The City of Wilmington and New Hanover County could increase their recycling capacity and lower overall solid waste disposal costs if they collaborate to set up a new, privately-operated recycling center – called a material recovery facility (MRF), according to a presentation at Monday’s Wilmington City Council agenda briefing session.
Wilmington public services director Richard King told council members that the city and county are in “preliminary talks” about creating an MRF at the former Wastec Incinerator property on U.S. 421. Currently, the county operates a small recycling materials sorting operation in the building.
Under the proposal, Sonoco Recycling would provide the equipment for the MRF and would manage the operation, according to Joe Suleyman, New Hanover County Environmental Management director, adding that no construction would be needed to prepare the site for the MRF, and most of the workforce would be local.
Currently, the city of Wilmington offers curbside residential recycling pickup to its residents. In 2014, city trucks picked up more than 122 tons of recycling per week on average, said city spokeswoman Malissa Talbert.
All city recyclables are taken to a Waste Management transfer station on River Road. From there, they are taken to an MRF in Raleigh. The recycling drop-off cost is $20 per ton. The contract with Waste Management, however, expires June 30 and a new contract could increase that cost to $40 per ton, King said in his presentation.
Collaborating with New Hanover County on an MRF would be more environmentally friendly than current operations, Talbert said, noting that there also are very practical reasons for creating a local MRF.
“It saves the city a significant amount of money. The cost is $55 per ton to put trash in the landfill versus $20 per ton to recycle,” she said, adding that saving solid waste from the landfill extends the life of the landfill, which is an ongoing issue in coastal areas.
King’s presentation stated that, with a new MRF at the Wastec property, drop-off costs for recycling would decrease from the current $20 per ton to $10 per ton. He recommended the city pursue an interlocal agreement with New Hanover County and that the agreement consider a seven-to-10-year commitment for the MRF.
“We are very comfortable with Sonoco,” Suleyman said Monday. “They have 27 recycling operations, 11 of which are in North Carolina. I went up to Jacksonville to see their operation, and it was very efficient and clean.”
What sets South Carolina-based Sonoco apart from other companies in the recycling industry is it recycles the captured waste materials, using them as raw material for its primary business: packaging products, Suleyman said.
“They make everything from cardboard to Pringle’s cans. Because they provide their own raw materials, they are divorced from the ups and downs” of the recycling market, he said.
Working with a local MRF would also make it easier for county residents to recycle, according to Suleyman: residents who take their recycling to a county drop-off site would no longer have to separate materials. Once the infrastructure is in place at the MRF, streamlined handling operations could theoretically reduce costs to haulers and, ultimately, to individual customers.
Looking ahead, having recycling handling capabilities locally would open up new opportunities for recycling expansion, Suleyman said. A Sonoco-operated MRF would have the capability of handling 25,000 tons of recycled materials per year; currently, the city and county combined produce about 14,000 tons annually.