by Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling
The most populous county in North Carolina is taking a closer look at driving recycling activity among residents.
Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte and a population of about 1 million people, has seen recycling rates more or less stagnate in recent years, a new sustainability report from the group Sustain Charlotte suggests. While a couple positive trends have emerged of late — generation of construction and demolition debris and commercial waste is down and collection of yard debris is up — county residents recycled slightly less per person in 2013 than they did in 1999.
"We are … recycling about the same amount at home that we were in 1999," the report states. "In fact, at home we recycled 8 pounds per person more in 1999 than in 2013 with a slight average annual decrease of 0.1 percent over this time."
Shannon Binns, Sustain Charlotte's executive director, said it's tough to pinpoint a reason for the lag, which comes in the wake of much of the county's switch to single-stream collection in 2012. A transition from bins to carts came alongside that move.
"The data we received from the county doesn't really bear out any improvement," Binns said. "Residential recycling per person is fairly flat and we were surprised to see this."
Binns did say the noticeable decline of paper generation could be keeping recycling tonnages down despite actual growth in residential commitment to recycling.
The county's solid waste management director, Jeffrey Smithberger, also suggested widespread lightweighting of product packaging could help explain the flat numbers. "A bale of aluminum cans used to hold 28,000 containers," Smithberger recalled a local materials recovery facility (MRF) operator explaining. "Bales nowadays have 38,000 cans."
While both Binns and Smithberger noted it's tricky to calculate a recycling rate for the county due to a lack of annual data from private haulers, Smithberger suggested the recycling rate for single-family residential households was still in the "high 30s." He said the county MRF has been seeing more material with the single-stream program in place, but he added there is room for expanding multi-family and business recycling programming — neither of which is required in the county.
"We know we can do better," Smithberger said.
Sustain Charlotte, meanwhile, is advocating for pay-as-you-throw was well as a "comprehensive recycling law" that would include multi-family homes, businesses and industrial facilities alongside single-family residences.
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