Recycling Matters

BY Michelle Bliss

Recycling or reprocessing potential waste so it can be used again — and hopefully again after that — didn’t begin in the last few decades. Man’s first recorded reuse of recycled materials was in 1031 when all waste paper in Japan was used to make new paper sold in paper shops. And really recycling is more than a process engineered by humans.

Recycling History

Back when all of the stegosauruses triceratops and other dinosaurs went extinct — 65 million years ago — their remains sunk to the muddy sediment at the bottom of the seabed. Those remains along with others from sea animals and plants were compressed into sedimentary rock and — with exposure to extreme heat and pressure — essentially reprocessed into what the modern world can’t stop fighting over: oil. Today that oil is mined and refined into petroleum plastics and thousands of other products.

In 1776 as America fought to declare its independence from England scrap metal paper and cloth were collected for war materials. In 1865 the Salvation Army was founded in London England and started collecting sorting and reusing discarded goods. The organization also provided jobs for poor unskilled workers. That same year curbside recycling began in Baltimore Maryland.

Three decades later in 1895 New York City hired a street-cleaning commissioner to be in charge of the first comprehensive recycling center. At that time households were asked to sort waste and recyclables for collection. The city profited from these efforts by selling the recovered items.

Another war recycling effort took place from 1939 to 1945. With 400 000 volunteers America collected thousands of tons of rubber aluminum tin and other materials for use in World War II. Posters had slogans like: “Throw Your Scrap Into the Fight!” and “If You Have Even a Few Pounds of Scrap Metal in Your Home You Are Aiding the Axis.”

One of the most notable contributions to modern recycling in the U.S. was the first national Earth Day on April 22 1970. An estimated 20 million Americans celebrated at fairs and gatherings while local environmental religious and school groups emphasized the importance of recycling. That same year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created and Congress passed the Resource Recovery Act which focused on recycling and conservation instead of waste disposal.

Recycling New Hanover County

How does recycling work in our corner of the coast? In New Hanover County a crew of five employees checks several recycling drop-off sites nearly every day loading materials onto trucks and hauling those items to the county recycling facility. There everything is sorted and contaminants are removed before the recyclables are pushed onto a conveyor belt — part of a baler system that compacts loose piles of material. The baler crushes these piles into tight cubes and wraps a handful of metal bands around each cube to keep it intact.

Lynn Bestul the solid waste planner for New Hanover County says that a bale of cardboard weighs 1 000 pounds. “A thousand pounds of loose cardboard is going to take up quite a big area where a bale is just over one cubic yard ” Bestul says.

Each type of material — mixed paper newspaper cardboard and plastic — is loaded onto the baler separately. When the recycling crew has enough bales of a single commodity to fill a truck they sell those items to a company in High Point called Carolina Fibre.

Two exceptions to this process are aluminum cans and glass which are crushed. After the cans are crushed they are blown into a trailer and sold to Cohen and Green Salvage Company in Fayetteville; the glass is gathered and sold to Strategic Materials Inc. in Durham. Through this process Bestul’s crew collected 2 980 tons of recyclables last year … more than eight tons per day.

There are seven recycling drop-off sites that the county maintains: Moose Lodge 343 on Carolina Beach Rd. near Monkey Junction Lowes Foods at the intersection of Murrayville Rd. and North College Rd. Hardee’s on Castle Hayne Rd. Murray Middle School on Halyburton Memorial Pkwy. Blair Elementary School on Market St. along with the county landfill and the Waste-to-Energy conversion facility called WASTEC both located on highway 421 N. Except for the landfill the drop-off sites are accessible 24 hours a day seven days a week.

The WASTEC facility is an important asset to the county’s recycling program because it has an incinerator that can turn 100 pounds of garbage into only 10 pounds of ash which ultimately saves landfill space. Bestul explains what happens next: “With heat from the incinerator they heat water. They turn that water into steam and the steam turns a turbine like a jet engine. And then that jet engine has a gear that hooks to a generator and that generator spins — creating electricity.” That process creates enough electricity each year so that it can run the WASTEC plant and heat 2 500 homes in New Hanover County.

In addition to the seven drop-off sites the county currently operates Bestul is hoping to set up shop in the northeastern end of the county. “We’re in the process of trying to find a place over towards Porters Neck ” he explains. “There are a few things that would have to come about in order to have a new site put up over there but it would be a benefit to the citizens and to the county because the more we recycle the more material we’ve kept out of the landfill.”

The county began its drop-off collection program in 1990 along with the towns of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach. At that time the city of Wilmington created its curbside recycling program. By 1997 Kure Beach also had curbside recycling.

Curbside recycling is one of Bestul’s long-term goals but since the county’s Environmental Management Department is not funded by tax dollars it must support itself through tip fees at the landfill the sale of recyclables and the sale of electricity from the WASTEC plant. “As much as I want to provide the citizens here with every possible solid waste solution there is we have to be able to pay for it ” Bestul says. “Down the road who knows if we could put it on the tax roll where each single family home condominium and apartment structure would have to pay a certain annual fee for the disposal of their waste.” This would eliminate tip fees currently paid to drop garbage now to the facility. Tipping fees charged are $51 per ton.

