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Proposed Mecklenburg ordinance would ban items in roll-out garbage carts

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Most days when Robert Yost wheels his overflowing city-issued recycling cart to the curb, he looks down his west Charlotte street and finds no other green carts in sight.

Instead, the street is lined with battleship gray garbage carts. Yet they’re usually filled with recyclables such as plastic bottles, newspapers, cans and glass bottles.

Typically, his own garbage roll-out isn’t even half full because Yost and his wife take the time to sort recyclables into their green cart. He even brings home recyclables he gathers at Charlotte’s New Life Theological Seminary, where he is academic dean.

So, naturally, Yost was excited to see a proposed Mecklenburg ordinance that would make it illegal to put items into garbage roll-out carts that North Carolina bans from licensed landfills. Those items include: plastic bottles, aluminum cans, yard waste, discarded electronics such as computers and TVs, used oil, oil filters, car batteries and fluorescent light bulbs.

“It just make sense,” Yost said. “We have people who for whatever reason – apathy or they’re too doggone lazy or ignorant – don’t use the green cans.”

The ordinance, still in the talking stage, would require approval from Mecklenburg commissioners and boards for the county’s seven municipalities, said county Solid Waste Management Director Bruce Gledhill.

Gledhill said he doesn’t see the votes taking place before the end of the year.

But it is a primary strategy to reduce landfill trash by 18 percent in Mecklenburg’s 10-year solid waste plan approved in 2012.

“The state already bans these items from being disposed in landfills, and yet the trucks bring them in every day,” Gledhill said. “So we’re telling the community that we’re considering an ordinance that would simply ban placing recyclable items into garbage roll-outs.

“We have a system already to put them in green carts and take those carts to the curb. For items like acid batteries and motor vehicle filters, we have full recycling centers.”

Though months from a decision, the county has held four public forums on the issue to gather feedback.

They’ve been sparsely attended, Gledhill said. “Tens (of people), rather than hundreds,” he said.

Most residents at the forums, he said, embraced the proposed ordinance, and many wanted to take it further to include food. A few were against it, saying “we don’t need government regulations telling us what to do. The number of people who were supportive far, far exceeded people who opposed any additional regulations.”

County commissioners Chairwoman Pat Cotham supports it.

“This is very important for the future of our planet,” she said. “I think everyone can do a better job with recycling. Even people who pride themselves with recycling can still do a better job with it.”

For a fourth year, Cotham is hosting three Chinese students and has worked to educate them on the concept of recycling. One student is from Beijing, a city known for its air pollution.

“I have to work with that student the most to recycle the right things,” she said. “None of them know much about recycling – it’s simply not done in their country. They sit outside at night and just watch the stars that they can’t see in China because the air is so bad.”

Gledhill said the proposed ordinance could come with a fine for those who continue to put banned items in their garbage roll-outs, but “we are limited in the kinds of penalties we can set.”

Yost said he was recently in Cambridge, England, for his son’s wedding. That city “very effectively fines you if you have wrong materials in your trash can.”

He’s seen penalties effectively used in other places, too. “I am definitely in favor of that,” he said. “It’s just appalling how many people do not recycle. I don’t think it a rich/poor issue, or smart/uneducated issue.

“I know people who recycle and they’re very poor. They just have a good social conscience about this. Then you have people who live in rich neighborhoods – with Ph.D.s and executive jobs – and they couldn’t be bothered with it.”

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