WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — As beachgoers flocked to Wrightsville Beach Memorial Day weekend, many people may have noticed something missing: trash bins.
Bigger barrels with the town’s seal are still accessible, only further away in access lots before entering and leaving the beach. The change comes with the board of aldermen’s decision to enter a sanitation contract with Wall Recycling for over a million dollars.
Removing the blue cans from the sand has been an ongoing conversation for months, according to Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Timothy Owens. He said the town’s sanitation vehicles that frequented the beach to dispose of the trash would worsen beach erosion, a topic often brought up at weekly staff meetings.
The town’s system consisted sanitation crews emptying over a hundred barrels across the beach’s 44 access points every day, seven days a week.
“In order to dump cans on the beach, you have to be able to drive a truck and trailer down the beach,” Owens said. “This is just not possible due to erosion in many areas, particularly during high tide.”
Owens said some parts of the beach’s berm — tougher sand more conducive to driving — are no longer there, making it impassable for trucks.
Once the town made a final decision to go with Wall Recycling, Owens said, “trash cans that were on the beach had to be placed at the beach access points,” as Wall Recycling would not be driving onto the sand.
Wrightsville Beach Public Works Director William Squires, who is handling the contract, said at the March meeting beach trash pickup was a pitfall in the outsourcing deal. The company also is in charge of all residential waste disposal on the island.
“If we have a beach next summer, we can’t put blue cans back out on the beach because they’re not going to service the beach,” Squires said in the aldermen meeting.
The cans officially moved April 1. Residents were notified of the changes to its sanitation services through emails, which reach around 3,500 people. The town also posted it to Facebook, Owens verified.
One resident said he didn’t receive a notice and instead saw the missing beach cans during his daily walk.
“This is a huge failure by the town, as big as any in the past,” Todd Schoen said. “There is always trash now.”
Schoen said he picked up four grocery bags of litter over Memorial Day weekend.
Owens admitted the change may seem less convenient for beachgoers, but the town was doing the best they could under the conditions presented, which aren’t only environmental. The contract with Wall Recycling also was voted upon to help alleviate the town’s staffing problems.
During the March meeting, Owens said the main obstacle for the town to continue overseeing the sanitation needs of the island came in obtaining drivers. Three people with commercial licenses were needed to operate garbage trucks. As of late, he added, going through the process of receiving a commercial license has become more difficult due to changes at the state requiring higher levels of training.
“If three drivers dropped out of the sky right now, we’d probably be able to continue to do sanitation services,” Owens said at the meeting. “Though, I would be concerned about the future because of what they make and how they have to go about getting a license.”
Handing off the responsibility has come at a higher price. The town was spending $1 million on sanitation services. With Wall Recycling taking over, the town will need $1.8 million to provide the same services.
Owens cited a few sources where the extra money could be pulled from: increasing the storm water fee, sanitation fees, parking revenues and taxes all are options. Reserve funding could also be used to fill the gap initially.
“This year we’ll just see how everything goes,” Owens said. “This is going to be a learning curve.”
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.