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​Infrastructure For The Future

Mecklenburg County operates four (4) full service drop-off centers for residents and businesses to bring recyclables, household hazardous waste, yard waste, and household trash. Since FY2014, the number of customers using these sites has risen sharply (from 487,442 in FY2014 to 621,000 in FY2016). The County also operates eight (8) remote (no-attendant) recycling drop centers, most of which are in County Parks.

In FY 2017, Mecklenburg County established an​ entry based sticker program to identify where customers are coming from. Many patrons using drop-off centers are not from Mecklenburg County, but are rather from other counties such as Cabarrus, Stanley, Union and Lancaster, South Carolina. The sticker based entry program allows those customers from other areas to keep using Mecklenburg County sites, but they will now be required to pay an annual fee. Processing customers through the fee-collection areas will cause lines to occur as patrons enter the facilities. This is expected to especially be prevalent on Saturdays.

While population growth is a factor in the use of the full-service centers, the driving factor of use seems to be the local economy. Over 50% of the customers using the full service centers are commercial based customers. The County is studying future facility needs during FY2017 to meet the demands created by future population growth.

Televisions and discarded electronics recycled in Mecklenburg County.

Open top recycling container for those with disabilities to use at the Hickory Grove Facility.

Plastic bags in recycling dumpster at County office building.

Waste drop off facilities in Mecklenburg County.


Contamination of Recyclables

The County is experiencing a sharp increase in contamination of recycling materials and yard waste. On the recycling side, the County's Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) has seen a 55% increase in contamination from recyclables collected curbside. This may be due to a combination of enthusiasm for recycling and inattention to the rules of recycling locally. Citizens all too often hold the rationale of, "If I can put plastic soda bottles in my curbside container, why not the garden hose? It's plastic too."

The processing facility was designed to process the materials advertised as acceptable in the curbside program (steel and aluminum cans, paper, cardboard, glass bottles, plastic bottles and plastic tubs). Plastic type 6 is Styrofoam and the County has no market for this material. Of greatest concern are unacceptable metals and plastic bags. Metals are cutting through conveyor belts and costing the County a significant amount of money. Examples of metals causing problems include scissors, mufflers, engines, microwave ovens, lawn mower blades, etc. Garden hoses are not recyclable and wrap around the gears in the conveyor belts and other moving parts causing plant shut-downs and increasing operating costs. Plastic bags are in much greater abundance at the facility and cause problems similar to those from garden hoses. The County owned and operated full-service drop-off centers accept metals and many other recyclable materials not included in the curbside program. Plastic bags can be taken to local grocery stores for recycling. It is important to follow the posted guidelines which can be found on the www.​wip​​​ website.

Contamination is also a problem in the yard waste program, particularly plastic bags. The County receives all yard waste collected curbside from residents in the County. The bags get shredded and end up in the finished compost and mulch products the County makes resulting in a less desirable and harder to market product. The Municipalities urge residents to stack yard waste with limbs in neat stacks for collection and to use a durable reusable container or paper bag for loose leaves and grass clippings. Another challenge the County encounters is animal waste being placed in the yard waste container. When placed in the yard waste, it drives up fecal coliform counts both in the storm-water run-off at the compost facility and in the finished products created at the facility. Animal waste should be bagged and placed in the garbage.

Contamination in curbside recycling cart (plastic bags).

Adapting Funding Mechanisms

Infrastructure/Capital funding demands are up, while revenues are down. ​One of the County's funding mechanisms is the revenue received from the sale of recyclables processed through the MRF​. All of the recyclables collected curbside, from multi-family housing, and from drop-off centers are taken to this facility for separation and preparation for transport to a manufacturer who will process the material into a new product. The manufacturers who receive these materials are still reliable, but the price paid for many of the materials we recycle have been depressed for the last several years. Recyclables are commodities bought and sold both within the US and internationally and pricing is governed by a complex set of variables. For example, the price for recycled plastics is primarily determined by four factors: crude oil prices, the global economy's impact on demand for virgin plastics; the Chinese economy and the growth of industries intensively using plastics in goods; and regulation. For paper, the availability and price of virgin pulp and in turn for timber are key determinants along with demand for paper products and more importantly, demand for recycled content paper products.

