Report: Clinton stands as model for solid waste management

Chris Berendt Staff Writer

September 8, 2013

The Public Works Department anticipates a 50 percent hike in recycling tonnage over what it collected just two years ago, according to a report on the city’s waste management given earlier this week.

Mark Viser, a graduating senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, spent several weeks examining how the City of Clinton dealt with its waste management in 2011-12, and provided numbers breaking down solid waste, recycling and yard waste collections for that year. He said the numbers, especially in terms of recycling, are only improving.

Public Works director Jeff Vreugdenhil said Viser was “real instrumental” in assisting the department, which included the preparation of how the city stacked up in terms of solid waste reporting.

“We were waiting for the state to get the numbers in from 2012-13 … they haven’t finished organizing those, so we’re taking information from the most recent year we have,” said Viser.

Viser noted that, for 2011-12, North Carolina saw the disposal rate per capita drop below 1 ton per person for the first time in 20 years, since 1992.

“Economic conditions and disposal (rate) per person tend to correlate directly, so while the disposal rate drop reflects in some way the economic downturn of recent years, it also reflects the successful efforts of local waste collection and recycling programs across the state,” said Viser.

According to the N.C. Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, it is the state’s goal to strengthen local recycling programs in an effort to expand those recycling opportunities toward collection efficiencies.

“The City of Clinton has been an exemplar of this goal, by restructuring their recycling programs and having an extremely efficient yard waste collection,” said Viser.

In 2011-12, the city produced 11,312 tons of total waste, consisting of solid waste, recycled materials and yard waste. Compared to other towns across the state within 2,000 people of Clinton’s population, “Clinton easily produces the most waste,” Viser said. Of the 11,000-plus tons collected in 2011-12, 67.5 percent was solid waste, both residential and commercial garbage.

With solid waste collection and economic conditions going hand in hand, it also means that Clinton’s economy could be doing better than that in other towns. “More solid waste means more business, so it’s something we should be proud of,” said Viser.

Last year, the city collected 610 tons of single-stream recycling, which accounted for 5.2 percent of all waste.

“That is just over 200 pounds per person in town, which is a pretty good rate,” said Viser.

Single-stream was previously collected at four convenience sites around town, but a move to curbside recycling collection by way of the blue roll-outs came in March. Viser said that move has been a positive one.

“This has been very popular throughout the community and has seen the recycling rate grow a lot since that happened,” said Viser. “So these numbers are not exactly representative of Clinton’s recycling potential. With the next fiscal year and the curbside being for the whole year instead of just the four main sites, we’re looking at a big jump in recycling as a whole. We’re projected to go from 610 tons a year to 900 with the new push carts, which we’re really excited about.”

Another category, yard waste, is solid waste consisting solely of vegetative matter resulting in landscaping maintenance, such as leaves, twigs, branches and grass trimmings.

“This is something we’re very proud of in the Public Works — something we do better than almost anybody else,” said Viser. “Yard waste tons collected last year was 3,068, which is 27.12 percent of all the waste we collected. The total is significantly higher than every city we studied, with the exception of Dunn, which only edged us out slightly.”

Viser credited the city’s “reliable pick-up service,” at the curb each week on the day of trash collection, with being able to collect a vast amount of yard waste. “As long as it’s not from storm damage or if it’s not a ridiculously big pile, your yard waste is going to be picked up.”

Some municipalities have monthly collection, while others have an as-needed basis for collection.

“In Clinton, it’s weekly, like clockwork,” said Viser, “and that’s the way we’re able to keep getting consistent numbers. Per capita, that’s over 700 pounds of yard waste per person in this town every year, which edges out Dunn and (is more than) everybody in the whole (state) within 2,000 people of our own population.”

The city’s waste collection, especially what it gets from yards and how it disposes of that green waste, is one of the many programs that brands Clinton as an “efficient and progressive city,” Viser said.

The leaves collected each year — there were in excess of 800 tons of leaves collected from October 2012 to March 2013 and allowed to decompose over the summer so the compacted piles could be hauled off last month — are given to Terra Blue Inc., which then mixes it with hog waste to produce fertilizer to be used in the region. Other forms of yard waste are used to make ground cover for the area.

The partnerships with the community, as well as local industry, show Clinton is forward-thinking, he said.

“All these instances demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between the city and local industry, and answer the statewide call for more local recycling efforts,” Viser said. “Our high solid waste rate reflects our strong local economy and our re-calibrated recycling program projects higher recycling participation in the next year.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at