ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey told officials gathered Wednesday at the Carter County Health Department that since the first day he took office, he has frequently received calls from citizens inquiring about the possibility of implementing of a local curbside recycling program.
Now, Humphrey feels it’s time for Carter County to take a serious look at developing governmental partnerships with the goal of implementing a single-stream recycling program in Carter County, and the feasibility of initiating such a program was the topic of discussion at a meeting held Wednesday morning.
“I’m very serious about this concept, and I hope that the city of Elizabethton, the city of Watauga and Carter County can come together and partner to put a form of this program online,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey said that over the past couple of years, he has looked at Carter County’s neighboring counties to get an idea of how their recycling programs work. Humphrey said Washington County generates roughly $250,000 in annual revenues from the sale of recyclables.
Recently, Humphrey attended a presentation on Marshall County’s recycling program, one that he feels could be closely duplicated in Carter County.
“In that presentation, I walked away with a very simple concept, one that can be duplicated here, with a minimal expense on the front end,” Humphrey said. “It’s a very simple system.”
This system, Humphrey said, could start with the implementation of a curbside pickup service for recyclable materials in Elizabethton. It would also involve the installation of a conveyor at the county’s recycling center. Through the system, Humphrey said the Carter County Sheriff’s Department could provide the inmate labor necessary to sort the materials brought in on the conveyor.
Humphrey said such a program could potentially generate annual revenues of $300,000 or more in Carter County. He said if the program “broke even” cost-wise, it would still prove beneficial in keeping a significant amount of waste out of local landfills.
Morgan Thomas, Marshall County solid waste director, was on hand Wednesday to discuss his county’s program in depth. Thomas said a pilot curbside recycling program providing pickup at 1,000 homes was started in Lewisburg in the spring of 2008. In 2009, he said the program went citywide.
Thomas said the materials collected, which include plastic products, mixed paper and tin and aluminum cans, arrive at the Marshall County Recycling Center mixed. From there, these materials are sent down the recycling center’s conveyor where the materials are sorted by county inmates. Recycling drop-off sites located in Marshall County were also changed to “single-stream,” which allowed citizens to leave materials mixed rather than sorting them, Thomas said.
The investment to get the program started in Marshall County was approximately $75,000 for the cost of the conveyor and building to house it, Thomas said. Today, Thomas said approximately seven to eight tons of recyclables can be sorted daily for the program.
For Lewisburg’s curbside program, the town uses the same trucks as it does for trash pickup, Thomas said. He said the town was offering twice-weekly trash pickup service, but this was changed to have one day be for recycling pickup and one day for trash service once the recycling program started.
“So that allowed them to use the exact same trucks, the exact same routes, the exact same guys on the trucks, and there was no net cost to the city of Lewisburg because of them still having two-day-a-week trash service,” Thomas said.
Thomas also said recycling containers have been placed at Marshall County’s businesses, industries and government offices, community recycling events are held, and recycling education is provided to the county’s students.
“One of the biggest things that we’ve been trying to do over the last few years is make recycling a habit for our community,” Thomas said.
The program has resulted in disposal cost saving in Lewisburg and approximately $300,000 in annual revenue for Marshall County, 50 percent of which comes from the curbside program, Thomas said.
“In many ways, we’re very similar to where Carter County is now before the partnership with the city was brokered,” Thomas said.
Humphrey proposed discussing the matter and potential for the development of partnerships further with local officials and said a workshop meeting will be held within the next couple of weeks to look at the costs associated with starting a local recycling program similar to that of Marshall County.
“I’d like for us to sit down and at least look at the numbers to see where we’re at and then take our stance, ‘No, we can’t do it. It’s just not feasibly possible,’ or ‘Yes, we can. Here’s the benefits,’ ” Humphrey said.