Orange County has made great strides in making recycling easier for residents and businesses alike, but some apartment complexes and nonresidential units choose not to participate in the county's system.
Orange County Solid Waste Planner Blair Pollock said the county offers universal recycling collection to single-family residential areas and multifamily housing, such as apartment buildings. If multifamily units decline to receive public recycling, possibly because they want different service from what the county can provide, they can contract private recycling services.
Pollock said Carolina Square apartments, in addition to several other multifamily units around Orange County, doesn't participate in the county's recycling program.
“They have a garbage pickup system – like you can leave your garbage outside your door and they’ll come pick it up," junior political science major Olivia O'Malley, a resident at Carolina Square, said. "But you can’t leave your recycling outside your door."
She said they don't have a recycling system, and for now it's put in the trash chute, or residents must go to a recycling facility in Chapel Hill, which is a few miles away.
“I don’t have a car, but I’m in the process of trying to convince my roommate to let me do this with their car,” O'Malley said.
She said she was unaware of any timeline to add a recycling system, and Carolina Square could not be reached for comment.
Pollock said the county also provides a nonuniversal recycling service for businesses, churches and schools. He estimates one-third of these nonresidential and commercial entities participate.
Pollock said dense areas like Franklin Street share collective recycling sites because it would be difficult to put a recycling cart behind each business. This presents an interesting challenge in measuring the success of recycling policies. Historically, he said, governments have evaluated recycling success by the amount of pounds recycled.
“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a plastic bottle, so all of the sodas, beers and other crazy drinks and stuff, they were all in a glass bottle or steel can,” he said. “As the containers changed and got lighter in weight, do we still measure success by tons?”
As a result, Pollock said recycling tonnage staying the same over time actually means people are recycling more items even though each one weighs less.
Junior Hannah Willcox, a server at Sup Dogs, said the restaurant separates its recyclable waste from other trash and manages its waste by using biodegradable to-go boxes and unpackaged straws.
Willcox said there is a recycling dumpster in the back lot behind the restaurant. While the trash bin is closer, she said both types of waste disposal are fairly close to the building, making recycling easy.
An alternative method to measuring recycling success is calculating how many fewer pounds the county puts in landfills each year. Pollock said North Carolina has measured this since the fiscal year 1991-92 in an effort to account for some of the technological and cultural changes causing people both to throw away and recycle less.
Pollock said there's been a 62 percent waste reduction since since the 1990s.
“Twenty percent of what we throw away in Orange County as a whole is still paper, cans and bottles," Pollock said. "Another 10 percent is material that can be readily recycled but not at the curb, like clothing, scrap metal, electronics, etceteras."
Pollock said another 25 percent of what the county throws away is food scraps, which could be reduced through greater use of compost or better management of the food we eat.
“A lot of this is about behavioral change, and the reason I say it that way is because, arguably, the county has made recycling as convenient as possible,” he said.
Pollock said individuals can always think of ways to be more efficient, by recycling more and throwing away less. For example, if a party’s host doesn’t have a recycling bin for bottles, Pollock suggested that party-goers improvise by finding a temporary container and making sure to recycle the materials later instead of just dumping everything in the trash.
Even though the population of Orange County increased vastly from 1991 to the present, Pollock said the overall tons of waste in landfills stayed relatively steady.
“There’s a reason the hierarchy goes reduce, reuse, recycle because reduction is always the best strategy,” he said.
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