North Carolina airport recycling center faces hurdles

North Carolina airport recycling center faces hurdles

By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling

Dec. 18, 2013

An airport recycling and composting program in North Carolina, once thought to be in a league of its own, is still trying to get off the ground more than a year after launching.

In 2011 Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) awarded startup Go Green with a contract to run what was to become a state-of-the-art — and profitable — airport recycling and composting program housed in a 30,000-square-foot facility on airport property. Instead of sending the airport's trash and recyclables to a nearby landfill, the recycling center would accept, sort and sell recyclables while composting food scraps. The effort was aimed at saving money and cutting down on waste at the "second busiest airport on the Eastern seaboard," according to a sustainability video on CLT's website.

A recent review of public records by the Charlotte Observer, however, shows that, since its official opening in June 2012, the operation has faced mechanical issues, higher-than-expected costs and lower-than-expected returns. Permit complications have prevented the composting effort from commencing, and a recent visit by a state inspector has prompted the program to rebuild an "asphalt curb around the trash dump area" before pursuing certification.

Sanitation issues have also been raised, with a gang of cats set loose on the premises to help keep rats and other vermin under control.

Go Green's president Cynthia Payne, who did not have waste management experience prior to landing the airport job, told the Observer the program had faced obstacles but was persevering. "We've really overcome an immense amount of challenges," Payne said. "You always have to learn what doesn't work in an effort to learn what does work."

It in its first year, the program managed to divert roughly 30 percent of the airport's trash from area landfills, well below the expected 70 percent diversion rate. Still the current figure is above average airport rates, which come in at less than 20 percent, airport officials told the Observer. Officials would now like to see that rate climb to 50 percent, but they acknowledge initial hopes may never be met.

On a financial level, the airport did report saving money on its waste management program. In 2012, CLT spent $536,979 on landfill fees. During the 2013 fiscal year the airport spent $409,546 on landfill fees, down about 24 percent from the year before.

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