Hilton Head Island's new recycling program is the result of nearly three years of study to examine how best to enhance recycling. I have appreciated the editorial support of The Island Packet along the way, but feel that a recap is in order.
The town implemented a voluntary trash recycling program in 1996. But dissatisfaction with that program grew more vocal over time. Those complaints, and a concern that low levels of recycling hurt our image as an environmentally friendly community, led Town Council to investigate other options.
Starting in early 2008, dozens of meetings were held, including public forums and private meetings with individual haulers. We examined numerous options, but always, three things were made clear:
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The first option we examined would mandate that all haulers provide recycling and make it part of the base fee. The existing haulers quickly pointed out this would necessarily add costs. Instead of two trips a week, there would be three trips; the third by a dedicated vehicle and staff for recycling. Council was not interested in a program that might add so much to the costs of trash services.
The second option looked at leaving the existing haulers in place and selecting an independent contractor to provide recycling pick-up. This, too, would increase costs, and the haulers pointed out the conflicts inherent when two entities are serving a residence and one or the other fails to do their job.
We then spent time looking at a system known as "Pay-As-You-Throw," a concept endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency as the most effective method for encouraging recycling. Rather than paying a flat rate per month or per quarter, your cost of service varies depending on how much garbage you generate. You can lower your monthly costs by increasing the amount you recycle. Employing this strategy with the existing collection of haulers quickly showed itself to be extremely cumbersome.
After nearly two years of exploring how to make this work within the existing system of independent haulers, Town Council began a conversation about mandating one or two haulers who would be contracted to provide both waste and recycling services to residences.
A new series of public meetings were held where the concept was discussed, and a request for proposals developed and approved. Bids were solicited through a public process and opened at a public meeting. Based on the pricing proposals, a single hauler was recommended. Republic Waste Service was the low bidder.
Town Council has now adopted this plan, which goes into effect April 1. Commercial establishments are not included at this time. There are many benefits. Costs for most residents will go down. Recycling will become far more convenient and the amount of materials to be recycled should increase dramatically. There will be fewer large vehicles on the roads, reducing wear and tear and fuel consumption and improving air quality. The types of materials that can be recycled will be greatly expanded.
There have been difficult choices made along the way, but it is important for our island's future that we continue to position ourselves as an environmentally sensitive and responsible community. As we move forward, I think we will all be surprised at the benefits that accrue to each of us as a result of this decision.