News Flash: Wheelabrator, the Portsmouth facility to which Bay Disposal and Recycling has been hauling Southern Shores’ curbside recycling to be incinerated, not recycled, for nearly five months now, actually does recycle all metals in this waste, according to a spokesperson with the N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality (N.C. DEQ).
This information, as well as more that The Beacon learned yesterday in a telephone call with Sandy Skolochenko, a recycling specialist with N.C. DEQ, would have been useful for the Town Council to know last week at its budget workshop when it took up a new proposed recycling contract. But no one had done any groundwork.
BACKGROUND AND PRESENT DAY
N.C. law prohibits anyone from “knowingly” incinerating aluminum cans.
Because of this prohibition, N.C. DEQ, which regulates solid-waste disposal, allowed Bay Disposal to temporarily haul Southern Shores’ recyclables to Wheelabrator after Bay lost access to a material recovery facility (MRF).
MRFs—pronounced murfs—actually process recycling for marketing. Wheelabrator is a waste-to-energy facility that is not part of the nation’s recycling infrastructure.
Until last December Bay Disposal had been transporting single-stream recycling loads from Southern Shores and other Dare County towns to a MRF owned by TFC (Tidewater Fibre Corp.) in Chesapeake. But TFC stopped accepting Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks loads because of a high level of contamination.
The presence of plastic bags, string, Styrofoam, uncorrugated cardboard, and other non-recyclable materials contaminates single-stream loads, as does food or other substances on materials that otherwise would be recyclable. Contaminated recycling is not marketable; it ends up in a landfill.
It is also illegal in North Carolina to knowingly dispose of aluminum cans and recyclable plastic containers in a landfill.
N.C. DEQ allowed Bay Disposal to haul recyclables to Wheelabrator for several months, despite the illegal burning of aluminum cans. By the time it reexamined the exemption it had given Bay, the state agency had learned that Wheelabrator “pulls metal materials out” of the solid waste to be incinerated, according to Ms. Skolochenko, a community development specialist with N.C. DEQ’s Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. These materials are then recycled.
Thereafter, N.C. DEQ regulators informed Southern Shores and other Dare County towns—Nags Head has been the most active in pursuing recycling options—that they could continue to use Wheelabrator indefinitely, Ms. Skolochenko said.
Although N.C. DEQ would prefer that municipalities dispose of solid waste in a “more environmentally and economically responsible manner as opposed to incineration,” Ms. Skolochenko said, those that arrange transport of recyclables to Wheelabrator are not violating N.C. law.
Since TFC rejected Bay Disposal’s loads, N.C. DEQ has been working with Recycling and Disposal Solutions (RDS) of Virginia, Ms. Skolochenko said, to help it to establish a MRF in northeastern North Carolina, preferably in Elizabeth City.
“It is still interested in doing that,” she told The Beacon, but so far, RDS has not found a large enough building for its MRF, and it does not want to build a new one.
While it “actively” continues to look for a building, Ms. Skolochenko said, RDS has agreed to open its Portsmouth MRF to Outer Banks towns. It has offered Southern Shores a five-year, “fixed-rate” contract to process its curbside recycling, but the Town Council found some of its terms troubling.
TOWN COUNCIL’S COMMITMENT
Before turning to the contract, we assess the Town Council’s commitment to publicly funded curbside recycling, based on members’ comments at meetings.
Southern Shores was the first town on the Outer Banks to offer curbside recycling. Since the 1980s, it has continuously offered curbside recycling as a public service.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Morey and Town Councilman Matt Neal appear to support publicly funded curbside recycling. Ms. Morey said at the April 21 Town Council budget workshop session that she is a “huge fan” of curbside single-stream recycling. She cited as one reason for her enthusiasm its convenience.
But Ms. Morey also has shown an interest at past meetings in learning more about private-subscription curbside recycling, especially in knowing the monthly cost to residents.
Mr. Neal has been open-minded and thorough about considering recycling options, but clearly directed toward retaining the public service. He pointed out last week that he is not keen on paying $189,500–which is the appropriation in the Town’s FY 2020-21 budget for the Bay Disposal/Wheelabrator arrangement–just to incinerate recycling.
