Sorting out recycling

Does Wake County get a volume discount for recycling? It seems to be able to handle recycling at half the cost as Orange County. Then again, Wake County is a little more than twice the area of Orange County (857 square miles compared to Orange’s 401 square miles), yet it has nearly seven times the population (952,151 vs. 137,941 in 2012). As any pizza delivery guy will tell you, you can go door-to-door more efficiently if all the doors are close together.

At a Town Council work session on Nov. 6, council members looked at ways to save money with recycling. Town staff made a PowerPoint presentation comparing curbside recycling services by Orange County, Republic Service, Waste Industries and Waste Management. The four entities each had a different scope of service, so deciding which offered the best proposal was not a simple apples-to-apples comparison.

The recycling system through the county that the town enjoys now is one of the best in the state, according to the Orange-Chatham Sierra Club. Town staff would like to continue the service as is. But town staff’s boss, Roger Stancil, recommended that the town sign a 5-year interlocal agreement with the county that gives the town more oversight and sets the stage for potential cherry-picking of services. That could make the services the town doesn’t contract the county to do more expensive. And some Town Council members – Mayor Kleinschmidt, Gene Pease and Matt Czajkowski, as long as we’re naming names – said, essentially, not so fast, relevant because council is Stancil’s boss.

Among council’s objections was that continuing to have the county handle recycling was a way to get town residents to pay for convenience centers that benefit county residents more. Convenience centers do have their own line item in the budget, so technically, that argument has little merit, though the more revenue the county brings in through curbside recycling, the more it has to spend elsewhere in the budget, including convenience centers.

The issue was further muddied by the county’s deadline of year’s end to take advantage of a $75,000 state grant toward purchasing recycling roll carts that the county says would induce county residents in particular to recycle more, bringing in more revenue. (The county is paid for the recyclables it delivers to a processor.) Saving recyclables from going in the trash reduces the volume of garbage and saves on landfill tipping fees. Roll carts are more durable than bins (saving on replacement costs) and have the capacity to allow recycling to be picked up every other week, instead of weekly (lower operating costs).

Expect the recycling issues to be sorted out at the Nov. 21 Assembly of Governments meeting.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 11, 2013

    Its hard to believe that the town couldn’t find substantial savings in recycling. Did they visit any of the Wake county towns who offer essentially the same service for a lot less money?

    Unfortunately, leaders have been fixated on waste reduction rates instead of costs. Now that the landfill is closed and the fees have been challenged, the county’s economics are in flux – and theres a lot of excesses.

    My biggest fear is that as the turf battles continue, citizens will continue to overpay for excesses and there will continue to be shortfalls for schools, reserves and a host of other challenges facing our governments

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  November 11, 2013

    My biggest fear is that anyone will listen to Bonnie Hauser on this issue. We have a model waste reduction and recycling program–acknowledged by state and national professionals. Waste reduction is not only the most socially responsible approach to take, but now that we’re having to ship our MSW out of county, it’s also the most fiscally responsible approach.

  3. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 11, 2013

    I have every-other-week recycling and it works fine for me. I bought my own recycling bins because I have only one county bin, and I installed a double garbage can in the kitchen, so that recycling takes no more effort than throwing something away.

    I didn’t understand from the article whether Wake’s recycling cost is half of Orange County’s total, or half the per-capita cost, whether Wake sends a higher percentage of its recyclables to its landfill, and if its recycling program is smaller or larger than Orange’s.

  4. Geoff Green

     /  November 11, 2013

    What Deborah said. I’d be interested in details of Wake’s recycling cost vs OC.

  5. Terri Buckner

     /  November 11, 2013

    Wake County doesn’t offer curbside recycling. Residents who live within a municipal boundary of Wake County get their curbside collection from the municipality. Their offices are closed today, so I can’t get any further details, but just looking at their website, it’s clear that there isn’t a good way to compare Wake and Orange County recycling programs.

