Two years ago, the county did away with its labor intensive recycling pick-line — manned by workers who hand sorted huge heaps of aluminum cans, plastic bottles and the like. Although pre-sorted recyclables fetched a higher price than unsorted batches, the cost of the labor wasn’t worth it.
A study of Haywood County Solid Waste Management’s recycling operations showed that sorting materials by hand was not the most economical option, and closing the recycling pick line would bring savings of $286,000.
So, the county laid off the five employees and started selling the recyclables in bulk and unsorted to a company in Asheville.
Since then, the county has worked to automate its now-shutdown recycling operations in the hopes that one day it can once again sort its own recycling.
“If we can automate the line, we can capture the revenues of the recyclables,” said Stephen King, the solid waste director.
The county and towns within its limits have made a push in recent years for increased recycling, a process that makes money for the county and extends the life of the landfill by reducing waste.
Sorted recyclables can then be sold off at a higher price than the county currently receives for the sale of its unsorted materials.
Haywood County’s Solid Waste Management recently ordered a contraption that will separate all aluminum cans from other recycled materials, saving both time and money.
The county has already installed a cross belt magnet that attracts only steel cans. Next on the list was an eddy current separator, which repels aluminum cans dividing them from the hodgepodge of recyclables.
The eddy current separator costs $70,078 — $55,078 of which the county will pay and $15,000 of which will come from a grant from the N.C. Department of Natural Resources. The Haywood County Board of Commissioners OK’d the purchase at its meeting last week.
It will take six to eight weeks for delivery of the mechanism and another two weeks for installation. Davco Steel of Loris, S.C. will handle the project.
This aluminum can sorter is not the last piece of the puzzle to create a fully automated recycling sorting line, to be run by existing solid waste employees.
“There is still other equipment we would need, but it is a phased in process,” King said.
The upfront cost of the equipment will be recouped by the higher prices the county can fetch selling already-sorted recyclables rather than unsorted.
“Return on investment should be two to three years max,” King said.
There are other advantages to doing the sorting of recyclables in house, other than purely financial motives.
“When we have more control over it, we can look at recycling even more items. Anything we can find a market for we could collect,” King said.
Becky Johnson contributed to this article.