By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
This will come as no surprise to anyone who calls New Hanover County home, but our community is rapidly growing. As people learn about the amazing quality of life available here and make plans to relocate, we know there will be challenges in maintaining and improving the standard of living in Southeastern North Carolina.
One of the biggest areas of concern as we grow, centers around waste and how we manage it. And that is not limited to the garbage we put in curbside bins or the recyclables we haul to drop-off locations around the county. It includes the debris we see on our roadways, a noticeable eyesore that has needed to be addressed for some time.
Gary Moore, a 20-plus year veteran with our Recycling & Solid Waste team, has seen the growth in our community and the change in how we handle waste over the years. Now, as the supervisor for our Litter Management Crew, Gary helps make sure first impressions of our county are positive for visitors, while keeping the community clean for residents.
The county’s Litter Management Division was created in 2022 by the Board of Commissioners and has already made a big difference. So, for this month’s public service profile, I asked Gary about the impact the Litter Management Crew is making on our community, what changes in our recycling program mean moving forward and how our residents can help keep New Hanover County beautiful. That conversation is below …
Tell us about your current role with our Recycling & Solid Waste division and how it’s changed over the years.
I joined what was previously called Environmental Management way back in 2002, starting in recycling as an equipment operator. Things were significantly different at that time because we actually hand-sorted all recyclable materials that were collected and brought into the facility. It was a very daunting process to look over things and get them sent into the right place. At that time, the county concentrated on collecting and processing #1 and #2 plastics, cardboard, mixed paper and aluminum cans. As our community has grown, so has what we can accept as recyclable material. Thanks to the expanded partnership with Sonoco Recycling, there is a much more robust facility and we are now able to recycle things like pizza boxes – as long as they’re not too greasy – and the steel cans you get at the grocery store. Recently, we added #5 plastics to the list, along with paper food containers like take-out drink cups, which is helping reduce even more waste.
The Litter Management Division was created in 2022 to address roadside waste in unincorporated areas of the county, so take me through what your team has been able to accomplish so far.
Honestly, it has really been a learning experience for all of us involved. Right now, we have a small but dedicated team that goes out every day and works to address high traffic areas to make sure debris is removed. And they’ve really done an incredible job in a short amount of time. Between last September and this April, our Litter Management Crew has picked up nearly 77,000 pounds of litter off the side of the road. To give you some context, that amount is equal to the weight of a fully loaded tractor-trailer. It’s a never-ending job, unfortunately, as they come back each day with another load, but we’re proud of the work we are doing to keep our area clean.
You also help oversee our recycling drop-off locations throughout the county – can you share about some of the exciting changes around what materials we can accept for recycling? Also, just out of curiosity – what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen brought to a recycling station that wasn’t recyclable?
As I mentioned earlier, just in the last few months, we’ve added #5 plastics, paper-based containers, and even coffee pods to the list of acceptable materials for recycling. Because of this, it’s become easier to keep things out of the landfill, which is crucial considering how limited space is getting at the site. While there are still materials we don’t have the capability to recycle yet (like plastic bags!), a good portion of the everyday items you use can have a second life. The best thing to do is check our Recycling and Solid Waste website to see what is acceptable. That said, some of the stuff you see at the recycling drop-off stations can be bizarre. One of the strangest things I ever got called about was someone had put a large cooler in one of our bins and it was stuffed with the remains of a deer carcass after processing. We also routinely see a lot of food waste from people cleaning fish and shrimp. I certainly encourage people to compost at home if they can or bring food waste to our composter at the landfill for no charge.
What is your message to community members who are looking to do their part in keeping New Hanover County clean?
I would encourage anybody hauling something in the back of their truck or in a trailer to tarp their loads. Everyone thinks the trash on the side of the road is from someone throwing things out the window of their vehicle, but really one of the biggest contributors to litter is items that get blown out while driving. And I know it can be a hassle but if you’re taking something to the landfill and it’s no longer in the back of your truck when you arrive, it’s now on the side of the road where it shouldn’t be. Please retrace your trip to look for it and get it off the roads. The last thing we want to do is have our law enforcement partners issue a littering ticket.
Gary’s institutional knowledge and passion for our community have been crucial in helping the Litter Management Crew make a fast impact. I appreciate his commitment to his new role within our organization. Over a career that spans more than two decades, he has proven to be a team player in adapting to changes as needed.
If you would like to learn about the new recycling programs within the county, the work of our Litter Management Crew or more about Recycling & Solid Waste, visit their website here.