Recycling boosts Earth Day celebrations in Charleston County

A Charleston County Recycling single stream truck prepares to dump its collected material at the Romney Steet recycling center. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

With Earth Day 2015 approaching and celebrations taking place across the world, I would like to acknowledge the efforts made by the citizens of Charleston County to green our community and promote sustainability for future generations.

Greater public awareness of recycling is apparent by the increase in recyclable tons diverted from our landfill. As Charleston County Council chairman, I am proud of the progress the Department of Environmental Management has made towards developing the premier integrated solid waste management program in the Southeast.

Charleston County’s composting program is receiving national recognition — winning the 2014 Composter of the Year Award, presented by the U.S. Composting Council. This award recognizes the county’s great strides towards recovering organic material. The county was the first in South Carolina to initiate a food waste composting pilot in 2010. Since then, over 9,000 tons of food waste have been diverted from our landfill. Charleston County’s commercial food waste composting program gives local businesses the opportunity to reduce their overall disposal costs and impacts on the environment by contracting with local haulers for collection to divert this material to Charleston County’s Bees Ferry compost facility.

Staff is diligently working to market the availability of the program to commercial generators, and to promote the sale of the county’s premium compost to citizens and commercial end users. Staff receives more than 63,000 tons of organic waste per year with 18 employees working hard to ensure that quality finished compost is being produced. Composting yard waste and commercial food waste not only saves valuable landfill space, but also leads to a reduction in the amount of garbage generated and supports County Council’s 40 percent recycling goal.

Last year, Environmental Management staff completed the conversion of Charleston County’s successful “All-In-One” residential single-stream recycling program. Currently, 115,000 single-family households are being offered curbside recycling service utilizing a 95-gallon roll cart. The ease and convenience of using one roll cart for all recyclable items versus using two dual-stream curbside bins have dramatically increased the amount of recyclable material collected. Dual stream tonnage collected curbside in 2010 was just over 12,000 tons versus more than 26,000 tons of single stream tonnage collected curbside in 2014. Now, citizens don’t have to remember to separate paper products from containers, which makes it a lot easier to recycle. Countywide recycling participation has increased to 64 percent, far better than the dual stream participation of 38 percent.

The multi-family recycling program continues to expand with over 340 complexes receiving “All-In-One”service. Those living in apartments and condominiums have an opportunity to recycle, provided their community agrees to designate an area for recycling containers.

Since 2012, the Department of Environmental Management has collaborated with the Charleston County School District (CCSD) on a Greening Schools Program to divert food waste generated in school cafeterias from the landfill. Currently 46 elementary and middle schools are participating in the program, with plans to include CCSD high schools next school year. To complete the composting loop, Charleston County donates compost to tri-county schools for application on athletic fields, in school gardens and for landscaping projects.

In partnership with CCSD, Charleston County provides recycling collection at all CCSD schools and has developed a comprehensive education and outreach program, which includes tours of the county’s recycling center and Bees Ferry landfill. These tours provide a valuable opportunity to introduce sustainable waste management practices and teach the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. Grant funding, via a national Think Green grant, has enabled the county to offer more field trips to tour its solid waste facilities by offsetting the costs for bus services.

Charleston County’s business recycling program offers a basic level of service supported by the county’s solid waste user fee. This program offers up to three 95-gallon single stream recycling roll carts, which are serviced once a week. Other options include dropping off recyclable material to over 30 recycling sites and convenience centers throughout Charleston County, and self-hauling recyclables to Charleston County’s recycling center as needed. For businesses that generate large volumes of recyclable material, private haulers are available to provide collection for a fee.

Special events are known to generate a significant amount of waste within a short time frame. Environmental Management staff has designed a program to increase event recycling by offering the use of recycling bins for the collection of recyclables and food waste. Following the event, bagged recyclable material, excluding food waste, may be dropped off at any Charleston County recycling drop site or convenience center.

On behalf of County Council and Environmental Management, I thank you for your participation in the County’s recycling programs and I encourage you to remember to recycle at work, home and play.

Join us at Riverfront Park in North Charleston to celebrate Earth Day 2015 today, April 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will be filled with local food, music and fun, with environmental and science-based learning activities for children, and over 80 exhibits.

For more information, visit the event’s website at earthday.charlestoncounty.org.

Elliott Summey is chairman of Charleston County Council.