The voluntary, curbside collection of recyclables that has been offered to Statesboro, Brooklet and Portal residents for several years will end Sept. 1, county officials say.
Not to be confused with the 17 convenience centers for sorted recyclables that will continue to be available to all Bulloch County residents, the single-stream curbside program served about 800 households. Each paid just $20 a year.
Based on the county’s estimates, the program operated at an annual loss of about $65 per household served.
“I’m not saying that the county would never get into curbside recycling again, but not set up like this because that’s not fair to the county taxpayers,” said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch. “All of the county taxpayers are subsidizing the loss.”
Couch gave the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners a report this spring showing that the curbside program’s revenue totaled about $26,000 for the year, the sum of $16,000 from the user fees plus $10,000 from the sale of the recyclables.
Meanwhile, the estimated expenses added up to $78,075. These included $13,300 for direct labor, $35,525 for departmental and administrative overhead, plus $3,000 for landfill fees and $26,250 for capital amortization. This last number, Couch said, included money that needed to be set aside for eventually replacing the truck and poly carts.
Started with a grant
On behalf of the county, Keep Bulloch Beautiful, the now inactive Keep America Beautiful affiliate, applied for a grant offered through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in 2008. KBB and the county were awarded $300,000, which helped fund expansion of the county’s recycling processing center on Lakeview Road, as well as for curbside recycling.
A February 2011 Statesboro Herald story announcing the launch of the curbside collection in Statesboro noted that the grant program had favored communities that offered this service.
About two-thirds to three-quarters of the grant money went for improvements to the facilities on Lakeside Road, Couch said this week. The remainder was for the truck, carts and other supplies for the curbside service.
Participants were supposed to put all of their recyclables in a single recycling cart, blue with a yellow lid in distinction from the green garbage carts. A single truck operated Wednesdays and Thursdays each week to collect the recyclables.
The county report gave customer counts of 600 addresses in Statesboro, 135 in Brooklet and 60 in Portal, round rather than exact numbers. It also noted that there were some free accounts but that the number was “under audit.”
The single-stream service necessarily requires sorting the material after it is received. But participants were expected to place only recyclable things in the carts.
“People were actually using them as secondary garbage cans – not everybody,” Couch said.
After Couch appointed Fred White as Bulloch County’s solid waste director in January, they began to take a closer look at the program.
They had someone from Georgia Pacific, a major customer for the county’s recyclables, evaluate the items from the curbside service. After looking on two different occasions, White said, the GP representative estimated that 80 percent of the material was contaminated.
“In my opinion, probably no more than one out of five (customers) were actually using it for what it was supposed to be,” White said.
The county uses state inmate labor to sort the mixed materials at the recycling center. Much of the glass arrives broken, and many other things, White said, are not recyclable at all.
“We have boards with nails in them, we’ve found needles, and if one of these inmates gets stuck, cut, you’re looking at for the emergency room at least a thousand dollars,” White said. “Plus, then the county’s got to look at being sued.”
When non-recyclable items are removed, they go to the transfer station for household waste bound for an out-of-county landfill or to the city of Statesboro’s inert waste landfill. This is the reason for the tipping fees billed to the program.
The free accounts mentioned in the report include carts that Keep Bulloch Beautiful gave organizations such as fraternities and sororities to promote the program, White said.
Because of lapsed recording keeping, White and Couch said, they were not sure how many people were current on their accounts – or where all the carts are.
“We’re looking at recovering hopefully 75 to 80 percent of the carts,” White said.
Poorly set up
Couch says the program was poorly set up and implemented but that he does not want to assign blame.
Part of the responsibility is probably his, he said. Couch said he now believes that the original predictions were overly optimistic but that he trusted those who implemented the program.
The illness and death of one key person and the departure of another also contributed to the course the program took, Couch said.
The county’s previous solid waste director, Bob Smith, became seriously ill over a period of years and was eventually unable to work. Smith had pulmonary fibrosis and underwent two lung transplants before dying in January at age 66.
Meanwhile, Kelly Collingsworth, executive director of Keep Bulloch Beautiful, left more than a year ago for a career opportunity. KBB has been inactive since, and after some initial meetings the city and county abandoned efforts to revive it.
“The whole setup and the follow-through was wrong and I think the wheels really fell off the wagon when Bob and Kelly left,” Couch said.
Couch said he hopes that either KBB will eventually be relaunched or something created in its place because ongoing public education is essential for a successful recycling effort.
Other recycling subsidized
Couch and White acknowledged that the recycling convenience centers are also subsidized by taxes, but they say the centers provide a more efficient service for the whole county.
“You don’t get into recycling to make money,” Couch said. “You can subsidize the cost in a good way, and it’s more of a moral obligation to try to help the environment and cut down on your solid waste disposal costs.”
He estimates that the total recycling program costs about $600,000 a year. It typically takes in about $300,000 from the sale of recyclables. A smaller recycling expenditure is shown in the budget, but this does not include collection costs that are instead in the overall solid waste budget, Couch said.
Staffed by attendants and with separate containers for plastics, aluminum, glass and other materials, the 17 convenience centers include one in Statesboro’s city limits, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The county will also continue to collect school recyclables and cardboard from established sites.
Looking at alternatives
The city paid nothing for the curbside service as such but funded KBB from its landfill tipping fees.
Announcing the end of the curbside service to Statesboro City Council, interim City Manager Robert Cheshire said he and Couch had talked about the possibility of the county adding a second convenience center in Statesboro.
Couch said he has made a “soft pledge” to Cheshire to see what can be done, but that an added convenience center may be several years away. Cheshire said he knows it would take “a couple of years at least.
“But it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and start looking for that and see if we could come up with the most viable location with the easiest access for maybe the largest population,” Cheshire said.
Meanwhile, he and Couch have been approached by a local businessman interested in starting a curbside collection service, but with bins for sorting.
“I think it’s great that the private sector is looking at doing that, with the county having the facility out there to accept good, clean recyclables,” Cheshire said. “It’s still a positive for the community.”
However, he said he is sure the business will have to charge more than $20 a year.