Chapel Hill's municipal solid waste continues to find itself in the backyard of low-income communities, despite the town's best efforts to keep landfills out of these areas.
There is not a cohesive plan for the future of Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s municipal solid waste disposal system. Community leaders in Orange County are pushing for a waste disposal system that will not put an extra burden on low-income communities like the current landfill option.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to close the Chapel Hill landfill in 2013 because of its close proximity to the Rogers Road Community, a low-income and historically African-American neighborhood. A large amount of Orange County’s municipal solid waste now goes to the Sampson County Landfill, which resides next to a low-income neighborhood in Roseboro.
"Leaders like myself understand that what we did is we took it out of the Rogers Road Neighborhood but we put it in probably some other neighborhood’s backyard, most likely a lower-income neighborhood, and most likely a neighborhood of color,” said Orange County Board of Commissioner Penny Rich. “You’re not going to get permits to put trash in the backyard of a golf course or a multi-million dollar home area.”
Board of Aldermen member Randee Haven-O’Donnell said, “We have not dealt with the essential question, which is ‘how do we want to deal with the waste that we generate in our own community?’”
The Chapel Hill Landfill was built off of Eubanks Road in 1972. The mayor at the time promised the landfill was only temporary, but it remained in place until the Orange County Board of Commissioners voted to close it in 2013, putting undo stress on the Rogers Road Community.
The closing of the Chapel Hill Landfill was considered a social- and racial-justice win and was celebrated by community members.
Because Chapel Hill was unable to find a new location for the landfill within Orange County, the town had to look elsewhere for a place to dispose of residential solid waste.
Chapel Hill Solid Waste Services Manager Wendy Simmons said municipal solid waste is now transported to the Waste Disposal & Recycling Center in Durham, a transfer station that then ships the waste out to the Sampson County Landfill.
The Durham transfer station is owned by the private company Waste Industries. Chapel Hill and Carrboro use their own trucks to bring municipal solid waste to the transfer station. The website for the transfer station says that municipal solid waste loads cost $44.50 per ton.
Recycling is picked up and processed separately.
Roseboro is a town of only 1,180 people according the latest census data. In 2015, Roseboro was 36.5 percent black and 19.8 percent of the population was under the poverty level.
The Sampson County Landfill is 1.2 miles away from the Bluegrass Mobile Home Estates, a mobile home neighborhood, which is almost identical to the distance between the Rogers Road Community and the now-closed Chapel Hill Landfill.
Rich said the Solid Waste Advisory Group (SWAG) is planning on meeting in the upcoming months to discuss the future of the county’s current system to remove municipal solid waste.
An option being discussed is building a waste transfer station within Chapel Hill in partnership with Orange County, Rich said. While this would reduce the cost to the county and the municipalities within it, it would not necessarily change where the waste would ultimately go.
Haven-O’Donnell said Carrboro is working toward reducing the amount of solid waste produced through community composting.
Rich said the problem surrounding the landfill is a moral question for the county.
“It’s a social justice issue, it’s a racial justice issue and it’s far from being solved,” Rich said.
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