    Can you share the information you used to make your cost/comparison Nancy? It isn’t in the staff presentation from last week either. In fact, what that presentation makes clear is that Orange County has been offering curbside collection for less than any of the vendors who responded to Chapel Hill’s RFP.

  6. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 11, 2013

    Fear not Terri – I didn’t mean to confuse you with the facts. As you know our award winning, model program is illegal and expensive.

    In Wake County, every town offers curbside recycling. Fees range from $24-$31 per year. Most have single stream. Wake county charges $20 or $25 per year – comparable to the Orange county’s $47 fee. Some towns have composite fees (trash/recycling/yardwaste pickup) for a single fee.

    Wake’s 11 convenience centers are open 7 days a week and are free.

    I don’t have data for multifamily housing. I’ve heard that neither counties or towns can force commercial customers to use govt services. This may apply to muiti-family housing.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  November 11, 2013

    If the RFP Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Hillsborough put out on the street was able to meet the $24 per year price, I suspect all 3 towns might want to consider separating from the county. But the prices quoted in the RFP are higher than what they are currently paying through the county. So what’s your point?

    Do you seriously believe convenience centers are “free?” They may not be charged for as a separate item on the tax bill, but they’re paid for someway and ultimately that means the citizens are paying.

  8. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 11, 2013

    The point is simple – for some reason, it costs a lot more for Orange County to do recycling, convenience centers, etc than it does other counties. Why?

    I don’t know why the vendor proposals came in so high – or what the differences are – but for some reason, Wake County towns have found ways to do recycling for a lot less money. Some towns use Waste Industries; some use town staff. So there’s no single right way.

    I’m sure Wake County didn’t spend $1.5 million on their convenience centers. I’ll add that Chatham has the same convenience center budget as Orange -but they run 12 centers open 6 or 7 days a week – Orange runs 5 centers open 3 or 5 days a week – (except for Walnut Grove -which is now open 7 days).

    Here’s another contrast. Raleigh just announced they are building a town operations center for $38 million dollars- similar to Chapel Hill’s $52 million facility. The diffence is that Raleigh is serving 500,000 people.

    There’s something very wrong with this picture and instead of congratulating ourselves for excesses, why not apply some critical thinking and try to do things better. That includes learning from others- about ways to improve efficiency and service levels, and to reduce costs.

  9. Terri Buckner

     /  November 11, 2013

    Pointing out differences in costs is not using critical thinking Bonnie. You’re trying to compare two programs based on cost alone without looking at the substantive differences in the services. It’s a gross misuse of data. If you want to make a ‘data driven’ recommendation for how to provide the same service at a reduced cost, then please do so. But if all you want to do is criticize based on surface level comparisons, you shouldn’t expect to be taken seriously.

  10. many

     /  November 12, 2013

    Oh Terri. There you go again. What in the discourse so far has violated your apparent misunderstanding of critical thinking, or were you just recycling the term because you heard it somewhere else?

    The first rule of critical thinking is not to jump to conclusions.

    The first step in Critical Thinking is Problem Identification, followed by a concise Description. How is an apparently significant difference in cost for the same basic service is not problem identification and description?

    The fun parts (Analysis and Hypothesis) are what is driven by the data that no one has posted yet. I looked at the facts before (2 years ago) and the major differences were twofold; 1) cost per ton recycled is lower in Wake (and other counties). 2) more tonnage per capita is recycled in Orange (I think Orange has led the state in the past and has been recently be surpassed by Cawtaba, Pitt & Dare?). 3) Orange county Solid Waste and Recycling has fallen behind in their adoption of technology and process and is no longer as good as you apparently think it is.

    Now the questions for the 11% of the population that actually pays attention and votes in Chapel Hill; The rest of you can go back to sleep:

    1) Does the additional cost justify the extra amount recycled per capita?

    2) Are there opportunities (redundancies) or decisions in the Orange County system that could lower costs and provide better services? (like an operations center for every town, or decisions stuck between logistics and social justice?)