The Beacon is certain both of these Council members would have been interested to know about Wheelabrator’s removal of metal materials. Ms. Morey said that she does not consider what Wheelabrator is doing, recycling. It turns out it is, at least with metal cans.
Town Councilman Leo Holland leans toward supporting publicly funded curbside recycling because, as he said at the budget workshop, “Our residents are accustomed to single stream,” and people have told him that if the Town shifts to a private-subscription curbside service, they would stop recycling.
Neither Mayor Tom Bennett nor Town Councilman Jim Conners is committed to publicly funded curbside recycling.
Mr. Conners expressed an interest at the workshop in exploring subscription curbside recycling so that “the town gets out of the recycling business.” A monthly subscription fee of $13 has been suggested as standard.
Of course, if the Town were to abandon curbside recycling, recyclables would end up in trash cans, and the Town would pay a larger landfill fee. The Council discussed this possibility. It not bring up the N.C. statute that prohibits landfill operators from accepting aluminum cans and plastic containers.
Mayor Tom Bennett also showed support for subscription recycling last week, saying it “takes it off our backs completely.”
The Mayor has never viewed recycling as a Town priority or a responsibility.
Although N.C. law does not require local governments to recycle, it does “encourage” them to “separate marketable plastics, glass, metal and all grades of paper for recycling prior to final disposal,” according to the statute.
The “waste-management hierarchy” that the State promotes, said Ms. Skolochenko, is first, to reduce the waste stream, and second, to recycle the waste that can be recycled.
Recent N.C. Division of Waste Management fiscal-year reports show Dare County performing well in public recycling per capita recovery. Dare County is among the municipal leaders statewide in recycling.
The Beacon would be extremely disappointed if the Town Council did not continue to make curbside recycling a public commitment. We would see the abandonment of this public service as a regression in the Town’s environmental protection efforts and responsibilities.
THE PROPOSED RDS CONTRACT, COSTS
Before TFC rejected Bay Disposal’s recyclables, the Powells Point-based company had sought an increase from the Town in the per-ton rate it charges for pickup and disposal under a three-year contract that started July 1, 2018.
The Town Council ended up renegotiating Bay Disposal’s contract this winter to pay the collector more for the Wheelabrator transport than it had been paying for transport to TFC’s recycling facility, with the expectation that it would renegotiate the fees again.
Bay Disposal’s recycling contract with the Town expires June 30, 2021, as does the five-year garbage-collection contract that it has with Southern Shores. The Town is currently paying Bay Disposal $65 per ton of recycling that it collects and transports to Wheelabrator, as well as a per-home rate.
RDS’s proposed contract offers the Town a choice of one of two fixed prices for processing its single-stream recyclables:
*$57.50 per ton of single-stream recyclables, including glass
*$49.00 per ton of single-stream recyclables, without glass
These percentages are subject to annual changes, however, starting July 1, 2021, to reflect any percentage changes in a consumer price index that RDS cites.
Although RDS assumes the market risk should the price of the commodities drop significantly, the Town is on the hook for percentage price increases for five years.
This concerned all Council members, as did the possibility of additional fees being imposed upon the Town for the delivery of “unacceptable material”—which is defined as hazardous waste and other materials that cannot be legally processed—and contaminated truckloads of recyclables.
If more than 12 percent of a truckload is contaminated, the Town runs into material-removal issues and possible increased costs.
Under the contract, the Town is given 24 hours to remove rejected and/or contaminated materials itself, before being charged by RDS for its removal and disposal.
Not surprisingly, no one on the Town Council could realistically envision the Town engaging in remediation of contaminated materials to save chargebacks.
According to Ms. Skolochenko of the N.C. DEQ, 12 percent of a truckload is a “low contamination threshold.” An average “threshold,” she said, would be 14 to 15 percent. She suggested that Dare County towns work together to negotiate with RDS for better terms.
RDS’s proposed contract is on pages 18 through 48 of the budget workshop meeting packet: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2020-04-21.pdf
The removal provisions are on pages 8-9.
