First the good news: Charleston County will get the regional recycling center County Council envisioned when it approved the concept in 2015. The bad news is that it’s still more than a year away from opening and, in the interim, vast amounts of paper, glass, aluminum and plastics will be piling up at the Bees Ferry landfill and the old-but-reopened Romney Street recycling center.
As an industry, recycling is in a bad spot. Overseas markets have diminished since China stopped accepting mixed papers and most plastics in 2017. Domestic prices for recyclable glass and aluminum have been dropping, and we’re producing more recyclable waste than ever.
As The Post and Courier’s Chloe Johnson reported recently, about 3,000 tons of recyclables have already accumulated locally. Much of what was being trucked to Horry County under a $100,000-per-month contract was rejected because it was too contaminated, and the contract ended Feb. 1. So what goes in your home recycling bin today won’t go far.
Progress on the new recycling plant in North Charleston has been suspended twice since construction started in May 2017. Work was halted last year because of questions about some of the fill soil, about 4,000 cubic yards of which was removed and replaced. Then construction was suspended in September when County Council realized staffers had inexplicably scaled back the facility to a degree that it would be unable to process the intended volume of recyclables.
County Councilman Brantley Moody, head of the Recycling and Solid Waste Committee, said he was optimistic work would be restarted within a few months and the 22-acre site would fulfill the council’s original vision, and that there will be enough room to stockpile recyclables until the new plant opens.
“We’ve got to get it right,” he said. Indeed. The clock is ticking, and County Council needs to move as fast as possible to restart construction. It would be a shame to bury a mountain of otherwise marketable recyclables, which would also shorten the life of the landfill.
Separately, state and local economic development officials need to recruit industries that consume and repurpose recyclables like RePower South, which is building a plant in Berkeley County to turn paper and plastic into a coal-alternative fuel. Crushed glass can be used in concrete. Plastic bottles can be processed into fibers for clothing and carpeting.
In the meantime, the best thing Charleston-area residents can do is make sure they’re keeping the stream of recyclables clean. Some of the top no-nos include single-use plastic bags, plastic bottle caps, foam containers, metal hangers, aluminum foil, shredded paper and batteries. A full listing of acceptable recyclables is on the county’s web page. We can and should avoid buying overpackaged products as well.
On the bright side, some corrugated cardboard is being bailed and sold from the Romney Street recycling center. But while most of our recyclables aren’t going anywhere, county residents are still being charged for recycling — $99 per year added to property tax bills.
The original estimate for the new recycling center, initially expected to open this spring, was $24 million. The final tab is likely to be higher due to complications and preventable missteps.
Charleston County residents deserve a modern recycling center, and County Council must be held responsible for delivering what we’ve all paid for. The results so far have been disappointing.