Wake prepares for growing need to deal with solid waste

pseligson@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Jonathan Mejia carries a desk from his truck before throwing it in a bin at the Wake County solid waste convenience center on Deponie Drive in Raleigh on Friday. A new convenience center is under construction as a result of increased demand.

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Solid waste and school construction on agenda

    WakeUP Wake County’s annual meeting will include the presentation on solid-waste disposal and a presentation by Tony Gurley, vice chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners and Christine Kushner, chairwoman of the school board. The boards have been disagreeing over how school construction should be overseen.

    The event is free and open to the public. To register, visit bit.ly/KRGbr2.

    Time: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

    Location: Junior League of Raleigh, 711 Hillsborough St., Raleigh.

— Wake County’s landfill will likely last longer than originally forecast, but public and private solid-waste experts are already planning to have solutions in hand when space runs out.

At WakeUP Wake County’s annual meeting Wednesday evening, Wake County’s solid waste management director John Roberson will talk about the county’s lone landfill in south Wake. Opened in 2008, the landfill was originally slated to last 25 years but will now last 35, he said.

In fiscal year 2009, 460,000 tons of solid waste went into the landfill. In 2013, the figure fell to 400,000 thanks to increased recycling, the effects of the recession and some businesses taking their trash elsewhere.

“We do believe it’s reached the bottom,” Roberson said of solid-waste tonnage. “We’re projecting it to grow at about 1 percent a year, as population is (growing) about 3 percent a year.”

But the landfill’s longer life doesn’t mean it’s too early to look ahead, said Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP.

“As we know, with every growth issue, you have to start thinking about things ahead of time so you’re thinking about where you’re going to end up,” she said. “Because there is a limit to the landfill, and it’s going to continue to be an issue.”

WakeUP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that focuses on growth planning and sustainability. “We live in the fastest-growing metro region in the entire country for the last 12 years,” she said.

The group decided to talk about waste management because of Raleigh’s recent interest in reducing waste and increasing recycling. Raleigh’s City Council formed a committee in November to address solid waste and because its residents recycle less per person than the national average.

Roberson said Wake County is well-positioned for the future but agrees it’s not too early to start planning. The chances of opening a new landfill in Wake County in 30 years are slim, he said, citing both the scarcity of open space and environmental concerns. So his department is beginning to look at other options, such as burning waste.

Reducing waste is also a priority, though that effort rests largely on decisions made by Wake County’s municipalities. Roberson said recycling increased recently, especially when most municipalities switched from small 15-gallon green bins to 96-gallon carts. His department is also expanding its 11 convenience centers, where people can drop off recycling and trash.

WasteZero, a Raleigh-based company, will present at the annual meeting as well. WasteZero helps communities switch to the model known as pay-as-you-throw. Residents have to buy special trash bags to use; otherwise, their trash won’t be taken to the landfill. Joshua Kolling-Perin, director of public engagement for the company, said communities usually charge about $1 for a small bag and $2 for a large bag.

Kolling-Perin compared the model to other utilities, where the amount paid depends of the person’s use of the service. Everyone paying a flat fee “gives no incentives to throw away less, recycle more – to create less waste,” he said.

Switching to pay-as-you-throw reduces solid waste by an average of 46 percent across their 800 communities, he said. The average household ends up using 1.25 trash bags a week. Assuming a household used a large bag for $2 each, that would be about $130 a year. Kolling-Perin said his company encourages towns and counties to reduce other trash fees when making the switch, as well as to make recycling free.

Reducing waste would save towns and cities money, Kolling-Perin said, since the municipalities would owe less in landfill fees.

“It gives these communities better environmental and financial sustainability,” he said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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