Recycling surges since mobile unit in service

Published 10:52 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

More people are recycling in Polk County than ever before thanks to the countys new award-winning mobile recycling program.
Since the mobile recycling unit began operating in December of last year, the county has seen a surge in recycling rates for both paper materials (newspaper, paper, magazines, flattened cardboard) and commingled items (glass and plastic bottles, and aluminum and steel cans).
The rate of recycling for paper materials between December 2009 and February 2010 increased 63 percent over the same period a year ago. The rate of recycling for commingled items increased 95 percent for the same periods.
The unit travels to Tryon, Saluda, Green Creek and Polk schools.
From January through March of this year, a total of 19,460 pounds of recycled material was collected at Polk County schools. The total includes 7,820 at Polk County Middle School, 7,020 at Tryon Elementary and 4,620 at Polk County High.
As a result, a lot more waste in the county is going to companies for reuse in new products and a lot less is going to a landfill.
“We are very thankful for the program the commissioners put in place,” says Polk County Schools Supt. Bill Miller. “Without the mobile recycling program we had no practical method for large scale school recycling.”
David Nicholson of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners presented a state award to the county last week for the mobile recycling program. He said it was one of 12 “Outstanding County Program” awards issued this year and one of just four in a general category.
Nicholson said the awards are issued not just for outstanding programs, but those that can be duplicated in other areas of the state. He said Polks mobile recycling program can be beneficial to both rural and urban counties.
“This is a good idea. I wish I had thought of it,” said Nicholson, a former county manager.
Polks recycling unit has made it more convenient for many residents to recycle, particularly those who live far from the countys recycling center at the transfer station in Mill Spring.
Cindy Walker, chair of the county board and a leading advocate for recycling in the county, said many residents come out to drop off recyclables and chat with neighbors when the unit arrives in their community.
“Its become quite a meeting place,” says Walker.
Before receiving the state award, Walker reviewed recent improvements in the countys recycling program. In 2007, the county launched an initiative to raise awareness about recycling and make it more convenient.
The county had offered recycling previously, Walker says, but many people were unsure where or how to recycle. So the county formed a recycling advisory board, constructed a new building at the transfer station, improved signage at the transfer station recycling center and put an attendant there to help with sorting.
The county also promoted recycling at festivals and large events in the county, including football games, and put recycling bins at schools.
Walker says Tryon Elementary School led the way with recycling in schools, along with Polk County High Schools green team.
She adds that Tryon got a grant for a new recyling center in the town and obtained curbside bins to make recycling more convenient for residents. Columbus soon followed with a center of its own, and now is switching to curbside bins (see story page 3).
Despite all the improvements, Walker says the county still wasnt recycling enough waste.
Last fall she reported that Polk County had a household recycling rate of 5.7 percent, well below the national average of 32.5 percent.
Of the 21,000 tons of solid waste collected and transported from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 only 1,220 tons (household, white goods and other metals) were recycled.
If Polk were to follow the national rates, the county would be recycling 689 pounds per person annually.
However, Polk County residents were producing approximately 2,122 pounds (a little over a ton) of solid waste per person per year, and recycling only 122 pounds of that material.
So the county began looking at ways to increase the recycling rate further. The county obtained a free solid waste assessment that produced a recommendation for the mobile unit.
A $15,000 grant from the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance and an $11,000 grant from the Polk County Community Foundation made the mobile recycling program possible.
The county bought a truck and two trailers and began regular pickups. Jennifer Patton, the driver of the mobile unit, helps residents with sorting.
The mobile unit offers dual-stream recycling, taking both the paper and commingled items. Among paper products, it takes both corrugated and non-corrugated cardboard, including cereal boxes. Among commingled items, it takes #1 and #2 plastic bottles with a neck smaller than the body. No plastic bags are accepted.
The mobile unit is at Harmon Field in Tryon on Monday from 7 a.m. to noon, at Ozone Drive and Hwy. 176 in Saluda on Tuesday from 7 a.m. to noon and at the Green Creek Fire Department on Wednesday from 7 a.m. to noon.
Recycling is also available at the countys solid waste transfer station on Hwy. 9, north of Mill Spring. The station is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. An attendant is available to help with recycling.

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