It’s a common practice that Columbia County’s recycling program took off with seven years ago after closing its landfill, and their efforts are now expanding because of popular demand.
In partnership with local garbage collection provider Precision Waste, one of the county’s recycling facilities on William Few Parkway is nearing completion on a structural addition that will allow dump trucks full of clean, sorted recyclable materials to be dropped off at the site.
“We are really excited about the amount of material that they will be bringing us because it will increase our material flow by at least 65 percent,” said Jenny Hinson, the county’s green programs manager.
Hinson said that the recycling program is not a revenue source for the county and that its sales of recyclable material on the open market typically see a return of about $55,000 each year. But with the new partnership with Precision Waste and the influx of materials it will bring in, Hinson said she expects that number to double, allowing the program to almost break even.
“What we do is we use that money to help sustain the program,” Hinson said. “Recycling programs are not going to be multimillion-dollar money makers for anybody. It is a service that is provided, so there is going to be that cost, but what we do is we try to offset that cost as much as we can. That’s why we make sure that the value of our commodities going out is as high as it can be.”
Precision Waste founder Robert Alan Wilson said the partnership with the county started when Hinson reached out for a service to haul recycling bins from the county’s schools.
Wilson said they began providing that service to the schools after they had started their own internal move to offer recycling services to their customers in Columbia County. Wilson said they received feedback from a customer survey showing a need for a legitimate recycling program in the county.
“A lot of what we move is just garbage, but we are really pushing recycling particularly in Columbia County because we have a lot of families that have moved here that have lived in other places of the country that had really great recycling programs,” Wilson said. “Part of Jenny’s mission is to increase recycling awareness in Columbia County, and that fit really well with our growing business.”
Wilson said that after Precision Waste began offering customers the choice to opt in to recycling collection services, the positive response was immense.
Over the past two years, Wilson said, Precision Waste has seen a dramatic increase in its recycling subscriptions – from 50 homes in Columbia County opting to receive the recycling bins, to today where more than 6,000 homes separate recyclables from their garbage.
For Wilson, the agreement with the county now provides Precision Waste a nearby facility to bring the sorted, clean materials they collect from their customers.
“That’s where our interest and the county’s interests came together,” Wilson said. “Because our recycling material that we collect right now goes to a transfer station in Richmond County. That is then taken all the way to Columbia, S.C., to be processed, so the carbon footprint is pretty high if you think about it.”
In order to facilitate the massive influx of recyclables Hinson expects at the William Few facility, Precision Waste contributed $10,000 of the $32,275 needed to build the addition. Wilson said the company also agreed to purchase sorting and other equipment that will help the facility’s staff.
The expansion comes seven years after the county moved to a recycling program that started as a few containers behind the procurement department’s building.
“When we closed the last portion of the landfill, we knew we had to do something to accommodate for that trash, and instead of opening another landfill we decided to move into the recycling realm,” said Hinson, who was tasked with starting the recycling program. “We started polling the general public on what they wanted to see happen. We compiled all of that and then realized there was a need for the recycling services in this area. So we built the drop-off location on William Few.”
Hinson said that the facility on William Few Parkway was still not constructed until another four years later to handle the influx of recyclable materials that residents were dropping off.
“We have just exponentially grown that program from those few little containers behind procurement to where we are today,” Hinson said. “Seeing that growth in such a short amount of time is really great for a program of our size.”
Hinson said plans for growth with the county’s recycling program will not stop with Precision Waste.
“We have seen this huge influx of residents coming in and they’re coming from different municipalities and they’re used to that really great program and we want to be that really great program that they talk,” Hinson said. “So we are always looking for something new to add, always looking for a new commodity to add, always looking for a new service that we can add, to make it that great recycling program that somebody is going to wish they had when they move on.”
For both Hinson and Wilson, recycling is a matter of responsibility and necessity.
“Recycling does decrease landfill space, whether it is in Richmond County’s landfill or whatever landfill. We like to see those landfills maintain a larger life span, and by recycling it does help with that,” Hinson said. “The generation that’s coming up now with our children, they’re a very reusable generation, I have noticed. They’re always looking for a way to reuse something. It’s really being taught more than what it was whenever we were growing up.”
Wilson said that the popularity and success of the recycling program in Columbia County was the catalyst for the city of Harlem to contract out its garbage services to Precision Waste, adding more than 1,900 houses to Precision Waste’s customer base who are offered recycling services.
“I don’t own a landfill. I pay landfill fees, but I would much rather be able to take material to be recycled than to go to a landfill. That helps me,” Wilson said. “From an industry participant perspective, our garbage companies and waste management companies in general need to always be able to achieve a balance between convenience for a consumer and the right thing to do for the environment. So I kind of view it as more my responsibility as an owner in this industry to have viable options and set up our business as such that we can give the consumers options to recycle.”
Find a complete list of approved recyclables at www.columbiacountyga.gov/how-do-i/recycling.