Local News

Trash troubles: NC garbage woes mounting

Posted October 25, 2017 3:19 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 9:55 a.m. EDT

Did you know that every year residents in North Carolina dispose of enough trash to circle the Earth -- twice?

Several counties around the state, including those in the Triangle, are buried underneath mounting piles of trash as local leaders figure out how to dig out from under a growing problem that, left unsolved, will only get worse.

"We're doing our best to deal with these things," said John Roberson, who is solid waste director for Wake County.

Wake and other local counties are each taking different routes to adequately deal with the thousands of tons of trash that is delivered to landfills and recycling centers. But according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the amount of trash being taken to many county disposal sites is growing.

  • In July 2015, Wake County had a population of slightly over 1 million residents. In 1991-92, the county managed nearly 570,000 tons of waste. Flash forward to 2015-16, the county managed just shy of 1.03 million tons of trash.
  • In July 2015, Durham County had about 298,000 residents. In 1991-92, it managed 218,000 tons of trash. In 2015-16, that figure rose to 285,000 tons.
  • Johnston County saw a spike in the level of garbage it manages. In 1991-92, it was handling just over 74,000 tons of trash, while in 2015-16, that figure skyrocketed to nearly 175,000 tons.
  • The picture was slightly different for Orange County. With a population of 140,000 residents, its amount of trash deposited in 1991 was about 132,000 tons, but that figure dropped by almost half, to 72,000 tons, in 2015-16.

In Wake County, just one person generates more than 1 ton of garbage a year, which is down from 25 years ago.

Figures show that Wake residents generate more trash per person than their counterparts in Durham, Granville, Franklin, Nash, Johnston, Harnett and Chatham counties. That has the county scrambling for additional ways to respond to its mounting garbage piles.

A Wake County landfill that opened in 2008 may very well be the county's last such facility, and it's expected to reach capacity in 25 years or so. There is an economic impact for the amount of trash being disposed of around the state.

Consider that:

  • North Carolina residents each year dispose of over $41 million worth of plastic.
  • The state's residents toss nearly $17 million worth of steel products every year.
  • About $270 million worth of goods that can be recycled is disposed of every year.
  • State officials say only half of aluminum cans are recycled and over 752 pounds of trash is discarded every second around the state -- nine times the amount of material that is being recycled.
  • Recycling in North Carolina is a job creator and a growing part of the state’s economy. Recycling employs more than 14,490 North Carolinians, and recycling jobs have increased about 13 percent in the last four years.
  • North Carolinians throw away more than $164,375,460 in mixed paper each year.
  • North Carolinians throw away more than $41,411,600 in plastic each year.
  • North Carolinians throw away enough trash to fill Dumpsters from Charlotte to Cary every 20 days and from Greensboro to Goldsboro every 20 days.
  • The trash we throw into the landfill each year in North Carolina is equivalent to the weight of 7,866,666 cars.
  • Every 40 days, North Carolinians throw away enough trash to fill Dumpsters lining the entire North Carolina coastline.
  • Last year, North Carolina residents trashed enough paper to fill 1,558 football fields 3 feet deep.
  • Every 17.3 seconds, North Carolinians throw away enough plastic bottles to reach the height of the Bank of America Building in Charlotte.
  • Every 1.3 minutes, North Carolinians throw away enough plastic bottles to reach the distance of the first Wright Brothers’ flight.
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