Nags Head may face tough choice on recycling

By on January 14, 2020

Hit by the rising cost of maintaining a municipal recycling program, and having just learned that its recyclables are being used for waste-to-energy efforts rather than being recycled, the Nags Head  Board of Commissioners is expected to consider next month whether to renegotiate its contract with residential recycling hauler, Bay Disposal, LLC.

The Norfolk, Va.-based solid waste collection, disposal and recycling company notified the town on Jan. 7 that all its recyclables were being transported to Wheelabrator, a waste-to-energy facility in Portsmouth, Va. to be generated as renewable electricity for a utility and used for steam at the U.S. Navy shipyard in Norfolk.

Under Nags Head’s current contract, Town Manager Cliff Ogburn said that no more than 10% of the weight of recycled materials collected in the Nags Head could end up in the landfill or be incinerated without permission from the town. The company notified the town “in good faith” of the contract breach, and Ogburn said the two are working together on potential solutions.

However, alternatives could be costly for the municipality. A Jan. 13 press release from the town stated that local governments across the country “are revisiting, and sometimes suspending, their recycling programs due to exorbitant cost increases.”

Bay Disposal also provides recycling services for individual clients throughout the Outer Banks who don’t reside in municipalities with recycling programs. Much like Nags Head, the town of Southern Shores has a contract with the company for its town-wide recycling program, while other towns subscribe with Bay Disposal for recyclables collected at municipal drop-off sites.

Both Nags Head and Southern Shores have faced steadily rising per ton rate increases. According to Ogburn, when the curbside residential recycling program was first launched in 2016, the town was being paid for the material.

“Then, we started paying ten dollars a ton and today we pay seventy dollars a ton because it is so difficult to find an organization that will purchase the material,” he said.

Currently, the town staff hauls recyclables to Bay Disposal’s facility in Currituck. From there, it has been sold to Tidewater Fibre Corporation (TFC). The problem, Ogburn noted, is that TFC “can’t find anyone to sell it to.” While TFC would continue to take the material, it would significantly increase the per ton cost and there would be no guarantees where the recyclables would end up.

Other options, such as sending recyclables to a single-stream recycling center in Northern Virginia, could mean more than double the cost for municipalities.

Southern Shores Interim Town Manager Wes Haskett told the Voice that his town is currently waiting to hear back from Bay Disposal about state requirements regarding the route by which recyclables get to Wheelabrator, which will, in turn, impact rates. “Either way, we are looking at a rate increase,” he noted.

While sending the Nags Head’s recyclables to Wheelabrator is permissible under the town’s 30-year agreement with the Albemarle Solid Waste Management Authority, Ogburn said a consideration just as important is whether the commissioners and the community want to continue the recycling program based on this new information.

Some in the community, Ogburn told the Voice, may support recycling but, are “not as agreeable to this form of use.”

“All of us on the Outer Banks and beyond have this problem,” he asserted, referring to the difficulties nationwide in finding entities that will buy recycling materials and the decision by China to no longer accept recyclables from the United States.

“Realistically, things are going in the wrong direction for recycling…but we still have hope,” Ogburn said, referring to possibilities such as a regional recycling facility. “We don’t want to stop altogether.”

Bay Disposal’s Outer Banks Site Manager Joshua Smaltz was not immediately available for comment.



  • Bob

    Perhaps proper burning to get energy from waste is the best use of it. I’ll surely make someone mad by saying it, but recycling has become a sort of religious thing that people feel that have to do, often without any consideration of the details. Some materials take a lot of energy to create and are great candidates for recycling (such as aluminum), others are at best a break-even situation. Are we improving things if it creates more CO2 by recycling than by burying it and starting over? Single stream is interesting as well, it sounds like that sort of thing is a lot of the reason that China no longer wants our garbage – too much different or non-recyclable material is mixed in, thus making recycling too difficult/expensive/whatever. And how much sense does it make to burn fossil fuels to truck garbage hours up the road and/or ship it overseas? Read up online, there are lots of details that will make you think twice about many aspects…assuming you don’t mind having your “religion” questioned.

    Wednesday, Jan 15 @ 12:12 pm
  • Ben Weber

    …and hauling it to Northern is even worse than burning it for energy. The energy to haul it daily to NVA is just not environmentally smart…full stop.

    Saturday, Jan 18 @ 10:53 pm