The City of Charleston will continue to truck curbside recyclables to the landfill until further notice as the processing facility in Raleigh County used by the city remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of citizens have expressed concerns to the city about where their recycling was going, which were addressed Tuesday during a city Environment and Recycling Committee meeting.
The Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority has been closed since early April for employee and product safety concerns. Charleston and South Charleston have taken their recycling to Raleigh County for the last six years after the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority stopped accepting single-stream, or all-in-one bag recycling, due to crippling costs.
Charleston’s recycling trucks have continued to pick up recyclables during the pandemic, but those bags have been going to the landfill, public works director Brent Webster said Tuesday.
Jered Lanham, the city’s deputy director of refuse, said while he scraped all the recycling logos off the city’s trucks to deter confusion, residents have recognized the trucks and their crews and have called the public works department wondering where their bags were going.
Lanham said the city has kept the recycling trucks in use because additional volumes of trash on city garbage trucks would likely have crews out past 5 p.m. trying to finish their routes.
The public works department is advising residents to store recyclables if they do not want the bags to go to the landfill.
Also, the Kanawha solid waste facility on Slack Street has reopened and is taking recyclables, but residents must sort the materials in different bags or they will be thrown away. The facility accepts paper, #1 and #2 plastics, cardboard, scrap metal and aluminum and metal cans.
Recycling committee chairman and city councilman John Kennedy Bailey said Tuesday the city has been waiting for a start date from Raleigh County on when recyclables can be accepted again.
“We were hopeful that they wouldn’t be closed that long,” he said. “That closure has gone on longer than we anticipated.”
The city hoped recycling could return by Aug. 17, Bailey said, but the indication is now the closure will go past that date.
The committee, however, is also weighing its long term relationship with the Raleigh County facility.
In early June, Webster and other city workers met with operators in Raleigh County about a possible reopening. He said the facility is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars by accepting recyclables for free and may have to start charging municipalities by the ton.
The facility calculated that Charleston delivered nearly 658 tons — priced at $261 per ton — of recyclables to Raleigh County during the 2019-20 fiscal year. While the city was billed $0 for that amount, the facility estimated it lost $171,425 from Charleston alone, Webster said.
Raleigh projected a total loss of $724,000 from all of its partners across West Virginia, Webster said.
“They seem to appreciate the partnership, but they’re losing money and they’re looking for other ways of doing business — so the door’s still open with them — we’re still in discussions,” Webster said. “For us to continue to participate, they may have to ask us to pay.”
Since recycling in Raleigh County may no longer be financially feasible, Bailey said the city may be forced to go another route moving forward.
“If they indeed intend to start charging us and other municipalities, then we’re probably going to have to take a new fresh look at everything we’re doing,” he said.
Jane Bostic, special assistant to the Mayor’s office, said MSW Consulting will soon begin its study on recycling in Charleston. City council approved a $35,000 contract on July 6 to conduct a recycling feasibility study with the firm.
The study should be completed by the end of October, Bostic said.
“They’ve been tasked with basically reviewing everything that we’re currently doing in the city — look at our budget, look at where we’re taking it, looking at other opportunities,” Bostic said. “But it’s also exploring what other cities are doing; cities that have similar demographics, populations [and] budget to see if anyone’s doing it better than us.”
The study will help determine, among other things, whether trucking recyclables to Raleigh County is the best option, Bostic said.
Bailey said currently the city makes about 10 trips a month to Raleigh County.
Also Tuesday, the recycling committee discussed creating a “Green Team,” made up of residents to advise the city administration on recycling concerns and to look at sustainability and cost-cutting measures. The current proposal is for a seven-member group.
“I’d just like to see some way to have the community involved,” Bailey said.