Increasing Recycling, Reuse and Waste Reduction
By County Manager Chris Coudriet
If you want to see innovation at work, take a tour around the New Hanover County landfill.
You won’t just see a pile of trash; you’ll see one of the state’s most advanced integrated solid waste management systems that includes recycling, waste diversion and initiatives that target long-term sustainability. These programs are extending the life of the landfill, protecting the environment, and are much more cost effective than landfill expansion.
The Environmental Management Department oversees recycling and solid waste for the county, and they operate as an enterprise fund. That means they operate like a business by generating their own revenue and they do not use any property or sales taxes that you may pay.
Since Environmental Management Director Joe Suleyman joined our team over six years ago, I have been impressed with the innovative business model he has brought to New Hanover County. The department has implemented new programs to divert materials from the landfill and improve the environment, developed public/private partnerships that have led to increased exports and created jobs, and they are providing stability and predictability in our waste management program.
As New Hanover County grows, so does our waste. Over the past four years, waste disposal has increased 10 percent each year. Our priority must be to prolong the life of the landfill as much as possible. And, as it stands with our diversion efforts, we will be able to extend the lifespan of the landfill from 90 years, where it was three years ago, to more than 180 years.
Here’s a look at some of those innovative efforts that are increasing recycling, reuse, and waste reduction.
Food Waste Composting Program
The county’s food waste composting program is our newest waste diversion program. After more than a year of piloting the program using pre-consumer food waste from UNCW’s dining halls, it is open and free for residents to bring unpackaged food waste to the composter.
Food waste and compostable material make up more than 50 percent of the landfill’s content, so this new program is a meaningful step towards reducing the amount of waste the county generates. The in-vessel system also provides a nutrient rich-compost the county is using at our parks and gardens, including the Arboretum and Airlie Gardens.
Construction & Demolition Facility
Adjacent to the landfill, the automated Construction & Demolition Facility opened in July 2016 and diverts over 20,000 tons each year from landfill disposal. Ninety percent of construction and demolition debris is recyclable, including scrap wood and lumber, sheetrock, scrap metals, old appliances, asphalt roof shingles, concrete, brick, carpet and more.
So, by diverting these materials, we minimize landfill deposits, recycle materials that can go back into the market to be used to make new products, and save haulers time and money because they can drive on a concrete pad at the facility rather than driving on the landfill.
Household Hazardous Waste Programs
In May 2013, the county opened its Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Recycling Facility to provide residents with a free option to recycle household chemicals, oils, electronics, batteries and more. This permanent facility has been successful and kept nearly 650 tons of the most toxic, flammable, corrosive and reactive chemicals out of the landfill each year.
In addition, a mobile collection unit, called the HazWagon, was created in January 2017 to give residents an easier and more convenient way to dispose of hazardous waste and electronics. The HazWagon is stationed at three different locations each week: Ogden Park on Mondays, Wrightsville Beach on Wednesdays, and Carolina Beach on Fridays.
The HazWagon won an Achievement Award in 2017 from the National Association of Counties (NACo) for its innovation and the increased level of service it provides to residents. With its addition, the county is now diverting 875 tons of contaminants each year and keeping waste that can be harmful to our health and to the environment out of the landfill.
New Hanover County partnered with Sonoco Recycling to operate a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in July 2015. The facility processes recyclables from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, as well as the City of Wilmington, at about 25,000 tons per year.
It is the only MRF in Southeastern North Carolina and many of the recovered materials are shipped worldwide through the Port of Wilmington. Revenues generated from the sales of recovered materials help offset the cost of the county’s Household Hazardous Waste and Electronics Recycling programs, which are available at no charge to county residents.
We are diverting nearly everything we can from the landfill with these innovative programs, all while lowering the landfill tip fee nearly 19 percent since 2014. We all pay less to dispose at the county landfill but have more services and options to manage our solid waste than ever.