NC county meets challenges, grows green waste program

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For some reason, prevailing thought has it that, unless a municipality is massive in size it can neither operate, nor financially justify, a successful green waste recycling program. Cumberland County, NC, located about an hour south of the Raleigh-Durham area, takes that prevailing thought, dispels it, and in so doing, gives hope to small to mid-sized counties and municipalities across the nation that it can, indeed, be done. The county’s Solid Waste Management Authority is nearing its first decade as a green waste recycler and, in that time, has seen its efforts grow from a modest start to a genuinely impressive operation that processes more than 27,000 tons of green waste annually.

Nothing Could Be Finer
It should be noted that, with a population of about 308,000 Cumberland County is really not small. It is, in fact, the fifth most populous county in North Carolina. However, for perspective’s sake, place that same county in, say, New York and it ranks 13th; put it in California and it’s only 22nd. The point is that, in 1989, according to Bobby Howard, Cumberland County Solid Waste Director, the county was facing growing volumes of green waste and wood waste, and it decided to take action.

“Our reasons for implementing a green waste recycling program at that time were actually twofold,” he says. “First, we needed to divert material from our area landfill. Like most counties around the country, we realized that our landfill space — for us, the Ann St. Landfill — would not last forever. Steps needed to be taken to make use of material that was, up until then, just being buried in the ground. However, we also felt that starting a program like this would be a great opportunity to give something back to the residents of the county: in this case, a mulch product for their use.”

Cumberland County includes the city of Fayetteville, the towns of Falcon, Godwin, Hope Mills, Lindon, Spring Lake, Stedman and Wade, as well a host of smaller municipalities, Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. Howard says the program’s startup was small by today’s standards.

“During the first year we had the program in place, I believe we took in about 6,000 tons of green waste all of which was contracted out to a local grinding company. As the county’s population grew and more people began to realize what the program was about, that number just kept on increasing to where we felt justified in purchasing a grinder of our own to eliminate the contract grinding costs. So, in 1995 we purchased a Morbark Model 1400 tub grinder and it has helped take us to where we are today: handling annual volumes of roughly 27,000 tons of tree limbs, brush trimmings, leaves, stumps and pallets through our Wilkes Road Yard Waste Facility.”

For Convenience Sake
Material from Cumberland County makes its way to Wilkes Road’s 40-acre site in one of two ways: it is either dropped off directly by area residents or collected as part of the county’s green waste recovery program. According to Howard, every effort is made to encourage residents to help recover the material.

“We have 16 collection sites or convenience centers located throughout the county,” he says. “Material can be dropped off at any of these sites where it is stockpiled and then periodically loaded up and moved to Wilkes Road. Here all the yard waste, trimmings, stumps and pallets are run through one of two Morbark Model 1400 tub grinders fitted with 3 X 5 screens and reduced to a rough-cut mulch.”

At that point, he adds, a portion of the material coming off the grinder’s conveyor is set aside and made available — free of charge — to county residents. The remainder is screened in a PowerScreen trommel which, in itself, creates two additional products.

“We have ongoing contracts with several plants — both locally and outside the area — which use our product for biofuel. So the larger material out of the trommel, essentially anything larger than 3/4-inch, goes for that use while the smaller 3/4-inch minus screened material is made available for sale as fine-grind mulch to area residents in both bagged and bulk form.”

Weathering a Storm
While Wilkes Road’s annual volumes have been steadily rising over the past decade, the upturn has been gradual, and weekly volumes have remained manageable. However, when a weather-related event such as a hurricane or a major ice storm occurs, that manageability is seriously taxed. Howard says the impact of such an event is felt for a long time.

“Obviously, North Carolina’s location makes it a target for hurricanes and, despite our being about 80 miles inland, we can still be hit hard, as we were by Hurricane Fran in September of 1996. When something like that happens, volumes of debris coming through this site easily triple and can stay at that level for as long as a year. After Fran we were taking material in to each of our satellite sites, stockpiling it and then taking the grinder from site to site to process the material. The Morbark grinder really performed well for us, despite the long, long hours to which it was subjected for months on end. And a good part of that reliability stems from the support we got from the company — and which we continue to get. They are quick to respond and always manage to be there when we need them.”

Cumberland County purchased a second Morbark Model 1400 this past year, ostensibly to replace their existing unit which had been in use almost continuously since 1995. They decided instead to keep both units.

“We now have a backup grinder to use when one machine is down for general maintenance,” says Howard. “And, in those situations when we are confronted with storm debris, we will now be better equipped to reduce the huge volumes”

Looking Ahead
Howard says they foresee continued increases in annual volumes as the area population continues to grow and they are looking at other additional features to enhance their program.

“The increase in volume is pretty much a given. In fact, the City of Fayetteville just recently added 42,000 homes to its collection area, so that green waste will find its way here. However, we are also looking into ways to make the products we generate more attractive. For example, we recently purchased a colorizing system — also from Morbark — that we hope to put online sometime next year. We have been looking into the feasibility of taking the pallets we receive, grinding them, then coloring the material for a nice-grade colored mulch product. We feel that offering colored mulch to our residents will increase the value of the product we generate and, at the same time, will be just one more way for them to see the value in the program we are offering here.”

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