Residents throughout Charleston County may begin noticing hefty 95-gallon rolling recycling containers lining curbsides in certain neighborhoods. The blue receptacles are courtesy of the county's recently expanded single-stream recycling program, "All in One."
Veering from widely practiced dual-stream recycling, a curbside program initiated roughly 20 years ago by the county that requires residents to separate recyclable materials, single-stream recycling aims to boost efficiency and participation rates in an effort to thin out the county's municipal waste stream.
According to Carolyn Brenton, marketing specialist for the county's Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the project alleviates recycling hassles by permitting residents to group various materials, including all plastic and paper-based products, as well as steel and aluminum, into a single container for delivery to processing facilities. "It's more convenient for the residents. Rather than carrying two bins out, users will be able to easily wheel the bins out to the curb," she says. "It will lead to increased participation, and we'll be able to collect more volume as a result."
North Charleston resident Jon Krysa says he's noticed his neighbors' new additions and is waiting to receive a bin from the county. "I recycle at my house, but if we had one, we'd definitely do it more," says the 27 year-old, who shares a house with two roommates in Park Circle.
Krysa says he regularly recycles plastic, glass, and aluminum, but disregards other products, including cardboard, which require extra exertion to recycle. "It's the effort — we're all lazy by nature," he concedes. "Personally, I'd pay more attention if I could put everything in one bin, and everybody else would, too."
Some residents plan on turning over a new leaf. Folly Beach resident Whitney Bowers says recycling is low on her priority list. "It's just a hassle," she says, referring to constantly separating and condensing materials into often-overflowing bins. "I think I'll start recycling more, though, because these new bins are bigger and you can throw everything together."
The county aims to attain a 40 percent countywide recycling and composting rate, a percentage measuring the amounts of recyclable material diverted from filling Bees Ferry's Landfill in West Ashley, a 312-acre dumping site and compost facility.
According to County Council member Colleen Condon, county officials acquired permits to open an additional site in Ravenel to shoulder the heaping landfill's steady intake. "Due to program successes, as well as participating successes, we won't be using that landfill," she says, crediting single-stream recycling, as well as other county programs, for prolonging Bees Ferry's lifespan from 10 years to an estimated 20 years.
A decreased reliance on the landfill will also relieve citizens' financial burdens, shrinking home and business owners' solid waste property tax, according to Condon. "We had a good, 20th-century plan, but for what we can do now, it isn't the right environmental thing to do and it isn't the right financial thing to do," she says. "We've really taken leaps and bounds, and we've been successful."
The DEM implemented a single-stream pilot program this past January encompassing 4,600 households, based on a waste composition study conducted roughly two years ago that revealed that the majority of county-disposed municipal waste is recyclable, according to Brenton.
She says the trial project's participation rates soared to 69 percent among single-stream participants, compared to a countywide 39-percent participation rate among dual-stream contributors, and the county doubled its number of collected recyclable tons. Within months of receiving the project's results, County Council drew up a plan involving approximately 6,000 additional households in North Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, West Ashley, James Island, and Folly Beach.
"Our goal is to be the premier solid waste program in the Southeast," says Brenton, who expects single-stream recycling to accommodate communities countywide in 12 to 24 months on an incremental timeline. "It's a part of the overall message we're trying to spread: Reduce, reuse, and recycle."
Although the project targets household participation, business venues — specifically food and beverage locales — throughout the county are seeking increased recycling accommodations.
Caroline Adams, bar manager at Voodoo Tiki Bar and Lounge in West Ashley, says patrons at the high-volume establishment frequently fill multiple trashcans with beer bottles and plastic cups and, at the end of the night, employees heave trash bags full of reusable materials into the on-site dumpster. "We'd have to be more organizational about it, but if there was a solution, we'd definitely recycle."
Eran Maron, owner of Black Magic Coffee on Folly Beach, says he's over his head in recyclables and, after attempting in the past to recycle, has chosen to throw away recyclable materials. "For me, it's a problem. I have tons of bottles and cardboard and stuff like that," he says. "What am I going to do with all those boxes I have?"
Maron suggests that private businesses, not the county, should oversee recycling efforts. "If you make a business out of it, your incentives will be to profit, and you'll make sure to keep people interested in recycling," he notes. "The county, they don't care — they'll make money either way."
So how are Charleston County recycling initiatives faring among other counties' like-minded endeavors in the Palmetto State?
According to the last fiscal year's recycling measurements conducted by South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control, the county fell short of the statewide 35 percent recycling goal with a 31.4 percent recycling rate, ranking fourth statewide behind York, Pickens, and Greenville counties.
To inquire about receiving recycling bins for households or businesses, contact the county's Department of Environmental Management at (843) 720-7111.