April 8,  2008

ISLAND PEOPLE….Todd Phillips is the man who envisions island-wide recycling by 2009


There were days he probably felt like he was on an episode of “Dirty Jobs.”  Loading and unloading bottles, cans, and papers on a humid summer day is not an easy day’s work. But for Todd Phillips, it is almost a labor of love.

Phillips began Hatteras Recycle in 2007 with a grant from the North Carolina Department of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance (DPPEA).  His goal was to develop a small business to collect recyclable products through a curbside service to local rental houses.

With nearly 90 percent of rental homes on Hatteras Island scheduled and supervised by a property management company, getting their buy-in was critical.

In 2007, Midgett Realty in Rodanthe stepped to the plate, giving their homeowners an “opt-out” provision.  This meant that homeowners had to actively request not to participate in the program.

The grant helped pay for the truck and insurance costs.  The weekly fees covered the remainder of expenses, but this is generally not a money-making venture.

The project began with a little over 150 rental homes in the Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo area, nearly all managed by partner Midgett Realty.  Several homeowners with Outer Beaches Realty also participated.

Overall, the program was received well, though there was some resistance among some homeowners in the Mirlo Beach area who complained of the “unsightly” green bins.

The volume collected each week was astounding.  Nearly every week in the summer, the bins at the Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo recycling center were filled to capacity.  Plastic water bottles and beer cans and bottles were the largest culprits.

“We are literally getting hundreds of bottles and cans per house,” reports Phillips.

It is not surprising since Americans dispose of 2.5 million water bottles every hour.  

Fortunately, the Dare County Public Works Department’s Recycling Program cleared the mountains of bottles.  Extra trips were made to keep the local recycling center clean and open for more business.

“I give the county a lot of credit for really improving their service,” comments Phillips.

Carl “Tom Thumb” Walker, coordinator of the Dare County Recycling Program, was glad to provide the service.  

“Any time we have extra runs, it’s a good thing.  We’re keeping it out of the landfill,” he responded.  Walker notes that despite the additional cost of fuel, landfill space is at a premium as well.

The state also took notice of all of that potential trash and its diversion.

In August, Matt Todd of the DPPEA came for a site visit to check on how well the state’s money was being spent.  

“He was blown away by the amount of recyclables per house,” says Phillips.  The volume of the 150 houses was similar to that of 1,000 homes in a regular residential area.

Phillips attributes the large volume to two factors:  the larger sized “homes” used by multiple families for vacations, as well as the “vacation factor” – convenience foods and drinks readily available in plastic to avoid wasting precious time washing dishes or cooking regular meals.

Despite the relatively small number of participating homes, Todd “was very impressed with the participation,” says Phillips.  Todd remarked on how neighboring houses would leave garbage bags full of recyclables next to the green bins.

DPPEA left a few suggestions for improving efficiency next year.  Phillips has implemented several and is working with Dare County on others.

First, he has begun using larger containers on the truck for the sorting and collection from the street-side bins.  

Second, he is working with the county to have the recyclables “co-mingled.”  This means that only paper would be separated from the aluminum, glass, and plastics.  

Building on early success, Phillips is moving forward with his vision of island-wide curbside recycling by 2009.

In 2008, he will purchase an additional truck and begin servicing the Avon homeowners of Midgett Realty.  Sun, Colony, Outer Beaches, and Hatteras Realty have all encouraged their homeowners to participate through a voluntary “opt-in” process.

“Participation is the biggest hurdle,” Phillips remarks.  

Many homeowners are reluctant to pay an additional fee during tight financial times.  Realty companies are often disinclined to add a third-party service.  

Asking visitors to pay through an increase in the rental rate creates a debate in the market if a majority of property management companies do not participate in the program.
Phillips disagrees with this view on two fronts.  First, he has talked to a lot of visitors while collecting all of those bottles.

“Visitors have less resistance.  In a larger home, it averages to a little more than fifty cents per person for a service that is convenient and saves them a lot of aggravation [of going to the recycling center].”  

In addition, Phillips and Walker note that most visitors hail from areas with convenient curbside recycling, so they are trained to recycling and often feel guilty for throwing away recyclable materials.

If you are out working on a Saturday or Sunday, you have seen the overflowing trash cans at the curb.  

“The trash problem is a recycling problem,” reflects Phillips.  “Getting them [visitors] more large trash containers discourages recycling.”


Not recycling not only gives the county a poor image of overflowing trash, but it costs the government money as well.  Phillips worked with the Regional Waste Authority to calculate the tonnage of waste from Hatteras Island in 2007, as well as its financial impact.

His results showed 2,372.8 tons (4,745,600 pounds) of solid waste were dumped between June and August, which is 1,583 tons more than the rate from January to March (789 tons).  In short, peak tourist season produces twice as much solid waste as a base residential rate.  With tipping fees, transportation costs, nearby landfills being depleted and nearly 50 percent of the waste available for resale at $40/ton of mixed recyclables, the cost to the county of not recycling readily exceeds $100,000 each year.

Walker and the County Public Works Department are looking at many options to expand recycling.  

“I think we have a good group going on down here,” he remarked.  “The thing about Todd [Phillips] is that he is a year or so ahead of everybody else.”

The county is currently considering options to service local businesses to meet a new state law for restaurants and bars to recycle.  Included in the options is a materials recovery facility (MRF) that would be built in Manteo.  An MRF would permit restaurant owners to place all aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic, and glass containers in one dumpster.  Staff at the MRF facility would then manually sort the recyclables which would be “baled for sale” on the open market.

Walker is awaiting a final decision by county leadership to assure that local businesses can meet state requirements.

In addition, Public Works maintains its commitment to increasing recycling across the board, and it is considering long-range options, including curbside recycling service.

“Recycling is definitely increasing here [in Dare County],” reflected Walker.  “I would never count it [curbside service] out.”

In the interim, Phillips hopes the community will continue its growing support of recycling by residents and visitors alike.   Phillips and volunteer Carol Bauer helped start a convenience centers at Village Grocery in Avon.  Phillips is looking for help to set up a similar site in Hatteras village.

Vision is a great thing.  It increases your own determination, and it often inspires others.

“We are on track to be island-wide by 2009,” Phillips reflects.  “And that will be a great thing for everyone.”

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