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Tega Cay excels at recycling

TEGA CAY -- Tega Cay folks don't just recycle. They recycle in whopping quantities.

About 75 percent of Tega Cay customers recycle, compared to about 32 percent nationwide, according to Joe Swinford, president and owner of Signature Waste Systems, the company that collects the city's garbage and recyclables.

During December through February, 180 tons of recyclables were collected in Tega Cay, Swinford said. That compares with 85 tons during the same period in Fort Mill, according to York County Solid Waste Collection and Recycling. The two municipalities have about the same number of customers -- 2,800.

Tega Cay collects the same kinds of recyclable materials as York County, which disposes of recyclables in the county and for municipalities other than Tega Cay. And the price is comparable to the county and municipalities, Swinford said.

Swinford and some Tega Cay residents attribute the numbers to Signature's collection method. In Tega Cay, residents don't lug a 15-gallon container each week to curbside, where workers sort and toss it into the truck.

Every other Friday, Tega Cay residents roll 96-gallon containers that look like regular garbage cans to the curb. There is no sorting at curbside. The truck's arm lifts the garbage can, dumps its contents into the truck and carries it to Pratt Industries in southwest Charlotte, where it is sorted and baled by machine. Pratt then sells the recyclables to other companies.

Signature began recycling in Tega Cay in November after the city accepted bids as required by law. Signature's bid was the most competitive, city manager Grant Duffield said.

Concerns put to rest

Some residents were concerned because they were accustomed to the former garbage contractor's service and schedule.

Jane Myers said she was one of them. She lives alone on a lot at the bottom of a hill and had been recycling newspapers only, transporting them by car to the Baxter Village convenience center in Fort Mill Township. In the beginning, she expressed concern about getting a 96-gallon container up and down the driveway.

She recently appeared before the City Council to laud the new method.

"I definitely believe people are recycling more," she said by phone, "including me. They have that one big bin, and we can mix the products and roll it to the street. Let the recycling people worry about it after that. I see more and more people who never recycled before recycling now."

Duffield believes people in Tega Cay's lakefront, recreation community are environmentally conscious but thinks there also is another reason recycling numbers shot up about 15 to 20 percent since Signature took over.

"Making it easier to recycle has a lot to do with it," he said.

Charlene Carter, 37, drives the recycling truck in Tega Cay and said she prefers it to her former job in Charlotte-Mecklenburg because she doesn't get very dirty, has to exit the truck only if someone needs help at curbside and can easily wash up and prepare dinner for her 7-year-old daughter when she gets home.

"It's less wear and tear on your body," she said.

Carter drives the truck up U.S. 49 to Pratt, located near Westinghouse Boulevard. The truck dumps its contents, and the recyclables roll down a conveyor belt.

Fans, centrifugal force and gravity separate paper from glass, aluminum and plastic in a cylinder.

While the paper clings to the cylinder's side, cans and plastic roll down the cylinder to move along a different conveyor belt and be machine-baled. The bales of aluminum and plastic are shipped elsewhere for sorting.

Glass falls to the bottom of the cylinder, where it is crushed and boxed.

Screens of different heights separate cardboard from smaller paper as it moves down the paper belt, then is baled by machine.

By Friday afternoon, all of Tega Cay's recyclables are en route by truck to their ultimate destination.