County poised to privatize our innovative recycling program?

As Terri Buckner describes in her commentary in yesterday's Chapel Hill News, we could be seeing the end, as we know it, of our very successful recycling program in Orange County.

Some will say that since the county has already privatized recycling in the urban areas, this proposed expansion to county residents should not create any concerns. But if all recycling in Orange County is privatized, the current system is effectually dead, including all the outreach and education, the goodwill recycling and composting at public events like Hog Day, the dedicated staff constantly seeking new markets, and the service to both school systems that has always been handled by the county. In other words, we'll be left with the same kind of recycling program that everyone else in the state has.

In 1997 as part of the state's required plan, we adopted a goal of 61 percent waste reduction. We're just a smidgeon away from achieving that goal (59 percent). We've accomplished something amazing, something worth fighting to protect.


Orange County has made great strides over the last couple of decades in increasing our recycling, particularly as compared to the rest of the state. What could this new plan, proposed by our county manager, Frank Clifton, mean for the future of recycling in Orange County? 



Before they go recklessly tearing down something that has been optimized over time. 

Folks - please be careful with your facts. Today the county has 2 recycling programs. The base program that provides the education and other services that are driving the reycling rates will not change. Every household pays $37 a year for the programWhat's under discussion is the curbside recycling program - which has 3 flavors -urban, rural and multifamily. As the CHN reported, the program violates state statutes.  So the county has a legal issue. The urban weekly program is perfectly legit - except the county is not sanctioned by the state to run it. An easy fix would be for the towns to sign a contract authorizing the county to operate the program on their behalf. The county has been asking for the contract for years - but the towns haven't come to the table. The rural and multifamily programs are different - but they can be fixed too. The mutifamily operators can contract with any of variety of vendors - (including Waste Industries - who runs the urban program) - to pick up their recycling. The rural program is different - and right now, most of us (about 3/4) are using the convenience centers. I'd like someone to ask Waste Industries to add the ETJ and others to the weekly urban program? It has to be voluntary -but there's probably enough dense communities -especially in the ETJ - who would be happy to pile onto the weekly program and pay the $52 a year. There's no justification that I can see to introduce waste franchises - which just adds a fourth fee for services that no one wants or needs.   Please don't make the manager the boogey man here. There are important legal, operational, and fiscal issues that are facing the county now that the landfill is closing. The service model is changing but there's no reason to adversely impact the recycling performance of the county. (eventhough you wont be able to reliably measure it after the landfill closes- and the towns go their own way)Bonnie Hauser

There is a single recycling program in the county. That recycling program is paid for through a combination of 2 fees. One fee is an availability fee and every pays the same amount for it (and everyone pays it). Counties are allowed to assess availability fees, so I think that is what Bonnie is talking about being legal. The other fee that every pay is the collection fee. The amout of that fee is determined by whether you are rural, urban or multi-family. Since some county residents don't have access to curbside pickup, this is the portion of the 3R that could be challenged--counties cannot charge a collection fee to anyone who cannot use the service.Together these two portions of the 3R fee pay for the recycling program, including the collection service, the bins, education, the outreach, and the administrative overhead which includes the data collection and reporting.

Could this have anything to do with the fact that Frank Clifton does not seem to get along with our solid waste manager Gayle Wilson? I really don't know, but someone did suggest this to me and it doesn't seem inconsistent with the manager's MO. Wilson has been so successful, it seem like a bad move to get rid of him now.


answer is no toCould this have anything to do with the fact that Frank Clifton does not seem to get along with our solid waste manager Gayle Wilson? 

is that there is no data offered that supports one method or the other in terms of environmental impact. This is consistent with Clifton's policy suggestions over the years. They seem to be garden-variety short-term financial gain ideas that don't take a wholistic approach. In these times of financial stress, that stuff gets play. But we have to keep our eye on long-term sustainability. We don't need a Cumberland or Onslow County perpsective, we need an Orange County perspective. We've worked hard to implement a different vision than mediocre "county management 101". We need the BOCC to grab the reins and hire a manager that is in tune with what we've pursued and accomplished in this County.

Lets try again - even if you want to ignore all the issues around the the landfill closing, there is a legal issue with the curbside recycling program.  The county is not allowed to have a mandatory fee - so since most (about 2/3rd ) of the county folks don't want it, the county cant force them to use it.  The towns haven't done their part either. For the county to continue to operate the urban curbside program, the towns need to give them a contract - especially now that the ILA terminates when the landfill closes. The county has been asking for a recycling contract for years - and the towns haven't come to the table. So why should the county continue to invest its capital assets if the town doesn't want to commit to the program. All the education and support services - other than curbside collection are unaffected and if the towns gave the county a contract, I"m sure the county would reconsider.  Here's the legal discussion Hauser

One portion of the 3R fee structure, the portion that pays for the collections, may be deemed illegal, but the recycling program itself is not illegal. Let's please use our words accurately. 

