Phasing out convenience centers will save money and future headaches, Beaufort County solid waste manager Jim Minor told County Council members Friday at their annual retreat.
Minor pushed bringing curbside service to unincorporated areas and urged the county to build a new recycling and transfer facility.
Convenience centers, he said, might not be able to handle future growth. The current sites already accommodate about 130,000 visitors a month and run 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Additionally, Hickory Hill Landfill, where the county dumps its waste, has an expiration date. A 2010 fact sheet from the Daufuskie Island Conservancy says the Ridgeland site could reach capacity in 13 years, but Minor said it might have as few as eight years of useful life.
"When the economy comes back, do you think growth will?" Minor asked. "I think so. When it does, how are we going to handle that? Am I going to build a convenience center next to your house?"
Municipalities hire private contractors to provide curbside trash collection, while many who live in unincorporated areas dispose of their garbage themselves at one of 11 county convenience centers.
The county then pays to transport trash about 30 miles to Hickory Hill at a cost of about $135,000 a month. The county might have to travel as far as 100 miles to sites in Charleston County or North Charleston if Hickory Hill closes, Minor said.
"We as a county will always have to pay another entity to dispose of our waste, and I can bet you it's going to cost more tomorrow than it does today," he said.
The more waste that's diverted from landfills through recycling and reduction, the less it costs taxpayers, Minor said. He hopes that at some point, convenience centers can be closed on Wednesday and operate 10 hours a day, six days a week. Some recycling programs, such as electronics and shredded paper, have been successful. However, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control estimated in 2010 that only 20 percent of county residents recycle.
A recycling and transfer facility would provide a one-stop shop for drop-off, special waste handling, recycling and waste transfer, Minor said. With the facility, select convenience centers could be closed and the money now spent there could go toward getting trucks to begin county-wide curbside collection, he said.
The council discussed finding a property for such a facility several times throughout the rest of the day's work session.
The panel will discuss priorities for 2012 when the retreat continues today.
Follow Anne Christnovich on Twitter at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.