Local trash haulers criticize island recycling, pickup plan

Efforts to be more environmentally conscious could save Hilton Head Island residents some green -- but at the expense of some local trash haulers.

Town staff is recommending approval of a franchise agreement with Republic Services Inc. for residential waste and recycling collection islandwide. The quarterly fee to collect trash and recyclables would be less than what many trash haulers now charge, even when they're picking up only trash.

At least one company owner, however, says contracting with one company would mean a loss of business for him and other private haulers doing business on the island and could lead to layoffs.

The town received six proposals for recycling and waste collection as it considers a mandatory residential recycling program that officials hope to start early next year. The staff narrowed the list to two vendors: Republic Services and Waste Pro.

The town's Public Facilities Committee will meet Thursday to consider which vendor to recommend to the full Town Council. The agreement would next go before the Town Council for final approval Sept. 21.

Either vendor would give residents options for how often they want trash and recycling picked up.

Homeowners would pay $62.40 every three months for twice-a-week trash and once-a-week recycling pickup with Republic. Once-a-week trash and recycling pickup would cost $55.05 a quarter, according to the company's proposal. Republic's rates would increase no more than 2.25 percent a year, based on fuel prices, according to the proposed five-year contract.

Waste Pro would offer twice-a-week trash and once-a-week recycling pickup for $80.59 every three months and $77.59 for once-a-week trash and recycling service.

Other private waste haulers on the island currently charge more for collection -- from $80 to $130 a quarterfor twice-a-week trash and once-a-week recycling pickup for single-family homes -- according to a phone survey of Waste Pro, Waste Management, Inland Service Corp. and Dorado Services. Once-a-week trash and recycling pickup for single-family homes ranged from $77 to $101 a quarter.

Once-a-week pickup of trash alone for a single-family home costs $105 every three months through Waste Management.

Under the town's proposal, residents could opt out of the trash and recycling pickup service but would have to haul their garbage and recyclables to a county-owned convenience center. Islanders who already have recycling contracts could continue to use those companies for up to 18 months.

Town officials have said residents' participation in voluntary recycling has been poor. The town, which prides itself on its protection of the environment through strict development rules, has been criticized for not having a recycling program.

"The goals has always been to be able to provide a real, comprehensive, true, effective recycling program that will cost citizens less than what they are paying now for just trash service," said Town Councilman John Safay. "The only way to do this is for the town to grant a franchise to one key carrier that will do this for us."

The plan excludes commercial properties, condos and other residential complexes where trash is placed in bins. Town officials said service for those places will be addressed later.

The town's decision would mean some local haulers lose business.

Brian Leonard, co-owner of Coastal Waste Services in Bluffton, said he and other waste haulers that provide service to the island may have to shed 30 to 40 jobs.

"If they go this way, they are inhibiting small business," Leonard said. "They should leave it the way it is. They should leave it as a free market."

And not everyone would save money, he said, because his company provides free recycling to about 7,000 homes on the island that opt for the service. He declined to provide a list of the company's rates or the costs included in its bid to the town.

Leonard said the company was rejected because it didn't get a performance bond -- issued by an insurance company or bank to guarantee a contractor's service -- as required by the town.

Leonard said it is difficult for a small business to get a performance bonds in the current economy because issuers are afraid of potential failure. But Leonard believes that in a slow economy, the town should help small, local businesses.

Sarah Skigen, the town's natural resource associate, said a performance bond was required because the town needs to be protected should a hauler fail to complete its contract.

Going with a franchise hauler would increase efficiencies, improve air quality and reduce road wear and tear,Skigen said.

"Those are huge benefits to the town," she said. "Should layoffs have to happen, we hope that would be offset by the need for Republic Services to increase staffing to handle the increased business they will have on the island."

Art Smith with Republic Services said the company expects to hire an estimated 20 people to work in the community to handle the new business.

Charles Cousins, town director of community development, said Republic was selected because of the low cost to residents and compatibility with the town's "green" goals. The company also offered to provide customer service representatives to assist town staff during the roll-out period. Cousins said special consideration was also given to the company's on-going recycling-education campaign.

He said staff chose Sonoco Recycling over Waste Management to process recycled material collected because it was "cleaner and more financially friendly."Processing recyclables involves sorting them, then breaking them down so they can be reused for glass, plastic, paper and metal products.

Waste Management processes recyclables for Beaufort County. And, if chosen, the town would have to negotiate with the county to receive rebates on collected recyclables. Cousins said Waste Management could also charge the town for processing, depending on market prices for recycled materials. Sonoco, however, offers a rebate of $18 per ton of recycled material collected.