The majority of Macon County residents are breaking the law when it comes to trash disposal.
The list of items that are now banned from landfills and transfer stations in the state is long. While it may be hard to keep up with all of the requirements, and even harder to make sense of the legislation surrounding what should be recycled and what can be bunched together, it is the law.
And in North Carolina, banned landfill items essentially also makes recycling the law.
North Carolina State Law G.S. 103A-309.1(f) states that aluminum cans and plastic bottles are not allowed in the trash. The law uses a lot of technical language that essentially prohibits these items from being taken to your local landfill.
Specifically, the law states: -- G.S. 130A- 309.10(e) prohibits manufacture or sale of rigid plastic containers made from plastic resins, unless labelled with the triangle-shaped recycling symbol, and numbers 1-7 indicating which resin it is made of. Containers smaller than 8 ounces or larger than 5 gallons are exempt.
-- G.S. 130A-309.10(f) lists materials that cannot legally be disposed of in a landfill. Number 6 on that list is aluminum cans, and number 11 is the list of rigid plastic containers required to be labelled in subsection (e) above.
Without the option to legally dispose of aluminum cans and plastic bottles in the county’s landfill, the only feasible option left is to recycle.
“While Macon County, and the state do not have mandatory recycling or percent diversion rates (etc.), they have banned many items from landfills and transfer stations in the state,” said Macon County’s Solid Waste Director Chris Stahl. "So, these bans sort of act like mandatory recycling regulations.”
This legislation is not new, but without convenience center attendees ripping open your household garbage, the law is a tricky one to enforce. According to Stahl, plastic containers that have a pour spout smaller than the body of the container were banned by the Solid Waste Act of 2007. The same bill banned wood pallets, used oil filters, oyster shells, and laid the groundwork for the later banning of computers and computer equipment and televisions. “Most of these bans are not due to the hazardous nature of the wastes, but rather, the state felt that the infrastructure existed in North Carolina to recycle these wastes instead,” explained Stahl.
In order to be in compliance with the law and to support the ban, Stahl explained that Macon County provides recycling opportunities (Convenience Centers, Materials Recovery Facility, Recycling Processing Center) for these and other banned wastes. “How we handle them vary by waste type,” said Stahl. “For example, wood pallets: We have not landfilled wood pallets for years. We place them in our yard waste grinding area, and use the resulting mulch as an alternate daily cover in the landfill. This displaces the need for additional dirt in the landfill, and thus, counts as recycling.”
Electronic waste (e-waste) is another example. Macon County was already recycling ewaste at a recovery building before the law was enacted. “These wastes are required to come to the landfill anyway, so we put them on pallets for shipment to a recycling company rather than put them in the landfill,” said Stahl. “So the public really didn't see any change in requirements due to the ban.”
Before state legislators enacted the ban, Macon County was only recycling plastic soda bottles and milk jugs. “We have now added all plastics (#3-#7) to our recycling program as mixed rigid plastics,” said Stahl. “This ban is the easiest for the public to ignore. While we encourage and accept all plastics now, we do not go into individual's garbage bags looking for random plastic containers. We wish that all plastics were recycled, but we are not and cannot try to catch every container. The ban is viewed sort of like the aluminum can ban that has been on the books for decades; we don't want to landfill bulk amounts of the containers.”
Because it is so difficult to monitor all the trash that the county takes in, Stahl and his team have implemented programs to catch any pieces of plastic that fall through the cracks. “One of the things we do here to bump up the recycling of plastics is to recover them at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF),” Stahl explained. “When we see plastic containers or any plastics, we recover them from the waste, and place them in recycling bins. 'See' is the key word, as, again, we do not go into bags, largely because of privacy issues, but also because we don't have the time.”
Plastic is not the only item Stahl and his staff watch for. They recover numerous additional banned items at the MRF. “Last year we recovered over 475 tons of materials that were left for disposal and not recycled by the public,” said Stahl. “Over the past year, we have added two new commodities to the list of items we recover at the MRF. Carpet and padding, and mercurycontaining lamps and switches. As with some other items, like e-waste and pallets, we do still charge a fee for disposal of these items because we are not paid for them by a recycler. In fact, we have to pay to have them recycled in some way, plus we try to help fund the recovery operation through the collection and sometimes sale of the items. Even cost losses, like the carpet and padding, have the benefit of preserving landfill space, so the benefit is there even at a small loss.”
Not only is recycling the law in North Carolina, it helps reduce the amount taxpayers are having to spend to maintain local landfills. Macon County is on the brink of having to do a complete overhaul of the county’s landfill and it stands to cost taxpayers a significant amount of money. Following the proper recycling guidelines and only packing landfills with items that are permitted by law, will help reduce the space and capacity needed to maintain these types of facilities.