QUESTION: Does the pandemic-related closure of the two recycling locations north of Burlington mean that residents must now drive all the way to Alamance County’s landfill near Saxapahaw to drop off their recyclables? How long does the county intend to keep these two shuttered locations offline?
ANSWER: It may seem like the gas needed to reach the county landfill would all but negate the ecological benefit that recycling has for people who live in northern Alamance County. But the resulting increase in their carbon footprints is apparently just one more price that these folks have to endure due to ongoing ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.
On January 6, unspecified “COVID-19-related staffing concerns” prompted the county to temporarily shutter its unmanned recycling locations at both the Pleasant Grove Recreation Center and at 3479 Danieley Waterwheel Road. The county has traditionally provided both of these sites as a courtesy to residents in its northern extremities who opt out of the curbside recycling service that the county has contracted out to a pair of private waste haulers. The county also maintains a third, fully-staffed drop-off location at its landfill, whose grounds off of Austin Quarter Road are situated near the county’s southeastern corner.
According to Richard Hill, the director of Alamance County’s landfill, the two unmanned locations are maintained by the same 10-person detail that also manages the recycling operations off of Austin Quarter Road. Hill added that a recent spell of COVID-related absences among these 10 employees ultimately convinced the county’s administrators to close the two unmanned facilities in the northern part of the county.
“The reason for closing the two sites has nothing to do with the sites; it has to do with manpower,” the landfill’s director went on to elaborate in an interview Tuesday. “When the decision was made to close those facilities, half of those  employees were out due to COVID exposure and positive test results…We chose to keep our larger site open…[as] the one option that has the least effect on the community at large.”
Hill noted that the two sites in the northern part of the county account for some 40 to 50 percent of the recyclables that the county receives. He added, however, that these sites are also a considerable imposition on his staff, which is based at the facility along Austin Quarter Road.
“We have to go to those dumpsters every day,” he went on to explain. “We have to drive all the way from the landfill to both of these sites. We have to pick up those dumpsters if they are full, and we have to drive them all the way back to the landfill.”
Hill said that the staff’s workload is further increased by the failure of some residents to sort the recyclables which they dump at the two unmanned locations. He added that unsorted recyclables aren’t as much of a problem at Austin Quarter Road, where staff members are always on hand to help residents find the proper receptacles for their waste.
Hill acknowledged that his staffing dilemma has eased somewhat since January 6. He nevertheless conceded that, as of earlier this week, his 10-person detail was still down four employees – although only two of the four were out for coronavirus-related reasons.
In light of the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Hill said that the two unmanned recycling sites will have to remain shut down indefinitely.
“We, like you, have no idea how long we’re going to be affected by COVID,” he added. “But we will do what we can to keep the landfill and the convenience center at the landfill open.”