A North Carolina government office that provides substantial recycling industry support would be eliminated as part of a budget bill approved by the state Senate last week.
The Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service (DEACS), a 27-year-old office within the state Department of Environmental Quality, plays a number of roles in North Carolina recycling efforts. Last year, it funded 34 local governments and 25 businesses, acting as a catalyst for investments ranging from new equipment to outreach materials.
“This division goes away, that all goes away, and it suddenly becomes much more difficult for programs to invest in themselves,” said Mary McClellan, executive director of the Carolina Recycling Association (CRA). “That is a huge step backwards for the North Carolina recycling industry.”
According to a Senate committee report, the budget eliminates funding for DEACS programs, including waste reduction and recycling efforts. All of the division’s $2.9 million in funding and 32.5 of its full-time-equivalent positions, practically the entire staff, would be cut. The Senate on May 12 approved the bill, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
At the state level, North Carolina is not alone in targeting its recycling office. During the past decade, cuts have been implemented at various state programs, including in Florida, Georgia, Texas and more.
“There has been a little bit of an erosion going on of the state recycling programs,” said Scott Mouw, former director of DEACS’ recycling program. He retired from DEACS in February and has since joined The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit group that has corporate backing and aims to lift the U.S. recycling infrastructure. “That’s unfortunate because they can be such a great catalyst in terms of grant funding and providing that overarching coordination effort between markets and local communities.”
The proposal also mirrors the federal budget document that proposed to substantially cut U.S. EPA funding, including the agency’s voluntary waste minimization and recycling programs.
DEACS has three sections, one of which focuses exclusively on recycling and materials management. Its major recycling work comes down to two arenas: providing technical assistance and administering grant funds to public and private organizations.
In the past, the division has funded large materials recovery facility (MRF) upgrades, increased a C&D debris company’s throughput, installed recycling receptacles at sports fields, improved ease and efficiency at rural collection centers, provided ongoing support to rural hub-and-spoke recycling models, and more.
The division helped transition all municipal curbside programs from bins to recycling carts, Mouw said.
DEACS also helps with anything a city or county wants to do with a municipal program, he said, and in some cases DEACS provides continual support to help a program operate. Budget cuts would impact all of these programs, Mouw said.
“Communities would be basically on their own,” he said. “It would be a vacuum, a huge vacuum that developed if this program was not around.”
The division also provides information and guidance to recycling companies, leads outreach efforts to help cities spur public participation in recycling and trains recycling professionals throughout the state at various conferences.
“All those things, you put them all together and they really mean the state recycling office is an engine, a catalyst that really moves the recycling system forward in North Carolina,” Mouw said.
Targeted for cuts
The budget proposal comes during a turbulent political climate in North Carolina. Last fall, gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, a Democrat, narrowly defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican. The Republican-dominated House and Senate later mounted a campaign to limit Cooper’s powers as governor.
During the current General Assembly session, the House and Senate have used their supermajorities to override Cooper’s veto power on multiple occasions.
The budget also comes after past legislative efforts to dismantle its electronics recycling laws in recent years, none of which have passed. DEACS plays a role in ensuring the e-scrap recycling program is functional.
Mouw noted there hasn’t been a publicized rationale from the Senate side for why the division and its services were targeted for cuts.
The Senate approved the budget on party lines. Senate Republicans, who carried the bill, released a statement describing highlights of the budget, but the announcement did not mention DEACS.
Requests for comment from the primary sponsors of the budget bill, as well as a spokesperson for the Senate Republicans, were not returned by press time.
The next few weeks will be critical for the budget bill. The House is expected to propose its version of the budget this week, after which both chambers will come together to form a blended budget document.
CRA is encouraging people to contact legislators to emphasize the importance of the division both to individuals who live and work in North Carolina and to companies doing business in the state.
“North Carolina has been a leader in recycling initiatives in so many ways,” McClellan said, “and so to have our state get rid of this important office, it sets a very bad precedent for other states.”