Councilman Conners was particularly adamant about the lack of a severability provision in the contract and the length of the contract. He described the contract as having many “red flags.”
According to Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett, Bay Disposal has said that it would charge the Town $23.80 per ton of curbside recycling for its pickup and transport, if it goes to RDS’s MRF, and $5.21 per home.
Finance Officer Bonnie Swain said the combined cost for recycling in FY 2020-21, if the Town contracts with RDS for a $57.50 per ton rate and does not incur additional charges, would be $195,201, or about $5,000 more than what it would pay next year for the Bay Disposal/Wheelabrator arrangement.
COMPROMISE MOTION, OTHER OPTIONS
Ms. Morey suggested that the Town “keep doing what we’re doing until we find a better option.”
After further discussion, she reflected that the Town could “stick with Wheelabrator and Bay Disposal” and strive to clarify the “contractual picture with RDS.”
The Mayor proposed taking her reflection as a motion, and that is what the Town Council approved doing, unanimously.
The Council never discussed contracting with RDS for processing of single-stream recycling disposal without glass included.
As The Beacon has reported, Dare County has its own glass crusher and is recycling glass.
We appreciate that the Town of Southern Shores cannot launch overnight into a program that would take advantage of the crusher in our back yard, but we believe an investigation into how we could do so in the future would be worthwhile.
For the Town to stay in the recycling game, it has to embark on a public-education campaign any way to reduce the amount of contamination that is occurring. A hard-to-find page of recycling do’s and don’ts on the Town website is hardly enough.
When we visited the county’s Department of Public Works in Manteo in early March, PW Director Shanna Fullmer told us that Dare County would sell Southern Shores a bin for glass collection for $20,000, and the county would collect all of the glass deposited in it, without charge.
Mr. Haskett and Southern Shores Public Works Director David Bradley also attended this meeting, as did SSCA President Rod McCaughey.
Perhaps Ms. Fullmer would entertain a lower price for a bin, or business donations could be obtained for a bin’s purchase. Just removing some of the glass from curbside recycling would lower the Town’s costs. Glass is heavy.
While we appreciate that having seasonal visitors complicates any recycling program that Southern Shores has, we also think that creative options are available that are not being considered now.
Although RDS “would like to build a MRF in North Carolina,” Ms. Skolochenko said, it has “limited options” because any existing building it purchases must be of a “substantial height.” Finding a suitable building, she said, “is a challenge.”
RDS’s proposed contract includes a provision about the company establishing a MRF in North Carolina and obligates the Town to have its recyclables delivered there, instead of to Portsmouth, “under the same terms and conditions.”
We do not believe that MRF proximity alone would increase the attractiveness of RDS’s contract. Much would have to be changed about the cost provisions in RDS’s contract for the Town Council to approve it.
RECYCLING UPDATE ON MAY 5 MEETING AGENDA
A recycling update is on the agenda for the Town Council’s May 5 meeting, which again will be videoconferenced via Zoom. The Council will meet at the Pitts Center at 5:30 p.m.
If all of the people scheduled on the agenda appear in person, no citizens will be able to attend. That is something that Town Clerk Sheila Kane should advise citizens on the Town website in advance.
We will post the meeting packet link when it is available.
We will be eager to hear of the progress the Town has made in negotiating with RDS, if, in fact, it has made an effort.
In the meanwhile, at least we know that Wheelabrator is recycling all metal cans. I have been bagging up my Diet Coke cans and dog and cat food cans for transport to Northern Virginia, when I am able to leave my home. Now I do not have to make that trip.
Also on the agenda are Mr. Haskett’s presentation of a proposed balanced budget for FY 2020-21 and a possible FY 2019-20 budget amendment to cover beach-nourishment surveys and profiling to be done by the multi-town coastal-engineering consultant/coordinator that we discussed in a blog 4/27/20.
The Town Council still has not formally approved beach nourishment, nor has it formally selected a project option, from among the four recommended by APTIM. This approval is not on next Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
We vow not to write a report about any of the Town Council’s meeting business until after we have watched the videotape. We have learned that the Zoom audio just doesn’t cut it.
Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 4/29/20