    3) Are there technologies that could be employed that could lower costs and provide better services? (Orange counties reluctance to adopt singe stream recycling and Chapel Hill slowness to deploy curbside carts even after it became a proven and mainstream process comes to mind)

    The last part of Critical Thinking is Testing and Action. If you think Orange County does not need to discuss change and update it’s relationship with trash and recycling raise your hand.

    I thought so.

  11. Terri Buckner

     /  November 12, 2013

    Yes, let’s do identify the problem. Per Nancy’s post, Wake County offers a more cost effective program than Orange County does. What she should have said is that Wake County spends less on recycling than Orange County does. Those are two separate questions. Based on the following data, I think everyone will see that comparing Orange County Recycling to Wake County Recycling is not an apples to apples comparison:

    Does Wake County offer curbside collection for unincorporated areas? No.

    Does Wake County make the cost of municipal solid waste (convenience centers) and recycling transparent to citizens? No

    How many households are served at each of the 15 convenience centers Wake County offers? Wake maintains 15 convenience centers, serving 377,000 residents (Orange maintains 11, serving 59,000 residents)

    Does Wake County collect the same level of waste stream diversions (such as construction and demolition waste) as Orange County offers? No

    Does Wake County offer a commercial recycling program other than through its convenience centers? No

    Does Wake County provide recycling services to Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit holders? No

    Does Wake County provide collections at public parks or at special events? No

    What was the total tonnage of materials recycled last year in Wake County? 12.5K (compared to 16.6 in Orange for a significantly smaller population)

    Orange County collects 190.5 lbs/capita compared to Wake’s 117.6 lbs/capital. Orange County ranks 6th in the state; Wake ranks 21st.

    Now, please identify the problem for me.

  12. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 12, 2013

    Terri- the first problem is getting the data right -and there’s so much misinformation in your post -that its not worth addressing.

    The problem is simple. Why do citizens in other counties get better service at substantially lower cost?

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  November 12, 2013


    I’ll let the DENR staff know to contact you for the correct information. I’ll also notify Wake County that their reporting is incorrect. I suspect the Orange County staff already knows that you think you have better data than they do.

    One more data point for you to dispute:
    In 2012, the cost per ton of waste collected/processed in Wake County was $119. It was $86 in Orange County.

    I love my recycling service! Thanks to Gayle, Blair and all the rest of the staff who have devoted their professional careers to saving us from our own wasteful habits.

  14. Diogenes

     /  November 12, 2013

    So Terri,
    Do you have curbside currently? Will you lose it if towns go ahead by themselves since you’re in the Extragalactic Jurisdiction that doesn’t get the full value of town services? What’s your closest convenience site? Is there one in EGJ land?

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  November 12, 2013

    I don’t know if I will lose my current service–depends on what the county decides to do after the towns decide what they are going to do. But since I currently carry my regular trash to a convenience center (7–8 mile drive one-way), taking recycling too will be an extra nuisance but not a significant obstacle.

  16. many

     /  November 12, 2013

    “…now please identify the problem for me”

    OK. For beginners, it’s illegal. But beyond that fact the debate rages as to:

    Is curbside collection for unincorporated areas cost effective? No.

    Does the cost transparency of municipal solid waste (convenience centers) and recycling affect the cost/benefit? No.

    Is the number of households are served at each of the convenience centers Wake County a measure of efficiency or scarcity? Wake maintains 15 convenience centers, serving 377,000 residents (Orange maintains 11, serving 59,000 residents)

    Does Wake County collect the same level of waste stream diversions (such as construction and demolition waste) as Orange County offers? Not sure you can say yes or no, but they do use it to offset costs through tipping fees and it is illegal to dispose of it otherwise, so whats your point?

    Does Wake County offer a commercial recycling program other than through its convenience centers? No,………But so what? What is the cost benefit?

