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County Council, October 6

Still deliberating over plastic in yard waste
Agenda sheets to be more descriptive?
Warwick Jones

The issue over plastic in yard waste is likely to soon come to a head. Earlier this year, the County delayed the implementation of an ordinance to stop disposal of yard waste at Bees Ferry if it contained plastic. As most of the waste is collected in plastic bags, the ban on plastic requires major changes in the collection of garden trash by the municipalities. Predictably, some were not easy about the proposed change, particularly North Charleston. A change in collection methods would be costly. Most municipalities chose to go in future with paper bags. But North Charleston and many citizens were not convinced of their efficacy.

We not sure whether the County really thought it could come up with a better solution or it simply needed time to placate the critics. County Attorney Dawson was asked to find out details of costs associated with alternative solutions. He reported his findings to the Finance Committee yesterday.

It is possible that North Charleston and other municipalities may choose an alternative to paper bags. And indeed, the County may finance the municipalities in some way if they go to an alternative. Staff was to make a further study and to talk with the municipalities. But we are certain of one thing - the County will not change its mind on banning plastic in garden waste at Bees Ferry. The plastic makes the waste unsaleable and it needs to be sold so the life of the Bees Ferry land full can be extended. With the limited options available to the county, the landfillís life needs to be extended as far as possible.

Mr. Dawson reported that the cost of a 95-gallon trashcan, as used presently by the municipalities, costs about $50. It was thought by Council that garden waste could be deposited in these cans and collected by the municipalities in the same manner as ordinary trash. Staff estimated the cost of the cans for North Charleston at about $1 million. So who pays for the cans? If it were the citizens, should there be a credit for the cost on property tax or waste collection fees. And indeed, should there be some credit for the extra cost of paper bags over plastic? Staff was to consider these possibilities.

Council member Condon said that she had discussed the issue with the City of Charleston. It indicated that it was happy to take the paper bag route. We could understand that the trashcan alternative would not be acceptable. Garden waste is collected by the City in open trucks presently. Using cans would require buying conventional garbage collection trucks, or modifying existing trucks to be able to lift the cans. We presume either alternative would be costly. And then there is the issue of storage. Many houses on the Peninsula are on small lots with limited space to place trashcans, particularly around the College of Charleston where houses are split into rental units.

Mr. Dawson also spoke of buying debagging equipment to extract the plastic from the garden waste at a collection point. The cost would be about $1 million, he estimated. But he also said that only 80% of the plastic would be removed, which seems to suggest it was not a real alternative.

Mr. Dawson also spoke of shipping the waste out of the County at a cost of $2 million. We didnít hear him say per year, but we suspect that it was an estimated yearly cost. And then there was the possibility of burning the waste. An incinerator would cost about $140,000 but he indicated that one would not be enough. He made no estimate as to how many would be needed.

Fuller description of items on Agenda sheets likely
Are the agenda sheets related to Council meetings inadequate? Council member Condon thinks so and indeed, other Council members seemed sympathetic to her view. Usually each item on the agenda is defined by a sentence in some cases but only a few words in most. For most members of the public, the description gives no inkling of the substance of the item. This should change.

She contrasted the Agenda sheet of the County with that of Berkeley County. That of Berkeley had a description of the item. It still was in the form of a prťcis but it made the agenda far more reader friendly. She wanted Charleston to emulate Berkeley.

We should note that Charleston County places the full documentation relating to each agenda item on its web site and readily available to the public. But as one Council member noted, the documentation for the whole agenda can be many pages, and whether on printed-paper or a computer screen, finding the appropriate documentation for an item can be lengthy. A fuller description on each item may make reference to the information package unnecessary.

Staff is to consider the request.

Council member Condonís request coincides with the use by Council members of I Pads. Members no longer receive the documentation of items on the agenda as a paper package. It is now contained as a file in the pads. Savings in paper usage was the motivation for the change.

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