This is part 2 of a multi-part series of articles that explores the intricacies of recycling on Hatteras Island, from the initial drop off at the transfer station in Buxton, to the final transition into new materials. To read part 1 of this series, see https://islandfreepress.org/hatteras-island-features/recycling-on-hatteras-island-diy-at-the-buxton-transfer-station-and-recycling-center/.
Every day, Americans use 60 million plastic water bottles, and according to Earthday.org, It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. These are numbers too great to even imagine. They represent the disposable nature that our culture has become accustomed to.
It wasn’t long ago that glass bottles were the prime delivery for beverages. Some states had a 5 or 10 cent deposit that encouraged consumers to return them for a refund. Ten states still use this deposit system so that the glass can be recycled and reused.
Plastics, however, continue to proliferate our product packaging to the point now where it is difficult to intentionally avoid it. The severity of the problem of single-use plastics is obvious in coastal communities, which see them billowing along the beaches much as tumbleweeds would out west. Once in the ocean, they are consumed by fish and other wildlife. There was a brief ban on plastic bags in the Outer Banks, but they are now everywhere again.
Recycling programs became the fix to the problem. With grassroots efforts, businesses and communities began taking the extra steps necessary to recycle their waste. For some of us, it was a cleaning and sorting procedure that admonished fellow household members for their errors and left us digging through old cottage cheese containers which had a “2” on them and were mixed in with plastic bearing a “5.”
Thankfully, single stream recycling became an option, and we could just toss commingled recyclables into one recycling bin. There were still some no-no items–like pizza boxes and Styrofoam–but the process was so much easier.
Contamination became the next hurdle in the recycling game. Then, China stopped accepting many countries’ “trash” as there was so much waste –even more than the product they could reuse. The whole industry crashed, and Hatteras Recycle, our lone recycling private business, dissolved. The reason was basically that diapers and pool noodles continued to contaminate their containers, and made it impossible to profit in that business.
Recycling, to some degree, still exists on Hatteras Island. We have the Buxton Transfer Station and Recycling Center, which is competently run six days per week. The employees there work to ensure items are sorted properly, and head off to the appropriate destination.
The process works well, according to Shanna Fullmer, Director of Public Works for Dare County. “Nothing at Buxton gets rejected. People go in during normal operation hours and none gets rejected.” Because the center in Rodanthe is unmanned and corrupted with much household trash, most if not all of the waste deposited there is garbage.
Unfortunately, the definition of the word “recycled” is not what most people will expect. “Plastics and steel we used to separate because we could get paid for it. Now, we pay for it to be taken away,” she explained.
The single stream dumpster which takes plastics, metal, and aluminum is hauled off and sent to Bay Disposal and Recycling in Norfolk where it is incinerated, for energy. Other items, however, are recycled in the traditional way.
“Clean cardboard can still be recycled and we are currently paid $75-85 per ton. Mixed load paper and cardboard earn about $35 per ton,” Fullmer explained. This is one of the county’s revenue sources–in addition to tax dollars.
Keeping waste out of the landfills is the priority. Fullmer explained that to incinerate the comingled, the county pays $120 per ton. The landfill is the cheaper option at $94 per ton, but also has limits on what is acceptable.
Every item in the Buxton center goes to a specific and planned location. “Glass is repurposed. Tires are recycled. All appliances and metal we get paid for, but Freon must even be removed first,” she said.
According to Fullmer: Tires are transported to Cameron, N.C. to a tire recycler. Mattresses are not recyclable and go to the landfill in Bertie Co. Motor oil is picked up by Noble Oil Recycle Co. Batteries go to DART Electronics, which is stored in Manteo, and processed for pick up by ERI, an electronic recycling company, about three times per year.
Glass goes to the crusher in Manteo, she said, which is offered free to all local communities, and is then available for free to county residents.
“Plastics and metal, which we used to separate and sell, we now pay to get rid of,” she said. The State of N.C. requires by law that certain things like electronics are kept out of landfills.
At this point, keeping items out of the landfill is the bottom line. Even incineration is a preferable result to land or waterway pollution.
For those of us who have meticulously separated, cleaned, and transported our plastics, metal, and aluminum, this information is defeating. The costs of recycling are now higher than basic landfill disposal. The future of these programs remains in doubt.
The current recycling structure is worth it, but only if people stick to basics, she explained. At least we know where all the products go. But is it worth what we are doing?
According to Fullmer, “Yes, it is worth it. The bottom line for those of us living where we live on the Outer Banks [is that] we just have to stick to the basics. We know some items are truly recyclable, and we know where the rest is going and what is happening to it.”
We also know Dare County is not ocean dumping and polluting waterways. Said Fullmer, “The state did a really good education program on this, but it all comes down to: When in doubt, throw it out.”
While Hatteras Island, Manteo and Kitty Hawk follow this basic waste disposal model, Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills have their own town programs. Are they working and worth it? We’ll explore this question further in the next installment.