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Mobile unit more than doubles Polk County recycling tonnage

In July 2007, about 100 residents joined in a grassroots effort to increase recycling efforts in Polk County and the effort has paid off in terms of tonnage recycled since then.
Polk residents have doubled the amount of materials recycled since 2008-2009, most notably since a mobile recycling unit was established.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday, Sept. 6 and reviewed a recycling report from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The report showed that in budget terms, it cost the county $283 last year to recycle.
Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson said the service is basically a break-even operation and he is pleased it didn’t cost more money than that.
The county decided after the 2007 community meeting to create a recycling advisory board. Since then, a mobile recycling unit was established, as well as recycling programs at all Polk schools. Trailers are located at Tryon Elementary, Polk Central Elementary, Polk Middle School and Polk High School. Recycling is collected at Sunny View and Saluda elementary schools, but no trailer bins are located at those schools yet.
The mobile recycling unit travels to Columbus, Green Creek, Saluda and Tryon one day each per week and began in December 2009. Since then, the amount of recycling materials Polk County collects has more than doubled.
In fiscal year 2008-2009, Polk County recycled 256 tons. This past fiscal year, which ended June 30, the county recycled 517 tons, of which 211 tons came from the mobile recycling and schools. Of the 256 tons in 2008-2009, 90 tons were received from Columbus that the county no longer receives, which pushes the increase higher.
Polk County Solid Waste Director Neal Hall said he attributes the increase in tonnage to the mobile recycling unit. During the summer months this year, a survey was taken of residents visiting the centers, which determined an average of about 300 participants per week. Each visitor to the recycling centers brings an average of almost 25 pounds of recycling per visit, according to Hall.
“I am so moved to see this community bring in their (recyclables),” said Polk commissioner Cindy Walker, who was the original chair of the recycling committee. “It’s just been a wonderful, wonderful experience.
“If it cost us money, I still think it’s the right thing to do. The savings of recycling goes much further than we might think. It saves energy and resources, besides creating jobs.”
The county spent $44,526 on recycling last year, including shipping costs, 60 percent of an employee’s salary, fuel and supplies. Revenues totaled $44,243, including the sale of recyclables and state and grant funding. The county made $30,766 in selling recyclables last year, according to the report. It cost $30,625 to ship the recycling, according to the report. The report’s expenses include a $20,422 credit for tons diverted from the landfill, meaning the county saved $20,422 on the landfill side by having the tonnage recycled instead.
Commissioner Ted Owens said he wants to encourage the recycling committee to find more ways to increase recycling. Owens questioned some of the numbers during the Sept. 6 meeting, including why the employee’s salary only counted 60 percent and if the transfer station’s recycling center is included in the totals.
Hall answered that the employee, Jennifer Patton, also works other duties at the transfer station and he estimated that 60 percent of the time is spent on recycling. The report includes the Mill Spring transfer station’s recycling center, the schools’ recycling programs and the mobile unit centers.
Hall said part of the success of the mobile recycling centers is Patton, who he referred to as one of the most reliable employees he’s ever had.
Commissioner Walker and commissioner vice-chair Renée McDermott also said how helpful Patton is to visitors to the center and the positive rapport she has developed with recycling participants.
Walker thanked Hall and the solid waste and recycling staff, which has made the program successful.
“I want to thank Neal and his whole crew. They are who have made this work from the operational side,” Walker said.
She also thanked Whitson, who originally suggested the mobile unit; the Polk County Community Foundation, which awarded the county an $11,000 grant to buy its first truck and trailer; the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, which awarded the county two grants totaling $21,333 for the program and the Polk County School system, which transferred approximately $17,000 in savings from the Sunny View School addition for recycling.
Walker said recycling reaches much farther than residents realize. She said beyond diverting trash from a landfill, recycling saves energy, emissions and resources.
Recycling of aluminum cans, for example, saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from virgin sources, according to national information.
“My point is it goes far beyond what we might think of,” said Walker, “and it’s also something all of us can do.”
Polk County’s next steps to expand its recycling are to get trailers at Sunny View School, to pick-up recycling at some post offices and to work with the hospital to collect its recycling.

Mobile unit recycling 2010-2011 (in tons)
Tryon    49.91
Saluda    41.29
Columbus    35.72
Green Creek    29.30
Total    156.22 tons
Note: Totals do not include recycling from transfer station and schools.