Recycling giant Sonoco definitely will run Charleston County’s recycling center for the next 18 months, and likely will continue that work for another eight years.
County Council approved in principle a 10-year contract with Sonoco to run the county’s recycling operations with an 8-0 vote at a special meeting Tuesday. Councilman Vic Rawl abstained.
County Administrator Kurt Taylor recommended to council members that they approve the contract, which has two phases. In the first phase, 18 months, the company will run recycling operations at the outdated Romney Street facility, where the county has housed its recycling operations since 1991. In that time, Sonoco will ramp up operations so the county can roll out the popular single-stream recycling program to all eligible county residents.
In the single-stream program, residents are able to mix all of their recyclables in one large roll cart instead of separating them. So far, about 95,000 of about 120,000 eligible homes have been enrolled in the program and received roll carts.
During the first phase, the county will work on purchasing a piece of land, and designing and building a new recycling facility.
County leaders still are working with Sonoco to define the terms of the second phase, Taylor said. But, that phase would include processing recycling at the new facility, which likely will be built on the Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston. That facility also could be used to sort garbage to pull out recyclables.
The process for selecting a site has been contentious among council members. Sonoco representatives have said that if progress hasn’t been made on the new facility in 18 months, they might want to opt out of the contract.
Taylor said the contract will allow that. It also will be flexible enough to allow the county, Sonoco and others to put in place alternative technologies for handling solid waste in the new facility.
The new recycling center “needs to be adaptable to emerging technologies,” Taylor said. “But I don’t think we need to address those issues today.”
What needs to be addressed immediately, Taylor said, is handling the overwhelming amount of recycling piling up at the Romney Street facility. Republic Services now has a contract with the county to operate that facility, but it expires Jan. 31.
Councilwoman Anna Johnson, chair of the group’s solid waste committee, said she thought it was essential that council make a decision Tuesday. “The recycling pile continues to grow,” she said.
County Councilman Vic Rawl said he had hoped council members would have been able to learn more about alternative technologies that could change the way the county handles solid waste before entering into a 10-year contract.
But Rawl has supported eventually building a new facility on the Palmetto Commerce Parkway. And he has said residents near a proposed site near the Republic landfill are supportive of the county’s plan to build the recycling center there.
It remains unclear whether the county will purchase that site. Council last week deferred the decision for two weeks.
But North Charleston City Councilman Ron Brinson said many of his constituents are not on board with the plan. They are concerned about the county’s plan to eventually sort garbage there.
The biggest concern is the increase in truck traffic, he said. “The Palmetto Commerce Parkway already is a traffic nightmare during rush hours.”
Brinson said Rawl told him Tuesday that he would continue to work with residents to address their concerns.
But the lack of information from the county on just what it plans to do at the new facility is fueling residents’ anxiety, Brinson said. The county needs to be more up front about its plans, he said. Residents are worried the county could open a landfill in the area, and about flocks of seagulls that often hover near piles of garbage. “I think a little transparency would go a long way.”
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.