How was it determined that 2/3 of the rural county citizens don't want the fee and attendant collection services? 

county numbers  5000 of the 21000 rural citizens use curbside trash services; 8000 use rural recycling (eventhough 13000 pay for it)Bonnie Hauser

So these 5000 pay a private company for trash pick-up? Where do they live? Are they outside the county's collection zone?

The 5000 are in the unincorporated part of the county.  Everything from the ETJ to Western Park Lane and Efland.  The estimate is from the county's solid waste plan Closer to town, you'll see lots of Waste Industries and Republic trucks. out further, you'll see the small companies (Elfand Trash, Johnson Trash and a host of others)Bonnie Hauser

If possible please be kind for the benefit on readers trying to educate themselves about issues to define your acronyms. Writers often assume everyone knows what they mean but in reality many don't. Computer people are notorious for this. A good general rule is if you use an acronym define it the first time you use it.Thx 

Sorry amoose.  Yes acroynms are one way to undermine public discourse.Extra Territorial Jurisdiction - is the joint planning areas on the town boarders which have been targeted for future annexation.  They have a unique designation where the town controls zoning but the residents don't vote for town officials. In Orange County, ETJ residents are in Chapel Hill/Carrboro school districts.  This was the topic of a recent donnybrook between the county over fire service. (discussed at length on  The town is unhappy that the legislature took away their rights for forced annexation  - and now is considering taking away the ETJ designation completely.Were there any other acronyms that we abused. Bonnie Hauser

There are really 4 3R collection fee structures, not just 3 as I reported earlier. Every owner of developed property in Orange County pays the basic fee ($37) annually. That fee covers the 5 drop off sites, electronics, dry cell battery, and mercury collections as well as household hazardous waste. Outreach efforts are also included in the basic fee. In addition to the basic fee, there is an annual collection fee of $52 for urban residents (weekly curbside), $38 for the ~13,000 rural residents who get bi-weekly curbside collection, and $19 for residents who live in multifamily (more than 4 units) complexes. And for those ~6,000 rural residents who do not receive curbside collections (like Bonnie), there is NO collection fee, just the basic fee. That last option is the information I left out of my CHN column.Some recycling/diversion is paid for through portions of the tip fees collected at the landfill for municipal solid waste (MSW). With the closing of the landfill, those waste streams (yard waste, white goods, tires, scrap and demolition/C&D) along with some of the administrative fees and maintenance costs that are currently shared between recycling and MSW, will need to be paid for through the 3R basic fee. So the basic fee, the one paid for by every resident in the county, will be increasing due to the landfill closure. The collection fee structure is where the legal challenge could be issued. Since the recycling program is 100% self supporting, the county, taking a cautious legal approach, is looking for an alternative approach to paying for the $1.7M collected annually from the rural, urban, and multi-family assessments. In terms of municipal recycling, the county holds the contracts for municipal curbside collections. That relationship was established through an interlocal agreement (ILA) that will also have to be modified when the landfill closes. The ILA is currently structured so that the county operates the landfill and all aspects of the recycling program, and the municipalities collect and deliver their own MSW to the county landfill. Under the county manager's franchising proposal,  the county would issue a franchise for recycling collection in the rural areas (those 20,000 who currently get curbside collections and those that don't), and the municipalities would be offered the option of joining that franchise or establishing their own separate recycling contracts. Either way, it leaves some holes. For example, the state requires all establishments that have an ABC license to recycle. Those businesses currently pay only the basic fee--no collection fee. I hope this helps and doesn't add to the confusion. From my perspective, this is a financing problem. The goal should be to determine how we maintain our current program and it's incumbent success but with a slightly different financing approach. I don't know the political issues that are being faced by the commissioners nor do I understand all the legal ramifications resulting from the Landvale v. Cabarrus County case. But I *hope* I speak for a large majority of county residents who do NOT want to see major changes to our recycling program. If you agree, please write to the county commissioners and ask them to save our recycling program intact.

This breakdown of how the fee structure works was really helpful. And I think your assessment of the issue is spot on. I'm open to hearing about different ways of paying for the program, but dimishment of recycling services to any part of the county is unacceptable.

