If you wanted to pick a topic sure to generate a lot of debate in Beaufort County, you couldn't do much better than trash and how to get rid of it.
Just ask residents of Daufuskie and Lady's islands and long-time residents of Hilton Head Island what happens when the subject of Beaufort County-owned waste transfer stations comes up -- or recycling and curbside trash pick-up for that matter.
County solid waste manager Jim Minor reignited the debate at last week's County Council retreat when he brought up long-range planning issues for solid waste management. Minor warned council members that the county's 11 transfer stations (also known as "dumps" to most users and "convenience centers" to officialdom) were not the long-term solution for handling residential trash, particularly if the economy picks up and growth returns. Hauling the stuff collected at the centers to the Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County is expensive ($135,000 a month) and the relatively close-by landfill is filling up. Its useful life could be over in as few as eight years, he said, leaving us with landfill options as far away as Charleston County.
Minor suggested the county look at offering curbside pick-up in the unincorporated areas and building a new recycling and transfer facility that could provide a one-stop place for recycling, special waste handling and trash transfer. With that facility, some transfer stations could be closed and the money go toward trucks for countywide curbside collection.
That curbside collection ought to include recycling if we want to reduce how much goes into the landfill, and it would have to be handled in a way that encouraged participation. The county's previous curbside recycling efforts in the late 1990s were a dismal failure. Offering user-friendly recycling at the transfer stations took its place.
County officials should be careful as they consider changes. The major benefit of the county's "convenience centers" is that they are convenient, making it less likely people will dump trash and old appliances into the woods and creeks, a common practice not all that long ago. We don't want people to return to bad habits. Heck, we had trouble for a while getting people to stop dumping bags of trash at the gates of closed transfer stations on the few holidays they were closed.
And would trucks providing regular trash pick-up across the county really be as cost-effective as making it easy for residents to haul away their own trash as they run other errands?
The transfer stations, with their fences, attendants and recycling options, were a big step up from the Dumpsters along the roadside of days past. And they clearly are a popular option for dumping. Minor reports they accommodate about 130,000 visitors a month and run 12 hours a day, seven days a week, except for the occasional holiday.
He is certainly right about one thing. County officials must get this subject on their radar screens and start devising solutions today for tomorrow's trash problems.