said.
Deciding where to build the new facility and securing a piece of land has been a difficult and contentious task for council members, Pryor said, and concerns about that will be reflected in the contract. “If after 18 months we don’t have any dirt,” he said, “they could walk away and we could walk away.”
But if all goes well, Sonoco would move all its operations to the new facility over eight years, Pryor said.
The company has recycling contracts with Berkeley and Dorchester counties, as well as many other municipal and commercial contracts. The county and Sonoco would share the income brought in from selling the recyclables, Pryor said. The price the county can get for recyclables varies greatly from year to year, he said, but last year it brought in $1.5 million.
And the company eventually will sort much of the county’s garbage at the new facility, pulling out recyclables that have been tossed in the trash, he said.
Pryor said the county would make money not only from selling its own recyclables, but from those from many of Sonoco’s other clients as well.
That’s why he and some other council members pushed hard for a site on Palmetto Commerce Parkway that was central to the region, not just the county, he said. “That’s why it’s critical to have a centrally located place.”
County Council originally voted in August to build the recycling center on a site adjacent to the Bees Ferry Landfill in West Ashley, after the county’s solid waste consultant recommended that site because he said it would be efficient to keep all solid waste services in one location. Council had considered two sites adjacent to the landfill.
Council initially selected one of the Bees Ferry sites, but Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and nearby residents objected to a recycling facility being built there, largely over concerns about truck traffic on Bees Ferry Road.
Council members last week said they would ask Riley one more time if he would reconsider allowing them to build the new facility near the landfill.
Riley late last week said he continues to oppose a recycling center on Bees Ferry Road.
Pryor said Sonoco also was open to working with the county and other companies on alternative technologies for dealing with solid waste, if those technologies are viable.
He also said that he thinks council will approve a site for the new recycling center in the next few weeks.
The county is eyeing its third site on Palmetto Commerce Parkway, which is near the Republic construction waste landfill. The nearly 20-acre site would cost $145,000 per acre.
Councilman Vic Rawl, who represents the area, said he has met with residents of neighborhoods near the site and he’s sure that they are supportive of the county building its facility there.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.