clintonnc.com

County works to continue e-waste collection

By Chris Berendt Staff Writer

February 25, 2014

The county had to suspend its electronic waste recycling service in recent weeks without a vendor to collect such items — that suspension looks to soon be lifted with the approval of funds for another vendor, a contract that will see the county doling out money for what previously was free of charge.


The Sampson Board of Commissioners recently — and unanimously — approved a budget amendment to extend the service via Electronic Recyclers International Inc., with needed funds coming from the county’s accrued state allocations — not general funds — designated for e-waste purposes.


Unable to immediately find a vendor when its previous vendor Metech backed out at the end of last year, the county posted signs that the electronic waste recycling collection service had been temporarily suspended.


“As soon as we enter into this contract, we will be able to start collecting again,” assistant county manager Susan Holder said.


The state’s electronics recycling program has the goal of fostering a statewide infrastructure for recycling those materials — televisions, computers, monitors, printers, scanners and other equipment — which are banned from landfills.


“Electronic waste is not allowed in the landfill, so the county has to have some provision for citizens depositing their electronic waste,” Holder said. “To comply with the statutes and provide our citizens an appropriate process for disposal of our electronic waste, the county has for a number of years collected electronic waste at our Spivey’s Corner and Ingold container sites.”


Those sites, located at the north and south ends of the county on Plain View Highway and Ezzell Road, respectively, are placed as a convenience for those who wish to drop off their electronic items. The City of Clinton also offers such collection.


In 2012, Sampson County contracted with Metech for the collection and disposal of those electronics at no cost to the county. Holder noted the “wonderful relationship” between the county’s Environmental Health staff, Waste Industries (who operates the collection sites) and Metech to collect and dispose of the materials.


Metech would recoup their service costs by selling those materials. However, at the end of last year, Metech representatives told the county that their company was no longer able to provide the service as they were simply not getting the return on the collectables needed.


Up against short notice, a new vendor was sought using a state listing of potential companies and, with service costs hinging primarily on transportation expenses, county officials contacted vendors “within a reasonable proximity” to Sampson, Holder stated.


“Because of increasing transportation costs and decreasing markets for recyclable materials, we are unable to find a vendor willing to provide e-waste collection services at no cost,” Holder stated. “However, one vendor has diligently worked with Sampson County Administration, Finance and Environmental Health staff to develop a proposal that offers the best solution for our needs.”


The lone responsive bidder of the two contacted, Electronic Recyclers International Inc., located in the Research Triangle Park, proposed a rate of $400 per pick up. County officials said they anticipate at least one pick up at each site per month, a $9,600 annual expense.


In addition to laying out the program, state law also established an Electronics Management Fund to assist with the promotion of and associated costs for county electronics waste recycling programs. Sampson County is eligible for the funding, Holder noted.


“We get an amount from the state each year for e-waste,” Holder said. “This money is in fund balance, so we’re proposing to appropriate that fund balance. We have applied for this year’s funding and have been told there will be funding available in the amount of $4,700.”


Counties are eligible for the funding if they include an electronics management component in the solid waste management plan, complete required annual reporting, establish a separate budget for receipt and expenditure of such funding and document that their contracted vendor is adhering to the Responsible Recycling practices or the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment.


Finance officer David Clack said, in addition to the $4,700 that could be received from this year’s application, the county has two year’s worth of accrued funds, roughly $9,600, from not having to pay Metech. County officials said they were previously of the understanding that the funds had to be used for signage, education and outreach materials, but found the state funds could be used to pay a contract.


And that is what county staff recommended in the form of a $9,600 budget amendment to pay for the service, with about $4,700 needed to take the county through the rest of the fiscal year.


“The amount we’re asking you to budget in this budget amendment is in fund balance right now. On top of that, we know this budget year, we will receive right at $4,700,” said Holder. “It’s state money. We don’t know what will be available next year.”


Commissioner Albert Kirby inquired as to whether there was another “Metech” of sorts out there, someone who would collect for free. Where Metech did not charge to pick up, in exchange keeping what they collected for its residual value, now the county would still be giving up e-waste and those items with some value, and paying for it.


Despite the fact there are state funds earmarked specifically for e-waste purposes, Kirby said he wished he knew for a fact there was nobody who would offer the service gratis.


“(ERI) was not going to charge us anything at all, until they realized that they would have to use a different truck,” said Holder.


The hang-up in many cases is attaining the required eligibility to be an e-waste vendor, managerial staff noted.


“We’re not eligible for that funding if we don’t use a vendor who carries that certification,” Holder noted.


Commissioner Billy Lockamy said he has made efforts in the past to drum up interest locally for the e-waste contract, where transportation costs can be next to nil.


“I tried a year or so ago, and I told him he had to be qualified — that was the end of that,” Lockamy attested. “There might be somebody else out there, but I’ve tried to give it locally.”


Following the board’s unanimous vote, Holder said contracts would have to be inked and the two sites readied before collections can commence again.


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