Recycling is a growing industry in South Carolina that can benefit Union County both environmentally and financially, but only if more people recycle according to Public Works Director John Gibson.
In 2010, DHEC reported that recycling in South Carolina had an economic impact of $6.5 billion, generating 15,000 jobs, $1.5 billion in personal income and $69 million in tax revenue. The agency projects that recycling will grow at 12 percent annually over the next five years with its economic impact on the state increasing to $11 billion a year.
Union County is already benefiting from this growth, and has benefited more since Gibson began serving as public works director in July. As of October, Union County had recycled 242.80 tons of glass, metal, mixed paper, cardboard, used motor oil, E Waste and plastic, generating $46,300.77 in revenue during the first four months of fiscal 2011-2012. While the county was already recycling these items when he assumed his duties in July, Gibson said it was getting no revenue from the recycling of used motor oil and glass, a situation he has since corrected.
“The county was recycling used motor oil but had not received any revenue for the oil it was recycling,” Gibson said. “We’ve contracted with Santee Cooper which has a waste to energy program which burns used motor oil for energy. In October, we received our first revenue check ($2,254.35) for the oil we recycled through the waste to energy program.”
Glass was also being recycled but, again, was not generating any revenue for the county. Gibson said the county now sells the glass to Reflective Recycling in Pacolet. He said the company crushes the glass into sand and sells it to firms which uses the material to make products such as insulation.
Another new source of revenue for the county is the E Waste it is now recycling.
“We started collecting E Waste on July 1 as mandated by the state,” Gibson said. “We set up a shed at the recycling center here at Public Works to house old TVs, computers, printers and cellphones. We’ve contracted with a company called Creative Recycling to take the E Waste and they pay us $2 for each hard drive they get from us.”
During the first four months of fiscal 2011-2012, the county also recycled 32.27 tons of tires and while the disposal cost exceeded the revenue generated, Gibson the county still benefited, both environmentally and in terms of compliance with the law.
“We’ve changed the way we recycle tires,” Gibson said. “Before, they’d be collected at every recycling center, but we found out from DHEC that it wasn’t legal to do that. So we had to apply for a waste tire collector permit which allowed us to store the tires at one location here at the Public Works Office.
“It keeps the tires out of the environment,” Gibson said. “They are a health problem because if they’re not properly disposed of they can collect water which can attract mosquitoes.”
Another change that has yet to generate any revenue for the county but still produces a benefit is the utilization of racks at the convenience center for draining and drying motor oil containers. Once emptied of their contents, the containers can then be recycled which Gibson said removes them from the environment and keeps them out of the landfill.
Even with these changes, however, Gibson said the county is still lagging behind surrounding counties in the amount of waste it recycles. DHEC reported that, in 2010, York County recycled 44 percent of its waste, Greenville County 37 percent, and Spartanburg County 23 percent compared to Union County which recycled only 11 percent.
Gibson said this needs to change if the county is to enjoy even greater benefits from the growth of recycling in South Carolina. He said he hopes to increase recycling in the county by, first, getting the schools involved and, second, by expanding the recycling program to include other materials not currently being recycled.
“We’re going to get our schools recycling and teach our younger folks about recycling,” Gibson said. “We’re going to supply the schools with the means of collecting recyclables. We’re going to provide them with, first, bins for the collection of clear plastic soda and water bottles. Then we will provide them with containers for the collection of mixed paper and some cardboard.”
Gibson said he is also hoping to secure state grants to expand the sheds used in the collection of motor oil to accommodate the collection of antifreeze. He said he is also hoping to secure grants to finish the construction of and open up the recycling convenience center in Carlisle in 2012.
In addition, Gibson said he wants to get businesses more involved, not only in recycling, but in the reporting of recycling. For those businesses that don’t recycle, Gibson said he wants to work with them to develop recycling programs. For those businesses that already recycle, Gibson said he wants to encourage them to report their efforts to DHEC. He said those numbers will be factored in to the county’s numbers by the agency and increase the percentage being recycled.
Gibson said increasing the amount of materials being recycled can produce a number of direct and indirect environmental and financial benefits for the county.
“If we can increase that number we will know we are not sending as much into that landfill,” Gibson said. “If we can stop the material from going into the landfill we’re going to extend the life of that landfill. That’s going to make us less dependant on the landfill.
“Finished materials are not as expensive to make from recycled materials as they are from virgin materials,” he said. “We don’t use as many resources in recycling materials are we do in making new ones.”
More jobs are also a possibility. Gibson said the recycling program currently employs five full-time and 30 part-time employees. He said if the program grows in size then additional part- and even full-time employees will probably have to be hired.
In addition, Gibson said voluntary, local efforts to increase recycling will help the county cope with the likelihood of further state mandates regarding the recycling of materials such as glass. He said the possibility exists that 2012 will see the passage of legislation requiring restaurants and bars to recycle glass, making it that much more imperative that businesses, schools and individuals start recycling glass and other materials as soon as possible.
For more information about the recycling program call 429-1675.