City Councilman Robert J. Kellogg wrote this opinion article, which was originally printed in the Gaston Gazette on Sept. 18, 2020. Kellogg represents Ward 1 on the Gastonia City Council.
This was certainly a hard decision for all of us on the City Council. It was not a rejection of environmental principles, but rather a desire to salvage recycling in Gastonia. Kings Mountain, Bessemer City, Shelby, Lincolnton are just a few of our neighbors who have also come to the same conclusion. Take for instance these statistics when understanding the decision to end curbside pick-up.
About 35% of our residents participated in recycling. Of that number, 60% of those who recycled did it wrong and contaminated the recycling stream. What that means is critical for recycling. If just one person has contaminated their recycling, the entire truck that has that item in it is taken to the landfill. In the end more recyclables were being contaminated and sent to the landfill than not.
I hear the question why didn’t the City educate people or let them know how to properly recycle. After decades of sending out fliers in utility bills, spreading memes on social media, sending in press releases on proper recycling protocol and speaking at local clubs and organizations the results got worse not better. City Councilwoman Stepp and myself even hosted a town hall where the head of solid waste came and explained the dilemma and possible demise of recycling if we continued down the same road. It is not a failure of city staff or council members or teachers or solid waste staff or Keep Gastonia Beautiful for the escalation of poo poo diapers and other waste in the recycling bins, but rather the blame is at the feet of those individuals who tossed trash in their recycling bins.
Another factor to consider is the vanished market for recyclables. China used to take our recyclables, but no more. It has left the world with a glut of recyclables and no place to sell them. The City did not charge for recycling. It was not a part of your solid waste fee and it was not subsidized by tax dollars. When recyclables had value the program paid for itself by the revenue generated from these materials. That is no more.
I understand the frustration and even anger by those who did it right and still want curb side pick-up. You did everything right, unfortunately 6 out of 10 of your neighbors did not.
Thankfully the City will be ramping up options for recycling at the Farmers Market recycling center as well as building another drop-off center in Gastonia next spring. Yes, it is a hassle and it takes extra time and it is not convenient. But I hope those who understand the value in recycling will take advantage of these opportunities.
Again it must be said that not a single person on the City Council took pleasure in this decision nor were any of us intentionally deciding to end recycling. On the contrary we are trying to save it by reducing the contamination rate and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in dump fees after recyclables were taken to the landfill because of that contamination. It is also not a knee-jerk reaction, but this has been an on-going crisis for all municipalities and our nation for a couple years now. Gastonia does not stand alone in our decision. Unfortunately, we are part of the now-majority of municipalities that had to cease curbside pickup because of no demand for recyclables, no ultimate buyer for the products, astronomical contamination rates and excessive fees and rising costs by the few companies left that are processing recyclables. Nobody wants to pick poop diapers, broken glass, shrap metal or building materials out of recyclables. Literally no one, and that is why they in turn are raising the contract rates, fining cities and limiting what items they will take.
I am still hopeful. Hopeful that we will continue to recycle at the drop off sites and that we continue to look for other alternatives for our waste. I know I will keep looking for new and inventive ways to recycle and in the meantime help people in this time of change.