The County has no control over the market price for commodities, but can get better pricing when the recycling bales offer a clean uncontaminated material (see "Contamination of Recyclables​" above). The County also continues to improve efficiency in its programs to offset depressed commodity pricing. Increased disposal fees are partially a result of these lower commodity prices and have been instituted to capture​ the total costs of waste disposal.

Program Funding

The Solid Waste Division is a self-funded Enterprise Budget, and as such, puts money aside annually for anticipated capital and operating expenditures. An unanticipated need to buy land and build a new facility for yard waste has recently created challenges to fund the Division's capital expenditures. The County provides projections on the cost of providing services and a​djusts fees and other funding mechanisms to meet the growing needs of our community. In FY 2017, Solid Waste developed a schedule of expected rates for a three-year period. That schedule projects the average cost per residence to rise at approximately $3.50 per residential unit.

Yard debris grinding at the Foxhole facility.

Composting and Yard Debris

The County has operated a compost facility on Charlotte Douglas Airport property for the last 16 years. In 2014, the Airport informed the Solid Waste Division that the facility must be removed within 2 years to make room for Airport expansion projects. The County sought and purchased a suitable property within the County and is now in the process of building a new compost processing facility on Valleydale Road. The new Compost Central is expected to open in Spring of 2017.

Annually, compost operations process over 100,000 tons of yard waste and woody debris, makes compost or mulch, and provides that product for sale. The growth at this facility is generally linked to weather:​

    • ​A wet spring/summer increases tonnage due to more vegetative growth
    • Storm events traditionally cause spikes in tonnage received (downed sticks, broken tree limbs, etc.)
​​​​​However, one of the nagging issues faced at the facility is the use of plastic garbage bags from yard and leaf cleanup disposal. Materials placed in plastic bags cause contamination as the plastic passes through the compost process. Bits of plastic are nearly impossible to remove from the processed compost or mulch, and cause those who purchase the materials to complain or not use the products.

Staff try to encourage residents and businesses alike to not use plastic bags for the collection of yard debris material, especially leaves. Outreach campaigns have been minimally successful, and the phrase "plastic is not fantastic", is used to emphasize the problem of plastic bags.

Regardless of the economy, people and businesses will continue to produce waste and land disposal sites will eventually fill up. In 2016, Mecklenburg County households sent 382,677 tons or 720 pounds per person to landfills. This represents a 5% increase from 2014. Although the County's Foxhole Landfill is permitted to receive all Municipal Solid Waste, the facility only accepts construction and demolition waste at this time. All other Municipal Solid Waste is taken to the Speedway Landfill in nearby Cabarrus County. That facility is operated by Republic Services, and Mecklenburg County has a contract agreement to use that facility through 2020.

Knowing that the process to develop and permit any waste disposal facility is long and arduous, Mecklenburg County will begin the process to seek out additional waste disposal capacity in FY 2017. The County will assess options well in advance of the actual need for alternative facilities.

One of the measures the County has undertaken to prolong the life of the Foxhole Landfill has been to launch a successful drywall recycling program providing gypsum to area farmers as an agricultural soil amendment. The processing, storage and application of this material would benefit from dry conditions. The County hopes to build a roof structure at the Foxhole Landfill to keep the product dry in the near future to make the product more appealing to the farming community.

Drywall grinding and screening at the Foxhole Landfill facility.

Mecklenburg County has experienced a rise in the construction of multi-family dwellings. Apartment or condo complexes are under construction in nearly every area of the County. Unless you work in the Solid Waste and Recycling Management field, you may not have thought about the challenges these present. Multi-family housing represents a very challenging environment for recycling. Nationwide, multi-family units post the lowest recycling rates and the highest contamination levels when compared to single-family recycling metrics. In Mecklenburg County, many multi-family complexes were not designed to support recycling services.

Those enthusiastic about recycling will come to the County's already highly used drop-off centers. Additionally, multi-family complexes lack the bulky waste collection options that many towns provide, so these households will also be coming to the drop off centers for this service. As the County grows in population, so does the population in unincorporated areas. These areas do not receive city services so are more likely to bring household trash, recyclables, bulky items, etc. to the County's drop-off centers.

The County will continue to work with its municipal partners on the possibilities of enhancing multi-family recycling in the coming years.

For more information, please contact Meckl​enburg County Solid Waste​.

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