Recycling bins not coming back to Raleigh County Schools

Sep. 29—Citing rising fuel costs and a decrease in price for recyclables, the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority has chosen to end part of its School Recycling Program, which started nearly two decades ago.

Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority (RCSWA) Executive Director James Allen said they lose roughly $150,000 annually recycling materials put into their recycling bins at schools.

Sherrie Hunter, the director of education and marketing for RCSWA, said she notified the Raleigh County Board of Education in August via a letter that the RCSWA would not be bringing back its recycling bins to the school for the coming year.

Hunter said recycling bins were initially removed from Raleigh County Schools in March 2020 when Covid hit and sent most students home to learn virtually.

During a Raleigh County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, board president Larry Ford brought up the letter they received from Hunter as well as concerns regarding the end of the recycling program.

"I'd like to see us, the board, put a committee together or something to see if there's some way that we can save this program," he said.

Other board members then chimed in saying what a good service the school recycling program provided not only to the schools but to the community as well.

Board member Richard Snuffer then brought up the question of why the RCSWA said the program was too expensive when their recyclables can be sold for a profit.

He added that the Raleigh County Board of Education also pays the RCSWA $10,000 a year to run the School Recycling Program. That $10,000 allocation is part of the excess school levy.

In an interview with The Register-Herald on Wednesday, Hunter and Allen explained the reasoning behind ending the School Recycling Program, which dates back to America's Recycling Day in November 2001.

As part of the program, recycling bins began popping up at Raleigh County Schools until eventually every school in the district had its own recycling bin. Since its start, 6,026 tons and materials have been recycled.

Another aspect of the program is school tours, which offer a chance for students and teachers to see operations at the E. Paul Barley Recycling and Education Center and learn about the work done by the RCSWA.

Hunter said the tour aspect of the School Recycling Program will remain.

To operate their entire School Recycling Program, Allen said the RCSWA loses roughly $150,000 annually.

He added that most of that expense from the program comes from the cost associated with picking up and processing the recyclables placed in the school bins.

Additionally, Allen said they often have to expend extra labor when incorrect materials are placed in the bins.

In 2019, Allen said they collected more than 900 tons of materials from school recycling bins. Of that, they were able to recycle roughly 475 tons while the rest had to be sent to the landfill.

"If you take one person that comes in and throws their trash in (the school recycling bin) or throws motor oil or whatever, then it completely contaminates the whole load and it has to be disposed of in the landfill," he said. "So not only were we losing the cost of the landfill value ... we were losing about $150,000 annually on the program."

With so much time and energy being expended on a program at significant cost to the RCSWA, Allen said they are simply not able to continue the program as it is.

He added that the $10,000 they receive from the excess school levy is a "drop in the bucket" compared to the overall cost of the program. He said that money will still be used to pay for lunches and staff during school tours.

Hunter said they provide lunch to every school that comes to tour their facilities, which costs them roughly $7,800 a year.

Hunter said she sent the letter to school board members hoping they could talk about changes that could be made in order to bring the program back.

While such a meeting has not taken place, Hunter said she did receive a call from Ford shortly after sending the letter. Other board members as well as Raleigh County Schools Superintendent David Price expressed an interest at Tuesday's board meeting in speaking with RCSWA about the recycling program.

As a whole, Allen said it costs $675,000 to run the recycling program for the county, which also receives recyclables from Fayette, Nicholas, Wyoming and Summers counties.

The overall expense, he said, includes the cost of the school program, recycling collected from businesses and recycling dropped off at the center, which is all done at no cost to the community.

To pay for the recycling program, as well as all other operations, Allen said they rely on the fees collected from the landfill. He added that those rates were recently increased from $41.75 a ton to $47.03 a ton.

Of that fee, Allen said $8.25 is taken off and sent to the state as part of the State Solid Waste Assessment fee.

The last time these rates were increased was 1989.

Allen said roughly 120,000 tons of waste are taken to the landfill each year from residents, businesses and municipalities in Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Wyoming and Summers counties.

Given the new rate, and subtracting what goes to the state, the operating budget for the RCSWA is roughly $4.6 million.

Of that, between $600,000 and $700,000 was used for the recycling program, Allen said.

Back in 2017, Allen said they were able to get back a significant portion of that expense from the recyclables that were shipped out to recycling mills on the East Coast.

Allen said roughly $370,000 in revenue was generated in the materials they recycled and sent to mills in 2017.

While the program was still operating at a loss overall, Allen said the loss was "palatable."

"When I say palatable, no one ever wants to lose that, but that was the normal," he said. "That's what we felt we were paying as a county government agency to promote recycling, to educate and to do the right thing."

However, after 2017, the finances became more challenging with the business generating $260,000 from recyclables in 2018 and $150,000 in 2019.

Allen said those numbers have only gotten worse since the start of Covid in 2020 and coupled with the rising fuel costs, expense cuts to the recycling program had to be made.

He added that they try to hold on to some materials when the markets are down in order to get a better price, but they only have so much storage space in the recycling facility.

In addition to cutting back on the School Recycling Program in Raleigh County, Allen said they also stopped picking up recyclables at businesses for free.

"We only had X amount of dollars to work with because we're self-sufficient here and with this growing deficit (for recycling), it started getting to the point of 'Is it going to cost jobs and operations? Is it going to eventually shut down the landfill if we keep going at the pace that we're going right now?'" Allen said.

While the School Recycling Program is too expensive to operate now, Allen said that if changes are implemented or if prices for fuel start going down and prices for recyclable materials start going up, they could restart the program.

Despite changes to the program, select recyclables can be dropped off at the recycling center at Fernandez Drive at no charge.