Berkeley County is preparing to soon start doing something new with its garbage.
Currently 100 percent of county trash gets dumped in the landfill in Moncks Corner. After breaking ground last April, RePower South will begin operations at the landfill in March and tons of household refuse will be sorted, cleaned or pulverized, packaged and shipped.
Trash and technology will collide on conveyor belts in the hopes that a profit will be made and some long-awaited good news can emit from the landfill site.
Officials with Repower South, which also has a facility in Montgomery, Alabama, said they plan to re-purpose almost 70 percent of all the waste that comes into the Highway 52 facility. The model is to sell recyclable items like water bottles, cardboard, paper and metal cans. In the recycling business, such products are referred to as commodities and the company wants to sort and sell them quickly as possible.
That takes care of about 30 to 35 percent of the trash, officials said; and that step, other than how it will be sorted, is nothing new at landfills. Finding a use for the additional 30 percent is the rub with the rubbish. Repower claims they have a plan for that, too.
“We take non-recyclable papers and plastics and we manufacture that into an engineered fuel that is a replacement for coal,” said Repower South CEO Brian Gilhuly. “Instead of landfilling 70 percent of the residue after the recycled commodity, we’re able to take an additional 30 percent of that and turn it into our product, which is our fuel. So that changes the economics of mixed waste processing entirely and that is what’s new and different.”
Confident RePower South’s new fuel and sorting techniques are the future, the company invested $40 million into the county landfill. And the county is to benefit greatly, receiving a 12-percent cut of the commodity sales per quarter, once sales exceed $1.4 million.
The same goes with the proprietary manufactured fuel. The county gets a 12-percent cut of it, too, once sales exceed $1.2 million. But the catch at this time, with the fuel, is there are no buyers.
“We have agreements from a series of different vendors, some cement mills up in the Holy Hill area as well as some testing agreements with utilities to consume our fuel,” Gilhuly said.
The lack of buyers could be a concern in the future, although the county, which currently has no recycling program, doesn’t have much to lose. The 100,000-square-foot facility and the equipment inside the property is paid for by RPS. The land at the landfill is leased from the county.
Political capital may take the biggest hit, if RPS doesn’t offer what is promised. Most recently the county fumbled on both GenEarth and Viva Recycling after the companies failed to deliver.
“Worst case for Berkeley County, if for some reason we don’t survive, (is) they just continue landfilling like they are today at no cost or no expense to the county,” Gilhuly said.
Berkeley County is responsible for supplying the trash and committed to dumping 120,000 tons of it annually into RePower South’s “tip-room.” From there, it’s on to a long conveyor where robotic arms, inferred sensors, blasts of air and gravity will meticulously sort 700 tons of garbage every day. Roughly 30 percent of the remaining trash, after RPS sorts and sells, goes into the ground.