The recycling programs in both North Augusta and Aiken have seen changes in the past year. Those changes have led most recently to the resurrection of a relationship between the cities and their recycling programs, but since North Augusta upped its tipping fee last year and ended the blue bag program at the start of this year, revenue from recycling has increased.

Last month, the city of Aiken began sending residential recycling to North Augusta for processing in the city’s Materials Recovery Facility. The Materials Recovery Facility uses machinery and staff members to sort recyclables from other garbage.

Jason Sikes, superintendent of sanitation in North Augusta, said Aiken is just bringing its commingled recyclables to North Augusta, not solid waste.

Aiken will now pay the $48-per-ton tipping fee that all commercial customers pay North Augusta. North Augusta will process the materials and retain the revenue from any recyclables.

“I think Aiken made a good choice coming back to North Augusta,” said James Sutton, director of North Augusta’s Public Services department.

“We’ve had a good relationship with them in the past and it didn’t work out with their prior vendor so we’re going to try to do the best service we can.”

Lex Kirkland, the Public Services director in Aiken, said 60-70% of Aiken residents recycle based off roll cart use, and that last year, Aiken had around 900 tons of recycling total that went to its previous provider, Dumpster Depot.

Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said in terms of operation, the drive is farther, but there’s no change for residents.

“Our prior arrangement worked very well but we just couldn’t come to any kind of agreement. We’re appreciative that North Augusta was willing to take our material back,” Bedenbaugh said.

“We used them exclusively almost from the time their MRF opened until 2014,” he said.

North Augusta – even before the blue bag change – was also sorting through its residents’ household garbage as well as recycling. In Aiken, only what people put in their recycling cart is taken to the Materials Recovery Facility.

Each resident in Aiken has a green and a blue cart. The green is for garbage and blue for recycling, Bedenbaugh said.

Everything placed in the green cart goes straight to the Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority landfill on the grounds of the Savannah River Site.

Increased material, increased revenue

In 2020 North Augusta has had an increase both in the amount of material brought to the Materials Recovery Facility and the revenue made from selling recyclables.

The city increased the tipping fee in September 2019 from $38 to $48 per ton.

“That’s definitely contributed to our revenue, and also we’ve had – it’s been an abnormal influx of solid waste from some of our commercial haulers, specifically during, I think, the months of March, April and June,” Sutton said.

Compared to 2019, the city is averaging about 185 tons more per month – about a 9.75% increase, Sutton said.

Through July 2020, the city has taken in a total 24,291 tons of solid waste – including recycling – from its own residents, Aiken County, and other commercial and industrial customers. In the same period last year, the city took in 22,465 tons.

North Augusta has made $767,088 in material sales and processing revenue through July this year. Last year by July, the city had made $629,950.

Along with the increased tipping fee and the increased volume of waste coming into the city, the value of recyclables has increased by “a slight margin,” Sutton said.

He said if you took a one-ton block of commingled recyclables – plastic, cardboard and metal crushed together – the average price for that in 2019 was $72.79. Currently, the market value for the same material is $75.57.

Blue bag program ended

At the start of 2020, the city ended its costly blue bag program, which started in 1993, the same year the Materials Recovery Facility opened.

Customers received blue trash bags in which to place only their recycling in. The blue bags were then processed separately at the Materials Recovery Facility. 

During a presentation in August of last year, Finance Director Cammie Hayes said the cost of the blue bag program was around $77,000 and the revenue from blue bag recycling was $22,000, leaving a $55,000 deficit from the program.

Since the program was dropped, North Augusta now recycles for its residents. People put all their garbage and recycling into one bag or one roll cart, and the city mines the waste for recyclables.

Sutton said there is activity at the drop-off center the city has at 61 Clay Pit Road, where people can sort and bring their recyclables. That helps the city with staffing and saves time, since things are already sorted and broken down, he said. 

Sutton added that “very few customers” have bought their own blue bags and continued recycling that way.

“There are some users who are still separating recyclables and putting them in bags that they buy – it’s a good thing for them to do, but we are recycling right now for our customers and we do have the drop-off facility,” Sutton said.

The city does offer pickup for large recyclables, like larger cardboard boxes that can’t easily fit into the roll cart, Sikes said, and that truck runs on the same day as trash pickup.

"Our customers in North Augusta, that’s what we’re here for – we’re here to recycle for them for affordability purposes right now," Sutton said. 

"We are constantly – if things turn around, change around with the recycling industry, we’re constantly going to be looking at ways for the end user, meaning our customers – to participate directly in their household and recycle on a day-to-day basis. But until we reach that point and find something that’s cost effective for our end users to use where they’re able to put it in a box or tray or roll cart, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing."

Follow Lindsey on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges. Subscribing to the Aiken Standard will give you access to all the Aiken County news your need. Click here to sign up. 

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Lindsey is the North Augusta reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. She graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2017, and grew up in Hodges, SC.