Waste disposal officials say an environmental conscientious
community and public awareness are making Watauga County a more pristine place to live.
Recent rankings from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources rank Watauga County third statewide for recycling common household items per capita.
In addition, Watauga is the only county in northwest North Carolina to achieve a top-20 ranking.
“We’ve got a great group of residents who love where they live and appreciate the environment,” said Lisa Doty, Watauga County’s recycling coordinator. “They also want to continue that for many years to come.”
Doty also attributes public awareness and educational programs in the school for the county’s rising rate of recyclable materials being diverted away from landfills and to facilities where the once-called waste can find a second life.
Learning the importance of recycling at a young age can have reverberating impact on the community.
“In turn, a lot of those kids will encourage their parents to recycle,” Doty said. “This is a very important aspect of the program… We can attribute all of it to our residents who are conscientious to separate the recycling from the trash.”
In Watauga County, most recyclable items, such as soda cans, glass and plastic bottles and cardboard are dropped off and collected at convenience centers that are placed throughout the county.
Boone residents enjoy curbside pick-up that collects both waste and recyclable products. GDS collects these items on a weekly basis.
“The town, the county and Appalachian State University, we are all working together to try to coordinate our efforts and provide consistent information on what can be recycled,” Doty said.
And state officials recognize the effort.
“Catawba, Pitt, Dare, Orange and Watauga counties have demonstrated longstanding leadership and continue to serve as models for the rest of the state by operating an array of programs that target a wide range of materials,” said Rob Taylor, DENR’s local government recycling assistance team leader, in a news release.
As for total recycling, which refers to household waste and other materials, such as leftover construction waste and industrial-grade leftovers from manufacturing, Watauga County finished eighth statewide.
Counties “down the mountain” have a certain innate advantage in total recycling, Doty said, because they can typically have more construction sites that provide materials to their program and are not hampered by logistical and transportation issues.
Changes in how products are being manufactured are also impacting household recycling.
Waste disposal officials are noticing that more frozen dinner boxes are no longer being made with the internal wax coating. Plain cardboard boxes, such as cereal boxes, are easier to recycle, as the wax doesn’t “gunk up the machine,” Doty said.
A newly implemented rigid plastic recycling program now accepts plastic plant trays, trash bins and other larger sized items. Previously, the plastic program was limited to milk cartons, plastic drink bottles and other plastics one would commonly find in a household refrigerator, Doty said.
According to statistics, the changes are helping. DENR reported that North Carolina, as a whole, recorded the lowest per-capita rate for solid waste disposal in 2013 since measurement began in 1991. The division attributes much of this success to some 315 public curbside recycling programs that serve more than 1.84 million N.C. households, along with increased efforts to collect special wastes, such as electronics, fluorescent lights and used cooking oil.
“The business of recycling is an increasingly dynamic contributor to the North Carolina economy, and public recycling programs serve as a critical link in the supply chain delivering materials to industry,” Scott Mouw, state recycling program director in the Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service, said in a news release.
The department uses data from municipalities and counties to profile public recycling efforts and measure per-capita recycling rates, wherein counties are ranked based on their program performance.