    Does Wake County provide recycling services to Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit holders? No………But so what? What is the cost benefit?

    Does Wake County provide collections at public parks or at special events? No. But so what? What is the cost benefit?

    I expect Wake did do the cost/benefit analysis above, the result being commercial, ABC and parks/special events are contracted out, supporting small business, creating jobs in the private sector and contributing to the tax base. I know this is painful to some but government is not always the answer.

    What was the total tonnage of materials recycled last year in Wake County? 12.5K (compared to 16.6 in Orange for a significantly smaller population).

    Orange County collects 190.5 lbs/capita compared to Wake’s 117.6 lbs/capital. Orange County ranks 6th in the state; Wake ranks 21st……….

    Could the above two items be due to Wakes decision to employ private haulers? BTW, this is a silly statistic. Orange county does recycle more per capita, that’s not in dispute. The question is why does that 61% cost +100% more, can it be done for less or is it worth doing it at all?

  17. many

     /  November 12, 2013

    “………..In 2012, the cost per ton of waste collected/processed in Wake County was $119. It was $86 in Orange County.”

    Does this include tipping fees? If so the cost for C&W disposal in Wake is twice the normal tipping fee.

  18. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 12, 2013

    Many – thanks for your help.

    lets not forget – that Wake operates 11 staffed convenience centers open seven days a week that collect a full cadre of wastes and recyclables (and hazardous wastes). Orange has 5 staffed centers and a bunch of recycling drop sites. Our centers are open 3 or 5 days a week. That’s a service issue.

    Wake County allows its towns to provide curbside services – and that’s what the statute expects. Governments cannot force commercial companies to use their recycling program (oops there’s that nasty statute again). I wonder whether the statute includes apartment complexes? Is it legal to charge landlords $47+$19 per unit for recycling.

    Orange County forces haulers to bring recyclables to its dated collection facility on eubanks Road – so the county can sell them. We could save money with haulers if we allowed them to sell the recyclables directly.

    I’d love ot see the towns take over recycling and extend service to the ETJ on a voluntary fee basis. I love the edcuational work that Muriel does – but cant imagine that the educational progams are meaningful in the county’s $13 million solid waste budget.

    There are other opportunities – but we have to decide that service, costs and value (thanks Many)are important.


  19. Terri Buckner

     /  November 12, 2013

    There are people who want to minimize government’s role in just about everything, but I’m not one of them. When it comes to the greater good of the whole, like recycling and waste reduction, education, public health, etc., I think that is exactly the role government should be playing. Bonnie and Many obviously disagree, and have twisted their “facts” around to justify their political beliefs. That’s their prerogative and readers will just have to decide which side of this issue they want to believe. Hopefully, the town leaders will decide to support environmental stewardship and keep our outstanding county program whole.

  20. many

     /  November 12, 2013

    Nice. Another pathetic knee jerk response. You do not dispute or address the questions asked, just labeling them “twisted” and asking thinking people to just accept your premise. I dispute your absurd attempt to claim “environmental stewardship” as the sole domain of government or the Orange County recycling or solid waste plan. To automatically assume as you do, that government does a better job or is somehow more responsible is just plain silly and not supported by facts.

    Your painting legitimate questions as a “us vs. them” political statement once again reflects poorly on your dubious claim to understand Critical Thinking.

    Hopefully the town leaders will make good choices with the available tax revenue. If there are good choices in the private sector then why not? If the town can apply lessons learned from some other program, why not? What is it that threatens you so much about understanding the service in the context of changing terms, conditions and requirements?

  21. Terri Buckner

     /  November 12, 2013

    I understand the Wake County services, Many. I had a long, detailed phone call about those services this morning, and the bottom line is that Orange County’s program is more comprehensive, removes more reusable materials from the waste stream, and accomplishes all that more cost effectively as documented by the data reported by both counties to the state. Neither of you or Bonnie has offered any evidence to the contrary–just your opinions that it’s bogus data. You don’t seem to believe recycling or waste reduction holds any financial or environmental value; it’s just about your tax bill camoflaged in the name of efficiency.

