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Salmond leads city of Camden’s recycling team

Posted: October 17, 2013 4:41 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Camden residents might not know Shelley personally, but he and his crew visit each home every week. Shelley Salmond is the city of Camden’s sanitation supervisor with a crew of 14 men and three women who pick up residents’ curbside trash, yard debris and recyclables.

A lifelong resident of Camden, Salmond graduated from Camden High School. In his 24th consecutive year working for the city, Salmond has always been with the sanitation department. He started as a swing man, then was promoted to crew chief and has been a supervisor for 10 years.

Through the efforts of the city and the sanitation department, Camden is becoming recognized as a rising star in South Carolina recycling efforts. Salmond said he is proud of his department’s contributions as a vital element of the teamwork that is taking the city’s recycle program to higher levels of excellence.

Salmond is quick to point out that the recycling business first and foremost depends on a workable business model.

“Recycling is a business,” Salmond says, “and while no municipality creates a dollar profit on recycling, the recycling businesses we deliver materials to must make a profit to keep in business. So a lot of what we are able to do with recycling is dependent on the bigger recycling business market.”

The history of Camden’s recycling program reflects these sentiments.

“When we first started the city recycling program in 1995 with the curbside green recycle bins, we used to have a sorted truck do the curbside pickup,” Salmond explained.

Different recyclables were placed in different compartments within the truck according to type, (paper, glass, aluminum, etc.).

“We had compartments for green, brown and clear glass; aluminum cans; newspaper; and plastic jugs. We also picked up cardboard from residents and businesses,” Salmond explained, “but we ran into problems with the contractors who hauled the different sorted materials to a larger recycle processing plant.

“The contractors would call and tell us ‘the truck broke down’ and we’d be stuck with piles of materials waiting to be picked up. One time we ended up with a mountain of cardboard that was soggy wet from rain -- it was a mess! And when our bailer broke down, we’d have to have someone come in from Atlanta to fix it. It was expensive, inconvenient, and a big problem for everyone.”

As recycling efforts improved in the state, Salmond converted Camden’s recycling to a comingled operation. Under this approach, all the recyclables are placed into the truck unsorted and are driven to a commercial recycling business in Darlington.

“At that time, the only benefit, other than doing the right thing by recycling, was we could defer landfill usage,” Salmond said.

Later, Sonoco contacted him, saying it would begin accepting Camden’s comingled recycling materials in Columbia and would compensate the city for them as well.

“We’ve come a long way since 1995,” Salmond said with a smile.

He explained that the biggest advantage of recycling is “we have longer use of our current landfill because we can send the waste material to recycling processing plants instead of filling up our landfills faster. And we know recycling is ultimately the right thing to do -- so it’s all good.”

On any given week, Randal Lee, Kenny Bracey and, often, Herman McLeod when filling in for Lee or Bracey, empty residents’ curbside recycle container into a rear loader truck and transport the recyclables to Columbia. A small reimbursement from Sonoco is determined by weighing the truck before and after delivery to the process area. From the process area, piles of material are placed onto a conveyer belt by a bobcat or forklift. About 20 people sort and separate the materials which are then sent to specific glass, paper, cardboard, aluminum or plastic processing plants, and the materials eventually find their way back to new product lives.

As commercial for-profit recycling operations have come to South Carolina, the list of recyclable materials has increased.

“We used to only be able to accept No. 1 or No. 2 labeled plastics, but now we can accept No. 1 through No. 7,” Salmond said.

Some items cannot be accepted for recycling at curbside.

“We don’t recycle anything with a cord,” Salmond explained. “All those go to Kershaw County drop-off centers.”

That includes any small electric appliances or white goods such as large household appliances like refrigerators and washing machines.

“Most people don’t know they are required by S.C. law to recycle electronics. It’s against the law to put a computer, monitor, printer, or television out on the curb for pickup,” Salmond explained.

It’s also illegal for a resident to take apart electronics for the purpose of recycling. Only businesses that meet rigorous regulatory requirements, and are certified to do so, are allowed to take apart electronics.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam are not recyclable through the city although some grocery stores have their own recycle programs for these items. (Food Lion and Walmart in Camden accept plastic bags.) Blue glass is also not recyclable.

“To start with, there is not a big recycle market for glass and none for blue glass. If there’s no (commercial recycle) market, there’s no recycle program,” Salmond said.

In time, when recycling some items becomes profitable, the list of non-recyclables will shrink.

For the same reason, there is currently no recycling for foil bags (chip bags) or portable device batteries in Camden so these items will continue to go to landfills.

“Car batteries should be recycled at county centers,” Salmond stressed.

Construction and contractor debris is not picked up but should be taken to the county landfill. Private owner paint cans are collected by the city but are a unique disposal problem. Salmond recommended that residents “put sand in the paint can and dry it out, then put them in the garbage because they aren’t recyclable.”

City team efforts extending beyond Salmond’s immediate department are also in evidence.

