As we celebrate Earth Day 2012 with over a billion people across the globe, Charleston County residents can be proud of the great strides we have made in greening our community and promoting sustainability for our children and their children to come. As chairman of Charleston County Council, I am proud of the many successes that the county has had in its efforts to develop the premier integrated solid waste management program in the Southeast.

The residential single stream recycling program, also known as All-In-One RESIDENTIAL, continues to incrementally expand throughout the county, with 10,600 households currently being offered automated collection service. Automated equipment has allowed for a more efficient, cost-effective and productive operation, in addition to providing a safer working environment for our drivers. The county has observed a considerable increase in the amount of recyclable material collected in the All-In-One RESIDENTIAL program, with an average of 21 pounds per home per pick-up, compared with the 10 pounds per home per pick-up with the standard two-bin program. Additionally, participation rates are as high as 80 percent in All-In-One areas, compared with 35-40 percent for the rest of the county.

On Sept. 30, 2011, Charleston County Environmental Management formed a partnership with the Charleston County School District in an effort to promote and enhance recycling and waste reduction. All urban and rural schools currently have collection service. To increase more recycling participation at schools, staff has been conducting waste assessments and offering teachers and students a comprehensive education and outreach program. These actions help support the district’s Sustainable Schools Initiative, should lead to a reduction in the amount of garbage generated, and support council’s goal of a 40 percent recycling rate.

In addition to reducing waste and the number of items going into the landfill, recycling provides a financial benefit to the county by helping to offset our operational costs. So far this fiscal year, the county has made over $1.7 million for materials recycled by residents and from county buildings and schools.

In the past year, we have continued to expand and improve productivity at our compost facility located at the Bees Ferry Landfill. Since 2009, we have been recovering 100 percent of our yard waste instead of landfilling the material. Composting yard waste saves valuable landfill space, results in a product we can use as daily cover at the landfill, and reduces landfill operating costs. The yard waste plastic bag disposal ban at Bees Ferry Landfill that went into effect Nov. 1, has effectively “closed the loop,” so residents, landscapers and retailers may purchase a high quality compost that is generated, produced and sold locally. To date, we have seen a 95 percent reduction in plastic bags received at the landfill, allowing us to create a higher quality and more marketable product.

Additionally, in September 2010, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved the county’s request to implement a food waste composting pilot project — the first approved by DHEC in the state. With a successful demonstration of the pilot program, the county anticipates making food waste composting a permanent program in the near future.

Partnering with private collection parties, the county’s food waste program is geared toward commercial generators of food waste. And residents are welcome to bring their food waste to the Bees Ferry Compost Facility. Increasing the intake of food waste tonnage supports the county’s 40 percent goal and allows the Environmental Management Department to help reduce the costs of operating its compost programs.

On behalf of Charleston County Council and county staff, I want to say thank you to our community for recycling. We look forward to other programs that will enhance your ability to recycle at work, home and play.

So while Earth Day doesn’t come until April 22, join me in recycling at play by celebrating Earth Day 2012 at the new, beautiful waterfront location: Riverfront Park in North Charleston on Saturday, April 14, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

The day will be filled with great local food, music and fun environmental and science-based learning activities for children, with over 60 exhibits, photo opportunities with green mascots. It will also preview the county’s new automated collection truck.

For more information on our 13th Annual Earth Day Festival, go to recycle.charelestoncounty.org, or call the Environmental Management Department at (843) 720-7111.

Teddie Pryor Sr. is chairman of Charleston County Council.