    If either of you was paying any serious attention to this issue, you would be asking why tiny, rural Pitt County is diverting more than twice the waste stream as Orange County is (they’re #1 in the state), but someone told you Wake is better so you just keep harping on it like a mantra. So I see no further value in continuing on in this thread.

  22. many

     /  November 12, 2013

    Yep. Go ahead and assign motives and thoughts you could not possibly know. It really makes your case for you.

    It was not lost on me that Pitt exceeds the mighty Orange County as do several other counties that have come up wit creative solutions rather than clinging to their old and dated accomplishments:

    But I expect employing inmates for a dollar a day would not work for you either…

  23. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 12, 2013

    Terri -you haven’t demonstrated that OC’s program is cost effective at all. You haven’t gotten past the illegal part.

    If you want the full picture in Wake, you’d have to talk to the towns. Its not a mantra – its a “comparative benchmark”.

  24. Geoff Green

     /  November 13, 2013

    The Midtown Raleigh News has an article on the City of Raleigh’s curbside recycling program, and among the facts that I found noteworthy:
    – Raleigh’s recycling is well below the national average.
    – Raleigh’s solid-waste department (which includes recycling) is subsidized by property taxes, so what Raleigh residents currently pay for waste disposal isn’t an accurate representation of the cost to provide the service.
    I do not know if this has been taken into account by Terri’s and Bonnie’s and others’ comments, so I don’t know their significance, but it appears to be relevant.

  25. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 13, 2013

    Geoff – its hard to tell. the majority of costs for Solid waste are curbside trash collection and disposal.

    Based on last years numbers, Raleigh citizens paid $92/year for trash collection and disposal. $31 for curbside recycling/$20 for base recycling. Zero for convenience centers (Total $140 a year plus some tax subsidy. The $140 includes $51 for recycling and onvenience centers )

    Chapel Hill funds trash collection and disposal via property taxes. Until the county retracted the fees to comply with statute – citizens paid $52 for curbside recycling $37 (now $47) for base recycling and $20 for convenience centers.. That’s $109 for recycling and convenience centers – plus some undiisclosed amount for trash collection and disposal)

    So Orange County residents pay roughtly double Raleigh -Apex and Cary look similar.

  26. Geoff Green

     /  November 14, 2013

    The “some tax subsidy” is a big missing part of the equation.

  27. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 14, 2013

    Yes- but its likely to show an even larger discrepancy. There’s no way that the numbers are close. Chatham’s profile is different and their population is smaller – but they too operate at a fraction of the cost.

    Consider this. Raleigh’s new $38 million town operations center will be spread over 500,000 people; Chapel Hills $52 million facility is paid for by 55,000 people

  28. Geoff Green

     /  November 14, 2013

    Again, it’s important to make apple-to-apple comparisons. The Chapel Hill facility also serves as the town’s bus operations and maintenance center. Raleigh’s does not. Raleigh’s new bus maintenance facility is a at a separate site, cost $28 million to build and opened a couple of years ago.

  29. Bonnie Hauser

     /  November 22, 2013

    Last night’s meeting didn’t quite sort out these issues. The town is asking good questions – starting with a 5 year commitment on fees. Its important since they compared the vendor prices to 2012 rates ($52 a year) and the county is now proposing a fee increase to $60 a year. That’s in addition to other fee increases for base recycling and convenience centers.

    Also – the town wants more transparency on the county’s overheads. Good question cause all the costs have started shifting since the landfill closed – and its hard to tell what’s baked into the fees.

    The county wasn’t prepared for the discussion – but this is exactly the pressure that’s needed on the sacred solid waste cow.

    It wasn’t discussed last night – but if the county continues to provide curbside recycling – the towns are prepared to authorize a fee. Hopefully that will end the discussion of a new, confusing district tax.