“The blue steel bins in parks and city streets were funded in part by a Keep America Beautiful grant won by the city of Camden and only two other cities in South Carolina,” Salmond said. “We saw a need last year to help some citizens who were diligent with their efforts to recycle so we came up with a program to incorporate 65 gallon recycling wheelers, affectionately called ‘herbie curbies’ -- 65-gallon wheeled containers are easier to get to the curb … a solution with two wheels!”

People are able to put out more recyclables and it is easier for them to get it to the curb. Starting out with his own budget, Salmond purchased 150 blue herbie curbies as a pilot program and provided them to Camden residents who requested them in person at city hall or online and submitted a request form.

“It was a hit and we had a waiting list, so Amy Stenger (the city of Camden’s grant writer), found a S.C. grant for cities to improve recycling programs,” Salmond said.

The detailed grant application helped the city received $5,000, the maximum grant award.

“This team effort keeps the cost of recycling down for the city,” Salmond said.

To gauge the effectiveness of the program Salmond’s team, including Assistant to the City Manager Caitlin Corbett, tracks how full the herbie curbies are.

“So far we’ve seen that new containers usually are half-full or completely full, so we’re definitely seeing more recycling with the larger containers, and that’s the ultimate payoff,” Salmond said.

If a resident needs more room to recycle, they can request a second regular bin (18 gallon) as supply permits.

Recycling efforts for Salmond extend beyond curbside to an active community presence where he promotes public awareness.

“I’ve visited schools in the city to help educate the kids and staff alike,” he said. “Some parents have told me their children have stopped them from throwing something away. ‘No, Mom, that goes into the recycle bin!’ they’ve said, so the message is getting through.”

Inspired by a recycle field trip Sonoco offers for students, Salmond has provided recycle programs for schools in the city.

“I previously thought older kids wouldn’t be as interested in recycling, but I was wrong,” Salmond said. “It turns out the high school and middle school are the school recycle leaders. Head Start at the CLC building has been excellent at recycling and we’re hoping the other schools follow suit.”

Salmond said the city itself is practicing what it preaches.

“All our city office buildings, including police and fire departments, get a blue recycle bin for their office. It’s really helped reduce office paper waste,” he said.

Future plans for Salmond include potential expansion of his Smart Business Recycling Program partnership with local private businesses.

“Currently, we offer cardboard recycling for local merchants, but we want to grow business recycling, but it’s complicated,” Salmond said. “Whatever we do must be sustainable, otherwise it’s a waste of city resources. We will need partnership discussions with local businesses and then examine what differences there are between standard garbage/landfill cost and a possible new recycle program cost. It’s a matter of coming up with an acceptable balance of doing the right thing regarding the positive benefits of recycling and still reducing the overall expense to be sure once a program is started, we can maintain it.

“With citizens, some recycle a lot, some recycle a little and some not at all, but if they recycle they do it because they want to. However, if a business owner decides to put an emphasis on recycling, it’s no guarantee that some employees will go the extra step to recycle. If an employee mixes garbage with the recycle, it drives up the city’s cost and makes the process unsustainable.”

Salmond said solutions to working with businesses depend not only upon talking to local businesses, but talking to other cities and commercial recyclers to see what might work, both today and tomorrow. To that end, Salmond said his membership in the Carolina Recycling Association, founded in 1989, has been a great source for information and ideas to advancing waste reduction and recycling.

“Southern states have been slow to embrace recycling, but that’s changing now,” he said.

He also said partnering with related businesses has also improved public awareness.

“Sometimes, we’ve had people put clothes in curbside recycle containers and that creates a huge headache,” Salmond said, “but partnering with Goodwill, allowing people to bring in anything they want to donate except tires and batteries, creates a win-win opportunity. We also hope to have a ‘recycle day’ similar to our past success with ‘shred day.”

Salmond commended his team for high marks in efficiency and service.

“Years ago we went into people’s backyards to do garbage pickup, but today it’s different because people put out the bins curbside. Sometimes we get calls from people who say we missed a pickup, but we track homes daily that don’t have their bins out to make sure we don’t miss a pickup,” Salmond said.

He said he is sympathetic of folks who simply forget pickup day.

“When people realize the truck is on the street they often run to put out their carts, but because of fuel and labor expenses, we only pass through once a week,” he said.

Salmond advises a simple routine of putting out the bin after 7 p.m. the day before pickup and retrieve it before 7 p.m. on pickup day to avoid disappointment.

“For safety’s sake, we try to pick up as early as possible and stay out of school zones at active opening and closing times to avoid traffic because everyone has somewhere to go and with our big truck, we’re in their way,” Salmond said. “We wear high visibility reflective vests, but we’ve also had too many close calls when people speed down roads.”

Overall, Salmond is pleased with the progress he’s seen in Camden’s recycling efforts.

“I’ve been here 24 years and people used to throw away so much, waste so much stuff. When I first started, the landfill and curbside was a flea market. If you saw a portable heater on a curbside in summer, or a fan curbside in winter, you could bet they still worked; someone was just throwing them out,” he said. “Now much of what used to just go to the landfill and use up valuable space is recycled or reused by someone else and that’s been real progress. But, everyday, our department and city are looking for sustainable ways to do even better.”

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