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Watauga County has been recycling plastic bottles and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics for years. Photo by Anna Oakes

Originally published: 2014-03-14 08:18:29
Last modified: 2014-03-14 08:18:29

Top-rank recyclers

by Anna Oakes

Another year, another Top 5 ranking for Watauga County recyclers.

The county was third among the state's 100 counties in the amount of common household recyclables recovered per capita in fiscal year 2012-13, according to figures released by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources March 6.

Watauga County residents recycled household items such as plastics, mixed paper and glass at a rate of 233.08 pounds per person, behind No. 1 Dare County, at 279.59 pounds per person, and No. 2 Pitt County, at 245.81 pounds per person. DENR uses municipal and county report data to profile public recycling efforts and to measure the per-capita recycling rates for each county in the state.

"This is just a very environmentally conscious community," said Marsha Story, recycling program coordinator for the town of Boone. "Folks in this community - they put our mountain first. We're proud of it, and we want to keep it as healthy as possible."

Story said the town's curbside recycling program makes it very easy for residents to recycle, with a pickup one day a week and no requirement that items be separated.

"Our program really has been designed to where it cannot be any more convenient than it is," said Story. In the winter, the percentage of households who recycle ranges from the upper 60s to 70s, but in the spring, summer and fall, more than 80 percent of Boone households recycle, she noted.

Currently the town can only accept bottles and No. 1 and No. 2 plastics via its curbside recycling program, but Story said the town is working with its contractor to begin accepting other numbers of rigid plastics, including yogurt and plant containers. Rigid plastics are accepted at the county's convenience center at the old landfill site off of U.S. 421.

The recycling collection site placed at the town's Daniel Boone Park several years ago also sees a high rate of use, with more than 200 tons of materials pulled from the site each year, Story noted.

Watauga County also ranked high on DENR's list for total public recycling, which includes not only household recyclables but also materials recovered from construction waste and other sources. Watauga was seventh in the state in 2012-13 for total per capita public recycling, at 247.99 pounds per person.

"It should make our residents proud," said Lisa Doty, county recycling coordinator.

Topping that list is Catawba County, at 638.73 pounds per person. That number is due in part to the county's Regional EcoComplex and Resource Recovery Facility, which involves a network of companies and operations to match waste streams with the need for materials in the manufacturing of new products and energy sources.

Doty said Watauga County is always exploring more ways to reuse and recycle construction waste. Unlike Catawba County, which is centrally located near several major highways, transportation adds to the cost of recycling in Watauga County, she noted.

"We are limited by that some," she said.

Doty said the county hopes to participate in a program to recycle asphalt shingles for use in road pavement, but implementation of that system is likely a few years away. Doty is also working to raise awareness of the rigid plastic collection site at the landfill convenience center, especially for landscaping businesses that use a lot of planters and trays
North Carolina recorded the lowest per-capita rate for solid waste disposal in 2013 since measurement began in 1991, DENR said.

"Catawba, Pitt, Dare, Orange and Watauga Counties have demonstrated longstanding leadership, and continue to serve as models for the rest of the state by operating an array of programs that target a wide range of materials" said Rob Taylor, DENR's Local Government Recycling Assistance team leader, in a statement.

Orange County began the state's first public collection of food waste for composting last fiscal year, and statewide, efforts to collect special wastes such as electronics, fluorescent lights and used cooking oil also grew, DENR said.