Commissioners walk the ‘trash talk’ with new recycling plant

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New Hanover County Director of Environmental Management Joe Suleyman. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
New Hanover County Director of Environmental Management Joe Suleyman. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

Construction and demolition debris is about to have a new place to go.

A new 30,000-square-foot recycling plant designed specifically for those types of trash was unveiled Thursday at the New Hanover County Landfill on U.S. Highway 421.

The facility, which is part of the county’s ongoing efforts to improve waste management and extend the life of the landfill, is the result of many years of discussions and meetings.

“This project marks an important milestone for this department, and really, for this county,” New Hanover County Director of Environmental Management Joe Suleyman said, noting that construction and demolition debris made up 30 percent of the waste stream at the landfill. “We wanted to really take seriously what it meant to preserve the life of a landfill … We want to make sure we have capacity for this county and its citizens for generations to come.”

New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Beth Dawson agreed, acknowledging the work of previous boards, some of which included current state representatives Ted Davis and Rick Catlin (who were both present Thursday).

“The remaining space and life of our landfill remains a concern,” Dawson said, citing the county’s small land size and continuing population growth. “Your county commissioners have been ‘talking trash’ for decades.”

According to Suleyman, though the $1.8 million facility just began operations, it is already diverting 100 tons of debris a day from the landfill.

“The system is really running, at this point, at 30 percent capacity, so we have tons of room to grow,” Suleyman said. “This system behind me here will [process] 60,000 tons [annually].”

Previously, construction and demolition debris was dumped into the regular landfill, where workers would have to manually sort through the piles and pick out what could be recycled. Now, with the new separate dumping area, sifter and conveyor belt that brings loads of trash up to a sorting area, a team of workers can filter up to 30 tons of material per hour in a more efficient, less labor-intensive way.

Workers man the conveyor belt at New Hanover County's new recycling facility. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Workers man the conveyor belt at New Hanover County’s new recycling facility. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

“As we see our economy improve and our construction industry flourish, this facility will help New Hanover County remain a leader in recycling and integrated solid waste disposal,” said Dawson. “This facility and the [materials recovery facility] recycling center up the street are two tangible examples of how your county commissioners are committed to preserving the natural resources of this coastal community and how we balance new development with protecting our environment.”

The MRF, which was built in partnership with Sonoco Recycling and is located south of the county landfill on Highway 421, has been open since July 2015. It is the only such facility in southeastern North Carolina and serves Pender and Brunswick counties as well as New Hanover County, processing 25,000 tons of recyclables annually. Last week, a new wastewater treatment plant that can process 75,000 gallons per day was commissioned at the New Hanover County landfill. It uses state-of-the-art ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis to treat the water, putting the finished product above state and federal standards for processed wastewater. Since 2013, the county has also had a household hazardous waste and electronics recycling program to keep such items out of the landfill.

The three programs, along with the new construction and demolition area and a yard waste recycling program, have made New Hanover County one of the leaders in environmental management in the state, according to county officials.

“This is innovation at its best,” said County Manager Chris Coudriet. “We are improving the environment, but we’re also expanding the life of the landfill.”

Even as new facilities have been built and improvements made to existing areas, Commissioner Rob Zapple pointed out one other benefit to residents.

“Throughout all of this, we’ve been able to drop the tipping fee down from $59 to $50 a ton [over recent years],” Zapple said. “This has impact savings to every person’s pocketbook, to every business. This is huge, all while investing in this equipment and [these facilities] … We are at the cutting edge here in New Hanover County.”