Updated March 5 2021 – The Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority has temporarily suspended drop-off acceptance of plastics (including bags) at both its Grapevine and Inwood locations.
Clint Hogbin, Chairman of the Authority, said that “our primary buyer of these materials has been operating at reduced capacity for months, due to a combination of Covid-19 restrictions, demand [for the products it manufactures] and equipment failures. We were hoping it would rebound, but we have 10 trailers at our facility full of plastics that we need to process and market before we can accept more. We typically process 100 trailers of plastics a year and we hope to reboot our process to handle that volume within our budget.” In the meantime, Hogbin suggested that residents could sign up with Apple Valley for recycling.
Private and municipal recycing pick-up services are not affected by this drop-off suspension.
The Road Ahead for the Berkeley County Recycling Program
Clint Hogbin has been focusing on trash and recycling for three decades. Looking back at how the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority has evolved over that time he noted that an early driver of its efforts was the “diversion of trash from roadsides. Picking up materials alongside the road is the most expensive way to process it. The markets for trash and recycling go up and down but the issues of waste disposal always need to be solved.”
The Waste Authority started plastic recycling in 2000. Southern Scrap in Winchester was the buyer, paying 2 cents a pound. In 2015, Southern Scrap gave six months notice that they would no longer accept plastic. Coincidentally the Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission had been looking to expand its work program of bundling and baling materials and a board member connected with Hogbin. He also found Trigon, a plastic re-processing company based in Newmanstown, Pennsylvania (just to the east of Harrisburg). By the time the next truck of plastics was full, Hogbin had an entirely new process in place.
Counting the Pennies
Hogbin noted that the recycling business is very attuned to the cost of transportation. Instead of being paid (by Southern Scrap) “we pay the Rescue Mission 2 cents a pound. But they are right here in Martinsburg so our truck doesn’t drive very far. If you look at Morgan County, they had the same issue, but it’s too far to haul the material to Martinsburg, so our approach didn’t work for them.” The local proximity also lowers the costs of curbside pickup services. Hogbin talked through the numbers — “if you have a truck on a route in the county picking up single-stream recycling, even if it can fill up and drive to Hagerstown it still drives back empty. Having the facility here allows us to separate materials and consolidate loads.”
Where to Put it Next?
Hogbin responded to the recent National Public Radio coverage of the economics of plastics recycling by focusing on the future instead of the past: In the past few years “the United States has had to face a transition in how we handle these materials. We used to bail it and put it on a boat to China. Now we need to process it locally. In the end, this transition can be a good thing, if we approach it as an opportunity for expanding employment, for expanding markets for the materials, and for pushing to clean up the materials. Look at the alternatives. Landfills typically operate for thirty or forty years before they are full, but then you have to monitor them for another thirty and keep mowing them after that. You can’t just let it turn into a field because that would risk something growing down into the liner. It’s a cost that is always there.”
“Demand from the customers will drive the market. It’s a culture that has to drive change. Look at Europe, they ban new landfills and they force the economics to work. You can look at the corporations that choose where they locate their facilities. A global manufacturer like P&G or Clorox will have a zero waste policy and they design their products and containers to recycle, looking at it as a product cost that needs to be controlled. The local community support and culture matters to them as they make decisions on where to invest.”
Hope and Change
Hogbin has no illusions about the current difficulties in making recycling programs work. “It’s struggling in West Virginia. The legislature has discussed increasing funding and they are auditing the grant programs. Our funding from the state has been effectively flat since 1989.” After the conversation with The Observer, Hogbin followed up with two pieces of news, the first evidencing support of recycling: the Charleston City Council voted to add funding to restart the curbside program in that city. Highlighting the challenges ahead was the news that the recycling facility that accepts Berkeley County’s plastic is seeing reduced demand for its products and has put a limit on how much Hogbin can ship. As he noted at the start of our conversation, the markets go up and down, but the need to deal with trash never really goes away.
The Grapevine Road Recycling Center at 111 Landfill Road, Martinsburg is open Monday to Saturday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (any WV resident can drop off household recyclable materials). For information about what can be recycled and special take-back events, visit the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority website.By Steve Pearson