A desire for islandwide recycling trumped concerns about poor service and harm to local hauling businesses Thursday, as the Hilton Head Island Public Facilities Committee recommended approval of a five-year contract with Republic Services Inc. for residential waste and recycling collection.
The committee also recommended a separate five-year agreement with Sonoco Recycling to process the recycled material that is collected.
The agreement is expected to go before the Town Council for final approval Sept. 21. Town staff said they hope to start the mandatory residential recycling program within 90 to 120 days from final approval -- possibly by early next year.
Committee members said going with a franchise hauler, rather than a smaller company, would lower costs for residents, increase efficiency and recycling rates, improve air quality and reduce road wear and tear.
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"You achieve an economy of scale by going with a company servicing the entire island for the greater good of all," said Town Councilman John Safay. "This is not an unusual concept. It's time for the Town of Hilton Head to get on the same page with the rest of the country."
A majority of communities across the nation provide waste and recycling collection, either through a sanitation or public works department or franchise agreements with private trash haulers, said town consultant Jim Frey with Resource Recycling Systems.
The quarterly fee to collect trash and recyclables -- ranging from $55 to $62 -- would be less than what many trash haulers now charge, according to a phone survey by The Island Packet.
Several residents, though, opposed the agreement, saying it would create a government-sponsored monopoly that harms small businesses already providing service.
Brian Leonard, co-owner of Coastal Waste Services in Bluffton, said contracting with one company would mean a loss of business for him and other waste haulers and could lead to layoffs.
Some of those jobs, though, would be replaced, said Art Smith with Republic Services local office. He said the national company, based in Phoenix, expects to hire about 20 people to handle the new business.
But in a slow economy, the town should help small local businesses, residents told the committee.
Others said they fear a loss in the quality of service from switching haulers.
"We all want to do more for our environment. But from an individual perspective, it's good to have that choice of selecting the hauler and services you want. Competition is important," said resident Catherine Olivetti, also the attorney representing Coastal Waste Services. "It's important that consumers have the power to terminate service if they are not happy."
Not everyone at the meeting was critical of the franchise agreement.
"I congratulate you for bringing in a lower price than our residents enjoy right now," said Peter Kristian, general manager of Hilton Head Plantation.
The plan excludes commercial properties and residential complexes where trash is placed in Dumpsters. Town officials said service for those places will be addressed later.
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.