MARTINSBURG — While a record-breaking year in community recycling efforts in the Eastern Panhandle seems like the silver lining in a year defined by its heartache and struggles, leadership with the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority said the encouraging news brings with it its own struggles.
According to Clint Hogbin, chairman of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority, the organization saw the participation in community recycling programs increase as more families in Berkeley County found themselves working from home.
“More people participated in the Berkeley co-recycling program in 2020 than in any other year in our 25-year history,” Hogbin said. “We saw a 16% increase in the number of vehicle traffic to our centers combined, and that increase brings with it good things and what I like to call ‘good headaches,’ because we want to see more participation, and we want more of the public to participate, but, combined with COVID and the issues it caused, the management of that increase in material has been really tough.”
According to Hogbin, the BCSWA collects 23 categories of material and, in 2020, saw roughly half of those categories increase from the prior year. Hogbin said ironically enough, the BCSWA saw increases in categories in which the authority was having trouble managing the disposal of due to COVID.
Hogbin said, for example, the recycling of large plastic containers typically goes to the Martinsburg Union Rescue Mission for baling and is then shipped to Trigon, a Pennsylvania plastics company, all paid for by Trigon.
Pennsylvania COVID restrictions, however, forced Trigon to close, and Hogbin said the authority then had to find another way to dispose of the large plastics by rerouting things through Apple Valley Waste at the authority’s own cost, creating issues with an already tight budget.
Hogbin said the BCSWA also saw the commodity market for cardboard, which would typically pay the authority $30-40 per ton recycled, nearly disappear, and that added revenue decrease, as well as saw a fee implemented by the company, which hauls the cardboard waste away for the authority, another strain on its budget.
“These issues were fine when we could be reimbursed through the CARES Act, but it stopped on Dec. 31, and now cardboard and plastic containers are concerns as it relates to our budget,” Hogbin said. “We also had to manage a 16% increase in participation, so it all combined made for a very difficult year. If this situation doesn’t return to normal, we will be forced to stop taking plastic, and possibly cardboard, until we have an affordable market. So for us, after spending decades trying to get the public to recycle, the last thing we want to do is to have to go backwards, but the path we are on is unsustainable. We are watching this issue develop everyday and managing the best we can.”
Though it saw its difficulties, Hogbin said recycling and community beautification efforts, locally, were incredibly successful and encouraging for the entitiy’s mission of creating a clean Berkeley County, including setting records with 136,451 vehicles visiting local recycling centers in 2020.
According to Hogbin, roughly 9.9 million pounds of material were collected and shipped to a recycler in 2020, which is down from the 11.5 million collected in 2019, but Hogbin said this was down only due to a decrease in organic recycling materials, like brush, in 2020.
Hogbin said the county’s stream cleanup program also saw success in 2020, with 20 trips out into area waterways, 34 miles of streams cleaned and 120 bags, 94 tires and 138 items being retrieved from local streams.
Hogbin said 2020 was supposed to be the last year of the program, because it was funded by a grant from Charleston. Hogbin said Berkeley County stormwater management leadership has agreed to allocate $12,000 from the county stormwater fee to keep the program alive.
In addition, Hogbin said the roadside cleanup program — a collaborative effort between the county council, the court marshals, court system and community corrections where people assigned community service by the courts go with the marshals to clean area roadsides — cleaned 356 miles in 2020 and picked up 3,792 bags of trash and 2,170 large items.
Hogbin said while these program successes and community collaborations are encouraging in continuing the organization’s mission of beautification ad environmental protections, there is still uncertainty as the BCSWA looks ahead as to how to manage the increase in participation, with funding issues created by the plastic container and cardboard markets.
“This is exactly the direction we want to go in, that these programs need to go, in considering the growth in the area, because more people means more waste, and, unfortunately, it means more litter,” Hogbin said, “People are not going to want to live and work here if it isn’t a clean, aesthetically pleasing county, and we view our services as a vital part of the infrastructure. And the fact that the public has responded in participating in our programs is fantastic. But with that growth and increase, we are seeing our budget has reached a point where it is not going to be able to sustain these programs for much longer.”
Hogbin said the BCSWA is continuing to communicate with local legislators in hopes of garnering support for legislative efforts, which will help ensure highly populated areas like Berkeley County receive the state funding support they need. He also said without some change in funding, he is afraid the BCSWA will not be able to sustain the programs the public expects.
For more information, visit berkeleycountyrecycling.org.