Charleston City Council on Monday voted to renew its contract with the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, allowing for the facility to continue processing Charleston’s recyclables.
Council voted 21-4 to renew the contract, with council members Adam Knauff, Deanna McKinney, Courtney Persinger and Robert Sheets voting against. Council members Bobby Reishman and Shannon Snodgrass were absent for Monday’s meeting.
The agreement sets a “pay-as-you-go” amount of $175 per ton for the Raleigh County site to process Charleston’s recyclables. The facility took the city’s recycling for free for about six years after the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority shuttered its recycling program due to crippling costs, however the site’s operators began charging municipalities after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Recycling has been a long-debated topic during city council meetings since the Kanawha County facility closed in 2015. The closest the county has come to opening a new local site was in 2016, when the solid waste board considered constructing a new processing building at its site on Slack Street. However, talks fizzled out because of the scale of collaboration and finances needed by multiple local governments and state regulators to construct the facility.
Council members and officials with the city public works department have agreed there is no other feasible option to continue Charleston’s recycling program other than taking it to Raleigh County. During discussion of the contract, Persinger said he would nix the program completely rather than continue to use the Raleigh County plant.
“We should really not offer recycling at all right now with this being our situation,” he said.
Persinger echoed the economic concerns voiced by the seven council members who voted in September against moving $115,000 from the city’s contingency fund to pay the facility’s fee until June 31. The city hauls about 50 tons per month to Beckley, reaching costs of around $8,750 per month, not including labor and transportation costs.
Persinger said the city should end its recycling program and put the savings toward building a new recycling facility in Charleston. A local recycling facility is one of many proposed projects being considered for American Rescue Plan funding. State Code requires municipalities with more than 10,000 residents to implement a full recycling program, regardless of how it gets done.
Council member John Kennedy Bailey, the city’s recycling committee chair, pushed back against Persinger’s argument that the city should stop recycling completely. The contract is only binding to Raleigh County, ensuring rates cannot be raised and the plant cannot refuse Charleston’s recycling until July 2022, he said. The city can pull out of the agreement at any time.
Council member Caitlin Cook said stopping a program, for what will likely be years until a new facility can be up-and-running locally, would not be in the city’s best interest.
“I think stopping recycling — it would be a detriment in the short and long term for our city,” Cook said. “I think it would be a huge misstep to pause the program, invest a lot in a facility here and then just ask people to start recycling again and think that it’s going to be a seamless transition, because it will not.”
Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said the city saw a “significant drop” in citywide recycling numbers following the six-month pause last summer due to the pandemic.