If that happens Bestul says the county would need to build a material recovery facility — a processing plant where reusable materials would be poured onto a system of conveyor belts stopping at different sorting stations to separate each commodity. This kind of center could handle 15 000 tons of recyclables a year saving 23 000 cubic yards at the landfill. A cubic yard equates to approximately half the size of a standard office desk. According to Bestul the county would also make a large profit — close to a million dollars — each year. This is Bestul’s vision for the future of New Hanover County’s recycling program.

Recycling Wrightsville Beach

In Wrightsville Beach public works director Mike Vukelich says his goal is to continue providing what he feels is “the most well-maintained site in the county — it’s clean it’s labeled properly; people know exactly what to do.” The center checks its recycling containers daily and is funded through the town’s property owner’s trash fees.

This summer Wrightsville Beach’s recycling program expanded to include two extra recycling containers placed at popular areas near the beach. So in addition to the recycling center at 312 Causeway Drive people can drop their beach waste like aluminum cans and plastic bottles into the containers located at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and on Stone Street. Vukelich explains why convenience matters especially in the summer: “For people paying $4 000 a week to rent a house in Wrightsville Beach recycling is probably not high on their list. They’re here to enjoy.”

Another big project for the town is the new collection program for ABC permit holders who beginning in January 2009 are required to recycle their liquor bottles and beer cans. Last fiscal year saw 45 tons of glass being picked up curbside from businesses in Wrightsville.

WB collects plastic aluminum newspaper mixed paper cardboard and glass — everything the county takes except rechargeable batteries. Bestul reports for the last fiscal year (07/08) 1 400 000 pounds — 700 tons of recyclables from Wrightsville’s center were processed through the WASTEC plant. Of this 164 tons was glass 40 tons of plastic 411 tons of fiber; newspaper and cardboard. By comparison 4 600 tons of solid waste is hauled from the town.

Wrightsville Beach also picks up vegetative debris on Wednesdays through Fridays. Residents can call the recycling center at (910) 256-7935 and have their yard trimmings recycled for a small fee.

Vukelich says the town is not planning on providing curbside recycling any time soon: “We’ve looked into curbside recycling on several occasions and it would be very labor-intensive and expensive because the majority of the streets here are dead-end streets and there is no place to turn around.”

Without curbside recycling as an option Vukelich urges Wrightsville Beach residents to drop-off their recyclables at the center. “Recycling is a very environmentally-friendly operation ” he says. “It cuts down the need to remanufacture. If you can use the same materials over and over again and reduce energy in the process — that’s a big plus.”

Vukelich also points out that about half of the people who use the center are not Wrightsville Beach residents. Since the county does not have a center for residents living near Eastwood Road and Military Cutoff Road a lot of them drive over the bridge to do their recycling. And Vukelich is happy to host them.

Even though Mother Nature began recycling long before mankind entered the picture over the last few centuries people across the country and around the world have made extensive contributions to today’s recycling procedures and efforts. Locally we’re doing our part but as recycling becomes more and more important to our planet our part could one day be bigger.

North Carolina Recycling: The Facts

Every second North Carolinians recycle 68 pounds of material. In that same second they also throw away 679 pounds of trash. Not everything can be recycled but decreasing the amount of recyclables that end in up the landfill would save energy and lower the emissions from making brand-new products like aluminum cans and paper. Here are some statistics on what North Carolina is getting right and what needs improvement.

GOOD: There are approximately 530 recycling businesses in North Carolina that employ more than 13 000 people. Recycling jobs have increased almost 50% in the last 10 years.

BAD: North Carolina sends a whopping 67 percent of its waste to landfills recycling only 26 percent composting 6 percent and incinerating 1 percent.

GOOD: Recovered aluminum cans save 90 percent of the energy used to make brand-new cans. For newspaper it’s 40 percent and for steel it’s 60 percent.

BAD: North Carolinians only recycle half of their aluminum cans despite a statewide disposal ban on them.

GOOD: In North Carolina 57 percent of all newspaper and 50 percent of all cardboard are recycled.

BAD: The amount of waste sent to landfills in North Carolina increased from 6.8 million tons in 1991 to 10.2 million tons in 2003.

GOOD: Manufacturing recycled paper creates 35 percent less water pollution and 74 percent less air pollution.

BAD: Every week North Carolina workplaces throw away a six-foot-high pile of office paper that could cover a soccer field.

A Clean Future: Recycling Programs in New Hanover County Schools

Jennifer O’Keefe from the county’s Keep America Beautiful program says it’s best if kids can start recycling at an early age. “If we start with the younger grades now and just make it a normal part of their everyday school life recycling will just be something that’s second-nature to them ” O’Keefe says. “And kids love it! They love recycling they love doing things that are good for the Earth. So it’s a great place to start because they will keep those habits for the rest of their lives.”

At Ogden Elementary the PTA has been gone green. Elisa Want is the leader of the Ogden Green Team as well as the Go Green chair for the New Hanover County PTA Council. Want has initiated all kinds of new programs at Ogden including Green Thumb days — when students and parents clean the schoolyard and plant trees — and recyclable art projects that let kids scour recycle bins to create structures and posters out of well just about anything. One of their most important projects was getting the school’s dishwasher fixed so that the students wouldn’t have to use and throw away Styrofoam trays every day.

Want says that the program is more than just fun and games because the kids understand the need to recycle. “They are just so excited to be a part of helping the environment and trying to make things better for themselves. They know that what they’re doing is helping themselves in the long run saving their planet and making their world a better healthier place.”