Charleston County is still picking up cans, bottles, paper and other recyclables, but some of it is ending up at the Bee's Ferry landfill.
That's a temporary holding spot, county spokesman Shawn Smetana said, because an agreement that previously sent the material to Horry County for processing lapsed on Feb. 1. Charleston was paying more than $100,000 each month to truck paper, glass, metal and plastics to the Conway facility.
"Cost was a factor in not looking for a contract extension," Smetana said. The county had paid about $2.7 million total from June 2016 through July 2018.
About a month's worth of material — up to 3,000 tons — currently sits under a tarp at Bee's Ferry. If some of the material is damaged by getting wet, it will be buried in the landfill permanently.
Smetana said the county also has constructed an additional building at its Romney Street solid waste facility to hold recycling. Workers there are sending cardboard to the open market and baling other material, waiting to accumulate a big enough volume to sell.
Meanwhile, county residents still pay a user fee that goes toward recycling and solid waste programs. That fee is $99 a year per home and is added to annual property tax bills.
Charleston County has been sending its recycling north as it waited for the completion of a new $24 million facility in North Charleston. But that project, which was once projected to finish this spring, is now on hold. County Councilman Brantley Moody said in September that an attempt to save costs had altered the project's scope and that staff needed to "tap the brakes and get back to the original concept."
Work was also temporarily delayed in 2017 after concerns about the soils on the site, a former asphalt factory.
The agreement to accept the Lowcountry's recycling was a point of pride for Horry County, which had sent its own recycling to Charleston for a year after Horry's facility burned down in 1996.
Horry County's Solid Waste Authority, unlike many others around the state, is its own entity that has to break even. Public recycling programs often lose money, and Moody, who is the chair of the council's environmental management committee, has said that he considers profits from selling recyclables "found money." He was not available for comment Friday.
Horry County will be financially challenged by losing the extra volume from Charleston, Horry recycling center manager Mike Bessant said.
Across the world, governments and other entities collecting recyclable materials have faced headwinds since China stopped accepting many commonly recycled goods in late 2017. In the past year, average prices for materials have continued to drop, Bessant said.
Prices per pound for aluminum beverage cans, an item that often provides one of the healthiest margins in recycling markets because the cans are only made of a single material, have fallen 22 percent during the past 12 months, according to Bessant.
Demand for recyclables collected around the state is still relatively strong, said Laura Renwick, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
"The impact of the ban has not been as significant in South Carolina as it has been on other parts of the country like the West Coast, which relies far more on Asian markets," she said.
In the local region, Charleston County's recycling program is one of the most developed. There is no daily recycling pickup in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, though both have recycling convenience centers.
Berkeley County soon expects to send its solid waste to a new Repower facility.
Last year, it broke ground on the $42 million Berkeley County Recycling and Recovery Facility that is projected to take up to 65 percent of trash out of the county’s waste stream and provide fuel for local cement plants.
It’s expected to start accepting that waste in late March.