ongoing crisis with U.S. recycling markets came home to roost this fall
when Hatteras Recycle was informed its tipping fees would go up 600
percent as of December 1.
have had a bombshell dropped on us,” said Greg Mitchell, manager at the
company. “This is not just a localized thing. This is [happening] on a
getting over the shock when receiving the October 10 letter from Bay
Disposal & Recycling in Powells Point, he said, the company – which
services about 1,500 rental properties and 300-400 local residences -
has resolved to review its options and find a solution before their
program resumes on Easter week.
had some really good conversations with the county,” Mitchell said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have some answers after the first of the year.”
Phillips, who launched Hatteras Recycle 13 years ago, said he had just
secured sale of his company when he learned of the price spike.
I saw that tipping fee . . . that’s like hitting a wall,” Phillips said
this week. “It’s triple the national rate for what garbage is. I was
like, ‘How can this be?’”
then reached out to the state and county, which were facing similar
challenges on how to address the steep price increases for
recycling. From those discussions, he came to believe that the
issue can be addressed in a practical way by going back to basics.
“Here’s the unpopular truth about this – single stream recycling doesn’t work, “ he said.
throwing recyclables in the same container, he said, it has resulted in
either more processing to make the product marketable, or so much
contamination that the recyclables have to be thrown out at the
as it turns out, contamination – especially with glass – is a major
problem that needs to be reversed to solve the current crisis.
Phillips explained, the price spike to dispose of recycled materials in
the U.S. is a direct consequence of the Chinese government cutting off
imports of recycled materials last year, leaving no market for American
haulers to dispose of the product. A big reason for the Chinese
rejection, he said, is that much of the plastic material is
contaminated, although some believe the 2017 release of the documentary
“Plastic China,” a searing expose of the Chinese workers – including
children – picking through mountains of filthy plastic garbage, may
have caused the closure.
gave the U.S. a year’s warning, but everyone was asleep at the wheel,”
he said. “The mantra we’re going with is [that] we have to take a step
backward to move forward. We’re taking the glass out. We’re going to
re-educate our customers: Do not contaminate the stream or there will
not be any more recycling.”
Recycle now has new owners, Peter and Beth Eady, who are relocating to
Hatteras Island from Wilmington next week. Phillips, who recently moved
near his family in Cape Cod and lives part time in Waves, said he has
retained a financial stake in the company and plans to remain active in
keeping it viable for the community.
its 2018 season, from Easter until Thanksgiving, Hatteras Recycle
collected 425 tons of material, Phillips said, which translates to a
savings of $30,000 in landfill tipping fees. For that reason, he
said, Hatteras Recycle is hoping to work out an arrangement with Dare
County that would credit the company for a portion of those savings, in
turn off-setting the increased fees for disposal of recyclables.
going to re-focus on banned materials - aluminum, steel, plastic
– that are not allowed in the landfills,” he said. “We’re providing
these services to keep them compliant.”
said he has also proposed finding a volunteer crew to staff the county
recycling drop-off center in Rodanthe. If the county would allow
volunteers, Phillips said he would be seeking locals who would be
willing to chip in the time in order to have the convenience of not
having to travel to the Buxton site.
Fullmer, Dare County public works director, said that the county
doesn’t have the same issue with co-mingling its recyclables. It has a
glass crusher that saves on transport costs for recycled glass. The
county also uses a compactor for recyclables – aluminum and steel cans,
plastic bottles, paper and cardboard.
crushed glass, she said, is available for free to the public, who use
it for garden mulch, arts and crafts, and as a component of driveway
“Dare County isn’t in as rough shape as other places because we’re already separating these things out,” she said.
July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018, Fullmer said, the county collected
1,557.29 tons of recyclable materials, 4,900 pounds of household
hazardous waste, 6,600 gallons of motor oil, 560 gallons of anti-freeze
and 29 to 30 tons of electronics.
said the county has been negotiating with Bay Disposal about fee
adjustments and is working on solutions to help Hatteras Recycle. It is
also partnering with the state on a consumer education program to
foster better understanding of what’s recyclable, and what’s not.
state has actually been very involved and very supportive and proactive
in working on finding a solution,” she said. There may be grant
opportunities available, or the possibility of having a regional MRF
(material recovery facility) provided to help sort the recyclables. The
idea, she said, is to keep contamination at a minimal.
“That helps bring the prices back down, and you’re getting the cleanest possible product to market,” Fuller said.
Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the nonprofit Carolina
Recycling Association has started offering “anti-contamination”
workshops to local governments, waste haulers and recycling service
providers, said Mike Greene, recycling business development specialist
for the state Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer
are also published online, he said, including social media strategies,
brochures and advertising methods to promote “a common set of
“We’re relying on the local communities to do the outreach to their people,” Greene said.
reality is that China needs the recycled material, he said, and the
U.S. has the means and the will to provide clean material. In
addition to limiting contamination at the source, there are plans to
improve operation of MRFs. There is also speculation, he said, that
warehouse-like facilities can be constructed at different areas of the
country to process and pack pre-cleaned material to send to China.
year, there were 17,000 private industry recycling jobs in North
Carolina, Greene said, and it is an important and growing sector of the
“I think we’re re-building recycling the right way,” he said.
even at a small scale, Phillips believes that Hatteras Recycle, which
has provided 8-to-10 good jobs, is an important contributor to the
community. Plus, he said, the tourists expect to be able to recycle.
Recycling is also a necessity in maintaining a clean environment,
especially when landfill space is limited.
is a way forward – reeducation and finding local end markets,” Phillips
said. “The whole shipping into China - it was fast and easy, out of
sight, out of mind.”
there is a huge demand, he said, for clean plastic waste, which is
reused in manufacturing (although plastic grocery bags “are a
nightmare,” he added.) Recycling needs to adapt, and businesses like
Hatteras Recycle are an important part of the solution.
“I’m going to be completely involved with this for the foreseeable future,” Phillips said.