Plastic bags create work at recycling, sanitation centers

Workers at the Charleston County Recycling Center in 2014 remove items that the center cannot recycle, such as grocery store plastic bags and wire, as they enter the plant on Romney Street. Charleston County is currently building a new facility for recycling. File

SUMMERVILLE — Glass, plastic and metal will continue to be tossed into the landfill in Dorchester County for the foreseeable future.

“I am very disappointed that we haven’t reached an agreement on recycling yet,” Mayor Wiley Johnson said.

Since November, Summerville residents have been able to recycle only paper and cardboard. Other items have been sent to the Oakridge Landfill with regular trash. That month, contractor Waste Pro told Summerville residents it was left without a processing center when Charleston County closed its recycling center after its contract with Sonoco ended. The Romney Street Materials Recovery Facility also processed material from other local entities, including Dorchester County.

Charleston started trucking its recyclables to Horry County, but that arrangement wasn’t open to all of Sonoco’s former clients. Charleston’s new recycling center is expected to open in Fall 2017.

“In the meantime, we must determine whether we should spend funds for recycling or do nothing and hope that the problem will be resolved (next year),” Johnson said.

Town officials have considered several alternatives to restore its entire single-stream recycling program, including less-frequent pick-up and a program that would allow residents to choose whether to recycle, but has not settled on a solution. Single-stream recycling allows paper fibers, plastics and metal to be commingled.

“I’m thinking that none of (the options) is a good deal for the people of Summerville,” Johnson said.

For months, residents have attended council meetings and written local newspapers to express their concerns about the lack of available recycling.

“Recycling efforts have kept thousands of tons of waste out of our landfills and from littering our roadsides while saving the taxpayer a great deal of money,” said former state Rep. Heyward Hutson, who served on Dorchester County Council when the program was started 25 years ago.

Hutson said he is in favor of looking into alternative programs or partnering with other entities. The town also created a committee to explore options and sought input from residents through an online survey that showed residents are in favor of an opt-in program.

But several council members are concerned that allowing residents to decide whether to participate would have a negative impact on collections.

Under the opt-in route, Waste Pro would stop collecting all recyclables from residents except its customers, who would be able to recycle metal, plastic, paper and cardboard.

“The status quo would no longer be an option for anyone,” said Councilman Bill McIntosh. Residents who opt out would see a decrease in service, he said.

“The easy thing is to opt out, throw everything in the can and the volume of what’s being handled goes up,” said Councilwoman Christine Czarnik.

The costs of such a program to residents depends on overall participation, Public Works Director Russ Cornette said.

Berkeley County homeowners currently pay $12 to $15 per month. One issue that has tied the town’s hands is that its contract with Waste Pro runs through the end of 2017. It calls for the company to collect garbage and recyclables weekly, but does not specify which materials.

A May 2015 addendum allowed for a 3 percent rate increase on collection fees “if contractor can show overall improvement in services, as determined by the town,” according to the contract.

Council voted July 6 against granting Waste Pro an increase in the rate, which is now about $102 per year per home.

“Their service has decreased, whether it’s their fault or not,” Johnson said. Council will likely discuss the issue again at its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.