Terri - this is a good summary. There's another tiered fee $20 rural/$10 urban/$2 multi-family - for the convenience centers.   Unless it changes, the county had plans to double that fee over the next few years plus continue to use taxes to fund the centers.  Since 44% of recyclables are captured at the convenience centers, its an important part of the recycling system. Of the 13,000 people who pay for rural curbside recycling, about 5000 dont use the service, or use it occassionally.  Part of the problem is the county will have to give these customers the opportunity to opt out. Its unclear how many, if any will.  OTOH - the county may have the option to put households who want curbside service on a weekly schedule and pay a higher fee.  Some of us feel that the fee system is confusing and services (and fees) are duplicative. Once there's an opt in/opt out feature, it will be easier for people to know what they are paying for.  Ideally - the county will simplify the entire thing to improve visibility and transparency.  The county's original proposal (on March 7) was to establish franchises for waste and recycling - where you'd have to use the county's selected vendor for both.  One speaker raised the concern that some households only want recycling - not garbage collection- especially if they are heavy recyclers/composters.  If a recycling-only option is offered via the franchise.  it may be attractive to a lot more people. I have no idea what the towns are thinking about waste franchises. Of course if the towns move to a waste franchise (and fee), it frees up ad valorem tax funds (is that a tax increase? - if trash collection shifts from a town tax to a county or vendor fee).  Since the towns are transitioning too, its a good time to look at this option.For a small part of the rural community (probably 1000-2000 families, maybe  less), the franchises don't work.  These folks - many elderly or disabled  - want curbside service but can't get their garbage bins down long gravel roads and driveways.  For curbside services, they rely on small companies like Efland Trash Services, who go right to the door and pick up trash and recycling. Its highly personalized and the companies use small pickup trucks and trailers rather than large garbage trucks.  We will advocate for a way to allow these companies to continue to operate  - since they provide an essential service that the large haulers can't duplicate.  Plus they are local businesses and we want to support them. There's likely to be 10,000-15,000 rural families (out of 21,000) who continue to use the convenience centers - which is the primary waste and reycling resource outside of the ETJ.   I doubt they will want to add $250-$350 to their budget for trash collection -so their decision to opt into a franchise will depend on whether they can just do recycling collection.  Most will probably be quite happy with the convenience centers  - especially now that they are open on Sundays! Bonnie Hauser

An email I sent 3-11-13 to the Carrboro BOA:Dear all,My reason for encouragement of the SWAB to be activated is in part prompted by the way in which the county is moving forward with their manager's recommendation for a subscription based franchise program.  It is clear that there is need for an intergovernmental working group or as a minimum a solid waste advisory board, for public input and intergovernmental coordination, as we wrestle with issues transitioning post landfill and in response to other unnamed legal issues (?) that are triggering further changes by the county --now putting us on path to dismantle and further privatize our excellent Orange county recycling program.  We cannot wait until after a new inter-local agreement is made to convene the SWAB, by then there may be nothing left to warrant such a group, we will have waited to put the horse before the no-cart.While the privatization process that the county has begun at their manager's request is for the unincorporated areas there is good reason to assume that the county's recycling program is currently integrated to a degree and that changes in some aspects may have effects on other aspects (incorporated recycling).  The county has allowed for the manager's option to move, setting a public hearing for April 23rd on this option.  To appease most of the public's comments, questioning allowing this process to begin without any exploration of why the change is needed and much less what alternative options may be, during their March 7th meeting the commissioners compromised by scheduling an April 9 worksession to explore alternatives and the underlying cause for the claimed need for change.  To me this is putting the horse before the cart, again.If the county really must initiate options for good reason and because time is running out then they should initiate all options, so that when they are ready to make a decision, they will have the preferred option positioned and in place; more realistic would be for an assessment of the fact that perhaps given current funding constraints and timings relative to the closure of the landfill and 'recent state level court decisions', we may need an extra-ordinary funding stream  to maintain our excellent program while the best decision is developed with enough time.  If the land fill closure funds need to be drawn down to maintain our recycling program because current funding for the program is found to be illegal, perhaps the county needs to consider a better stop gap measure such as a county tax increase until a better option is found (after all money out of our pockets is money out of our pockets, no matter which way you take it out.)  The current county recycling program is strongly supported in our county and highly valued.  I encourage everyone to look at the Orange County commissioner March 7th meeting curbside "unincorporated area public hearing setting" agenda item, initiating the process towards privatization ( ). The manager's proposal and the strength with which it is challenged by the public but at the same time unfortunately the weakness in support of the public from the board makes me think that this is what a manager run County board and meeting looks like.David, could you please find out what the status is of the single stream recycle bins that at our last AOG meetings we were all very clear in wanting to move ahead on (and that I thought the county was going to move on)?Also Mike, could you please provide a brief including your read on the recent state level court decision that the county is responding to, there is not much to glean from the commissioner meeting.--Sammy 


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