Hilton Head recycling effort off to a strong start

So far, so good with Hilton Head Island's latest recycling endeavor.

The town reports that in April, the first month of Republic Services' franchise to collect residential waste and recycling, about 15 more tons was recycled than the previous monthly average.

About 123 tons were collected, or 10 to 15 pounds per household per week, a national average. That compares with 108 tons of recyclables a month reported by commercial haulers in 2009.

We're happy to see recycling tonnage up even with fewer than a third of residences -- or about 6,500 customers -- signed up for the new service. That means we can expect it to go even higher as more customers sign up.

People have the option to haul their own trash and recyclables to county-owned transfer stations. Service from other haulers can continue until the contracts expire or Sept. 30, 2012, whichever comes first.

The news also is encouraging because of some of the rancor the new program generated as it was hashed out by Town Council over several years. But previous attempts to encourage recycling simply hadn't worked, and the town was right to try something else.

There are many positives to it: For most residents, it means lower costs. It also should increase efficiency and reduce wear and tear on the roads by getting rid of a system that results in multiple trash trucks traveling the same streets to pick up trash from different residences. For those participating, recyclable materials can be dumped into a single container. That means no more sorting and should mean more people recycling more materials. Residents still will get service yard pick-up, not curbside pick-up.

Reducing the amount of trash going into the county-owned landfill can mean long-term savings for all of us.

But the town's work isn't done. The plan excludes commercial properties and residential complexes where trash is placed in Dumpsters.

A previous foray into commercial recycling showed the potential for this sector. 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.

Town officials said in November when they adopted the current program that commercial properties would be addressed later. That's a promise they should keep.

And if the residential program continues on this positive track, that should be easier to do.