New recycling center to open by year’s end

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Thirty-foot-deep concrete pits that once held mixed garbage to be fed into New Hanover County’s former waste-to-energy incinerator have been filled with dirt. Soon a new concrete floor will be poured. The shell of a building, one wall of which is held up by nothing more than gravity, will soon house sorting equipment and people whose job will be to pick through what people throw away.

The $1.1 million construction project is preparing the way for Sonoco, a packaging firm with a presence in Jacksonville, North Carolina, to take over recycling duties for New Hanover County. Sonoco will handle the details, sorting and shipping glass, plastic, aluminum, cardboard and other paper to markets, or using it in the company’s own recycling efforts.

County Environmental Management Director Joe Suleyman hopes the facility will be ready to start accepting recyclables by the end of December. Until then, New Hanover County is baling and shipping its reusable materials to the Sonoco facility in Jacksonville.

Once the local center is up and running, the county will make money on the deal, helping to offset some of the costs incurred, Suleyman said.

Not only will private haulers and the city of Wilmington bring their recycled materials to the center, but Sonoco, whose Jacksonville facility is at capacity, also will bring some to the local facility on U.S. 421 north of Wilmington.

“It’s great for us,” Suleyman said. “It gives us a bigger bang for the buck.”

He has estimated the project will save the county and the city of Wilmington, which will pay the county $10 a ton to process its recyclables, $650,000 a year in solid waste processing and disposal costs.

But until the new center is opened, the city and county are paying $18 and $10 a ton, respectively, to ship the materials to Sonoco’s Jacksonville facility.

When ready, New Hanover’s center will be able to recycle 25,000 tons a year — just a sliver of the more than 225,000 tons of garbage New Hanover residents generate each year.

Workers will don heavy, inflexible gloves to protect themselves from needles, broken glass and other sharp objects that are likely to be among the discarded objects that pass down the conveyor belts for sorting.

Already the county is changing the way the public disposes of recyclables. No longer must people sort their paper, plastic, glass and aluminum separately. Except for cardboard, which is still separated, all recyclable material can be dumped into a single bin.

In addition to sites around the unincorporated area — all single-family residences in Wilmington have curbside recycling included in their monthly costs — the town of Wrightsville Beach lacking curbside pick up has recycling receptacles outside Town Hall.

With the recent departure of a hauler that had offered curbside collection of recyclables, those bins are the only recycling option for town residents. That isn’t likely to change, public works director Mike Vukelich said.

The former hauler, Green Coast Recycling, pulled out because of a lack of interest. The company had only about 100 customers, Vukelich said.

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