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One city in York County wants volunteers to inspect neighbors’ recycle bins


If they can find the volunteers, Tega Cay could start a program early next year where volunteers inspect what residents put in recycle bins.

“It’s kind of a one last ditch effort before we cancel the program,” said City Councilwoman Heather Overman.

A recent city Facebook post introduced a new solution to a mixed recycling problem that’s plagued the city the past couple of years. Tega Cay often has truckloads of recycling rejected because of items that shouldn’t be there. The post asks for “recycling container inspection volunteers” for each neighborhood.

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Overman said the idea isn’t to rummage through people’s carts. Volunteers would be given gloves and vests, along with training on what should and shouldn’t be in a recycle cart. If a bin has items that aren’t allowed, the volunteer would put a sticker on it to alert the recycle truck not to collect it. The volunteer would leave information for the homeowner on what to put in the bin.

“It’s just another education program,” Overman said. “We’re kind of out of options at this point.”

Not all residents who viewed the post saw a volunteer program as a good idea.

Angie Wood commented she is “not exactly thrilled at the idea” of a neighbor coming onto property to check trash.

“Isn’t that technically trespassing?” she commented. “If the recycle people want to check it before they pick it up, that’s fine. But not a non-employee of the recycling company.”

Some residents commented they’d rather just stop the recycling program. Mary Lewis commented she isn’t in favor of the volunteer program.

“I would vote against the volunteer inspectors method especially during a pandemic,” Lewis commented.

Amy Smart commented “it’s a long way to the bottom of those carts” and there have been times she had to dump a cart or turn it to crawl in because someone threw away a glass bottle, or something else that’s not allowed.

“I am a recycling fanatic at my house but I can’t imagine how they are going to inspect them,” Smart commented.

Overman acknowledged there has been some blowback at the idea.

“I can definitely understand people’s concern and frustrations with this,” she said. “The privacy is a concern.”

Overman said the goal isn’t to shame but to educate residents. No volunteers, she said, would go on any private property. They would inspect only carts already placed out on the public streets.

“If we can just get people to follow these simple instructions, then this isn’t something we would have to do,” she said.

The city has had issues with rejected truckloads before, but COVID-19 hasn’t helped. Tega Cay and other York County municipalities use the new county mixed use recycling facility. That site twice closed and reopened to mixed recycling this year due to the pandemic. Mixed recycling requires county employees to work in closer proximity than does sorted recycling.

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Change in habits

Charlie Funderburk, city manager, said a summer closure of the county recycling center changed habits in the city.

“People began using their recycle bin as a second trash can,” he said. “Now that the (recycling facility) has reopened, people need to use the bins correctly.”

Bins allow cardboard, plastic jugs and bottles, mixed paper and aluminum/tin cans.

“People should not place plastic bags, glass, yard debris, wood products, weed-eaters, bicycles, etc. — all things found in recycle loads recently — in their recycle bins,” Funderburk said.

Via social media and other means of communication, the city tried to stress that the recycling program can’t continue if people use bins improperly.

“Our preference is that people follow the simple rules of what can and cannot go into their bins,” Funderburk said. “Hopefully with continued education on our part and cooperation on the resident’s part, we can get back to recycling properly.”

Overman said the past several months, the majority of truckloads have been rejected. Paper bags, glass and trash are common concerns. The last load had a string trimmer and full bag of concrete, she said. Plastic bags can damage recycling machinery, she said, while glass pieces could harm employees.

Overman said if a truck has 15-20% or more contaminated items, it will be rejected.

So far about 10 people signed up to inspect bins. Overnman said the city likely would need 20-25 volunteers to make the program work. If that many people participate, the program could start in early 2021, Overman said.

The Facebook post included a sign-up link for the program. The post asked for a 12-week commitment, volunteering once per week. Overman said she understands not everyone will be on board, but wants to do whatever she can to allow people who want to keep recycling, the ability to do it.

“We’re trying to make best decision for the most residents,” she said.

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