Hilton Head Island's Town Council listed commercial recycling as a "moderate priority" for this year, but lawmakers could prompt the town to move it up the list.
The state Senate has passed a bill that would require restaurants and bars that serve alcohol on site to recycle glass containers and other recyclable material that too often end up in landfills. A recycling plan would be part of the licensing process.
To soften the financial impact, the proposal exempts businesses that can show recycling would cost them at least 14 percent more than their current solid waste disposal. Businesses with a plan that includes recycling glass containers would get 10 percent off permit or renewal fees for eight years.
But the short-term costs of recycling pale in comparison to the long-term costs we all face due to landfills that are filling up too quickly. Beaufort County Council's goal-setting retreat in February included warnings about the future of Hickory Hill Landfill, where most of the county's trash ends up, and the escalating costs and complexities of dealing with our trash. Jim Minor, the county's solid waste manager, said the landfill's useful life could be up in eight years.
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Reducing the amount of commercial trash in the waste stream, especially from the hundreds of restaurants and bars in the county, could have a significant impact on extending the landfill's life. In the summer of 1994, a trial recycling program at the island's four oceanfront hotels resulted in 57 tons of recycled glass, paper, cardboard and cans. If all the island's hotels and motels had participated, it was estimated that 1,000 tons of materials could be removed from the waste stream annually.
The key to the success of this idea is to get the cost of recycling in the range of what it costs to have the stuff hauled away and dumped in a landfill. If local governments can help do that, they should.
Hilton Head certainly improved its residential recycling rate with its new trash hauling and recycling program. Between April and November 2011, an average of about 125 tons of residential recycling was collected per month, according to a report on the new program. Compare that to an average of 31 tons per month that haulers collectively reported before the town's franchise agreement with Republic Services.
The town made residential household recycling simple, consistent, and for many homeowners, cheaper. If it can help do that for commercial centers, hotels, restaurants and bars, the "green" label Hilton Head aspires to will have some real meaning.