County planning for rural roll cart rollout

08/29/2014 12:00 AM

08/29/2014 12:07 PM

The county will mail details and a survey to 13,700 rural residents in September about a planned move to 95-gallon roll carts for curbside recycling.

Several mailings are planned, said Gayle Wilson, director of Orange County’s Solid Waste Department. The carts probably won’t show up in any driveways before January or February, he said.

Roughly 18,000 of the carts were rolled out to Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill households in July. The county spent $1 million, which included extra carts for future customers, Wilson said.

While some town residents welcomed the big, blue carts, others had trouble moving the 34-pound containers when full or found them too large for narrow streets and small garages. Some didn’t like the color.

About 80 customers returned their carts, Wilson said. The department is getting fewer calls now, he said, and the drivers are settling into their routes.

“Most people found out (the carts) weren’t as bad as they thought they were,” Wilson said. “They may have looked intimidating at first.”

The Solid Waste Department knew some neighborhoods, such as Southern Village, would be difficult, he said. The department advocated for wider streets when Southern Village was built, he said.

The contractor hired to serve that area does find it’s a tough fit when a lot of cars are parked on the street, Wilson said. Residents who have trees or on-street parking that interfere with the automated trucks are being allowed to use their old bins, he said.

The streets at Columbia Place, just north of downtown Chapel Hill, were a tight squeeze for even a small car on recycling day last week. While the homeowners association had considered talking with the county about buying and using its own smaller bins, the blue carts remained. At least one resident decided it was easier to share a cart with her neighbor.

“Some people sent their carts back, others didn’t,” resident Pat Wallace said. “They show up on the curb each week, mostly empty.”

The larger size lets customers combine their recyclables, Wilson said, and recycle more types of plastic and large pieces of cardboard. The carts could accommodate more materials in the future, including food waste, and a move to recycling every two weeks if the towns want that, he said.

“We think, over the long haul, most everyone is going to favor the roll carts and not want a return to what we had before,” Wilson said.

Rural differences

The rural cart rollout will be different, he said, because rural customers have less experience using roll carts than urban residents, and the rural areas are less uniform. Rural customers who don’t want the larger carts may get to keep their bins, officials have said.

The department has money for 7,000 more carts, in addition to the ones they have in storage now. Just over half of the eligible rural customers use the curbside service now; if enough carts are left after serving the rural customers already using the program, the county could add 1,500 more rural homes, he said. Many rural residents use the county’s five convenience centers.

A 10-member Solid Waste Advisory Group – two residents and two members each from the county and towns – will study the county’s short- and long-term options this year. All four local governments have shipped their trash to Durham since the Orange County Landfill closed last year.

The county is using $2 million in savings to pay for this year’s urban and rural curbside recycling collection.

The advisory group’s first priority will be drafting a new agreement to guide how the governments will collaborate. An interim report is scheduled for presentation at the Assembly of Governments meeting Nov. 20.

“I don’t think any of them think hauling to Durham is a long-term solution,” Wilson said.

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