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Ask Matt ... where does all the trash and recyling go?

Abraham Lawson, plant manager of Curbside Management, stands in front of plastic bales. Abraham Lawson, plant manager of Curbside Management, stands in front of plastic bales.

Q. Where do all the items end up that are taken to the Henderson County’s Convenience Center on Stoney Mountain Road?

Let’s start with the easy one — household trash. The mostly black bags in the first open metal bin are added to the other trash that local haulers bring to the county’s transfer station next door. It all gets trucked 76 miles to a landfill in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. The landfill operator, Republic Services, has a contract with Henderson County. Currently we pay them $38.50 per ton, a rate that has grown only 12.6 percent in 10 years. Our own local tipping fee of $60 per ton has held steady for five years. Per Henderson County officials, about one third of that fee pays for hauling, which averages about 30 tractor trailer loads a day.
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The Convenience Center’s popular “single stream” recycling bin accepts paper, plastics and metals, while glass goes in a separate bin. It all goes to the same place — a state-of-the art materials recycling facility just north of Asheville operated by “Curbie” (Curbside Management Inc.). Inside the facility is an assembly line that uses mechanical, air pressure, fiber optic, magnetic and hand sorting methods to separate recyclable items and eliminate contaminants. “Everything but glass can be bailed and when we reach 40,000 pounds of an item, we can load it on a truck,” said Nancy Lawson, Curbie’s co-owner and a former fast food restaurateur. “Paper is a big item and we typically ship out 45 truckloads every day.” What falls on the floor next to the assembly line, items such as plastic bags, wood, or food waste, ends up in the Buncombe County landfill and gets charged back to Curbie’s customers.
Headshot of Nancy Lawson
“Ninety-five percent of what we get goes back to end users,” said Lawson. “Those users must be in a six-hour radius or the value becomes unprofitable.” Cardboard may go to Virginia or South Carolina and is used to make more cardboard. Mixed paper goes to Alabama and ultimately may end up in India. Aluminum goes to a huge plant in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, that makes more aluminum cans and sheet metal. Atlanta gets all the glass but plastic bottles can go almost anywhere. Steel cans, now very profitable, get melted down in Pennsylvania.
Lawson would not directly name who buys their materials after sorting. For the bales of plastic one trader could be Sonoco Recycling in Hartsville, South Carolina. Palace Stepps, who heads the company, spoke about the two plastics easiest to recycle. He buys recycled soda and water bottles (PET #1) and ships them to Plant City, Florida, where they become new plastic “clam shell” food containers. Sonoco also buys heavier plastics (HDPE #2) that were once milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles. “Milk jugs are a prized commodity today,” said Stepps. “Right now the market price for neutral colored milk jugs is twice that for colored bottles.” After processing, HDPE items can become drain pipe, lumber, picnic tables or more heavy bottles.
Single-stream recyclables and household trash aren’t the only things the county’s Convenience Center handles. There is a used motor oil tank which is collected by Enterprise Oil in Knoxville, Tennessee. Enterprise analyzes it and then processes the oil for use as an alternate fuel.
Interstate Batteries collects old lead acid batteries for the County but we were unable to learn where they take them. Interstate does however make some new batteries in Mexico that uses recycled lead. Grinding up and recycling the plastic and the more valuable lead in car batteries is a dirty process which can easily be viewed online.
Stoves, refrigerators and other appliances are picked up by Commercial Metals Company (CMC) and trucked to Spartanburg where they are fed into a giant high-tech shredder that sorts the different types of scrap metals. CMC boasts a recovery rate of almost 100 percent. The metals go to steel mills and foundries, including CMC’s own mill near Columbia, SC. End products are steel rebar, ingots and sheet metal.
Photo Scrap
Used cooking oil is gathered by Blue Ridge Biofuels (BRB) and refined in Newton, near Hickory. “Water is our enemy so we heat the tanks to remove it,” said co-owner Mac Minaudo,” who pays the County about $0.50 per gal for contaminant-free oils. “We are a craft brewer of an alternative fuel,” he said. “We are three companies in one – collection, production, and distribution.” The end product goes into heating oil and diesel oil.
In 1990, North Carolina banned scrap tires from all landfills because they can rise to the surface and damage the protective cover. Henderson County tires are collected at the Transfer Station and sent to Liberty Tire Recycling in Concord. After screening, about 15 percent of them go back to the used tire market and the rest are ground up and used as a boiler fuel additive. Truck tires can become crumb rubber used in road building. “Our business is good now,” said B.J. Kirby, Liberty’s general manager. “Those stimulus checks were a boost for us with a lot of people buying new tires.”
The glass bottles that get dumped in the open bins at the Convenience Center end up in the Strategic Materials Inc. (SMI) plant outside Atlanta. SMI crushes the bottles and jars and removes the corks and lids. Next a conveyor moves the shards of glass, now called “cullets,” through an optic sorter that separates the glass by color – clear, green or amber. Typical end products are new glass bottles and jars, paint, road materials and insulation. “Atlanta has both bottle and fiberglass manufacturing facilities but Georgia residents alone can’t meet the supply,” said Laura Henneman, SMI’s VP. “So we depend on North Carolina for recycled glass.” Henderson County ships more than 200 tons to SMI each year. “We love your state because of your ABC laws,” said Henneman, referring to the 2008 law that requires bars and restaurants to recycle beverage containers. photo
Don’t toss out those old sheets and blankets yet. Textiles are now accepted at the Convenience Center in a easy to use drop bin. Green Zone Recycling, a Durham-based company, pays a nickel a pound for clothing and, yes, shoes. Used textiles may end up as clothing, insulation, or carpet padding. Most shoes are re-used. Photo
Your old electronics find their way to a Charlotte plant named EcycleSecure. “We first remove ink cartridges from printers and batteries from laptops, then they can be broken down for raw materials.” said company VP, Brett Rhinehardt. “Hard drives retain value and copper wire is very profitable but old timey CRTs (picture tube TVs) are a headache,” he said. “By law, tube TVs can’t be landfilled and they cost us money to recycle. And nothing goes to China anymore since they established the ‘green sense’ policy,” added Rhinehardt.” In 2018, China also stopped taking paper and plastic from the US and Europe.

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