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A mountain of material meant to be recycled pours over a fence and onto Laurel Island, behind the Charleston County recycling center on Romney Street on Monday, June 17, 2019. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Truckloads of paper, plastic and other materials meant for recycling will instead be sent to the Bees Ferry Landfill after a machinery breakdown at Charleston County's recycling center last week, county officials said.

It's the latest in a series of problems experienced by the recycling program while awaiting construction of a $24 million recycling center that's now expected to open in 2020 in North Charleston. The county decided to build that facility in 2013.

It's also the second time this year that materials Charleston County residents separated for recycling ended up being sent to the landfill in West Ashley. 

The first time, the problems were addressed with a retrofit of old processing equipment at the Romney Street site, and a 10,000-square-foot building was added there to cover the recyclables. Paper and cardboard can become unsuitable to recycle if they get wet.

This time, a different piece of machinery broke down. The county hopes to resume processing recycling next week at Romney Street.

Recycling programs in the U.S. have suffered since China began turning away shipments of the material in 2018, but Charleston County's problems have been going on much longer. 

  • The $24 million plan to build a state-of-the-art recycling center along Palmetto Commerce Parkway, which was expected to pay for itself, was under construction in 2017. Work was halted for about six months that year after a contractor raised concerns about the soils at the former asphalt manufacturing site. In 2018, work was halted again.
  • The Romney Street facility closed in mid-2015 and Charleston County began shipping recycling 125 miles away to Horry County at a cost of more than $100,000 per month. In 2018 that contract was not renewed and Romney Street was reopened.
  • During the first six months of 2019, problems at Romney Street twice diverted recycling material to the county landfill.

In addition to equipment failures, the county said residents keep putting material in recycling bins that jams up the equipment because it's dirty, greasy or not recyclable.

That's been an ongoing problem. When the county's recycling was being sent to Horry County, roughly a third of it was being shipped back to be landfilled.

Greasy pizza boxes, unwashed yogurt containers, food waste, clothing and plastic bags cannot be recycled. Guidelines can be found online at charlestoncounty.org.

"Charleston County will make every effort to recycle as much material as possible but staff expects challenges along the way," the county said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday by spokesman Shawn Smetana. "We ask residents to help us by limiting curbside contamination and make efforts to reduce and reuse as much as possible."

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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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