By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice on February 9, 2020
As the international market for recycled materials shrinks, the impacts are being felt on the Outer Banks. And at their Feb. 5 meeting, the Nags Head Commissioners took a step to address the issue by voting to allow its recycling contractor to continue dispose of that material in a way that does not actually comply with its agreement with the town.
In early January, the town’s waste management contractor, Bay Disposal through its Outer Banks affiliate Outer Banks Hauling (OBH), notified the board of commissioners that it was unable to dispose of the material at a recycling center. Rather than place the assorted plastics, metal and glass in a landfill, the material was being taken to an incinerator and burned to create energy for the Navy.
According to the town’s existing contract with Bay Disposal, however, “No more than 10% by weight of all collected recyclable materials is to be land filled and/or incinerated without the express, written permission from the TOWN.”
At the Feb. 5 meetings, the commissioners weighed options that could have included amending the contract with Bay Disposal.
In his remarks, Mayor Ben Cahoon noted that the program in its current form wasn’t the recycling that residents had anticipated.
“The program is not what we always said it was. It’s not full recycling. It’s partial recycling. If we had been talking for the last fifteen or twenty years about a waste diversion program that was maybe recycling, maybe incinerating for energy. …Then when we wouldn’t be in this,” he said.
Nags Head Town Manager Cliff Ogburn noted that what was happening was beyond the control of OBH, saying, “Outer Banks Hauling has been an excellent partner with the town…The changing conditions are not their doing. They’re caught in the process as is everyone else.”
The town’s discussion also took place against a backdrop of a crumbling market for recyclables. Recycled materials are sold in an international marketplace and until 2018, China had been taking almost 50% of the world’s plastic and other materials for recycling. In January of that year, citing concerns for the health and safety of workers and residents, China stopped taking the West’s recyclables.
No other country has the ability or infrastructure in place to handle that quantity of material. The bottom fell out of the price of recyclables and with no place to put them, the plastic bottles, jugs and other materials have been put into storage waiting for a solution.
Mayor Cahoon noted that Nags Head was not alone in trying to find an answer for the town’s recyclable materials.
“I had a couple of conversations with a commissioner from Kill Devil Hills, and one conversation with a commissioner from Southern Shores. Their all trying to find their way through this as well,” he said.
Underlying the conversation, though, was an agreement that OBH has in violation of the contract with the town.
“There’s a legal issue to weigh in on,” Town Attorney John Leidy said, pointing out that if the commissioners wished to continue their contract with Bay Disposal, the two options were to give the company permission to not recycle for a period of time or to amend the contract.
“I like first one better because if you grant permission, you can also withdraw permission,” he said. “If you amend the contract, that requires an agreement and if you want to change that agreement later on you have to get their agreement or terminate the contract. The town has more control if you grant permission for some period of time.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to grant permission to Bay Disposal to continue to not recycle materials until June 30.