When Orangeburg resident Dr. Jack Johnson visits the North Road trash collection site twice a month to dispose of his oil, yard debris and lumber products, he is discouraged by what he sees.
"For many years it was well kept up and looked good," Johnson said. "The last couple of months, it seems like it deteriorated some as far as it looks."
Johnson is most concerned about the working conditions for the employees, particularly at the North Road collection site.
The site is considered one of the busiest in the county, according to collection center employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Employees estimate between 300 to 400 cars come to the site on a daily basis.
Johnson said he is specifically concerned employees have to sit in a 4-by-4-foot shed that is not climate-controlled, having to operate the trash compactors hours upon hours.
"When the heat index is 100 or something, these poor people," he said. "They have two little shacks they have to run those things. Those things (shacks) look like little shacks from a third world country almost. They look terrible."
Each shed does have a box fan but they do little good when the mercury rises.
"It is terrible," he said. "People have to sit out there. It seems to me it is like locking a child in a car and going into the store. They are kind of working in harsh conditions."
There is a climate-controlled building where employees can receive relief from the heat and cold, but due to how busy the North Road site is, they say they need to constantly man the trash compactors.
Five individuals staff the North Road site. Other busy sites in the county include Glover Street and Ruf Road, the employee said.
"This (North Road) site is different. You have to be out there, otherwise the stuff will be on the ground," the employee said. "The only thing we do is report it and nothing happens."
One employee at the North Road site said recently a staff member became ill because of heat.
"The fan is blowing out hot air," the employee said. "That is why the guy got sick the other day and started vomiting."
"You have to stay there," the employee said. "You have to sit out there. You can't afford to run back and forth (into air conditioning) because there are too many cars. We are overpowered."
"When your hands are tied, what can you do?" the employee said.
Johnson says the issue has concerned him to the point where he may bring it before county council.
He would like the county to better fund the solid waste collection system especially for the employees.
"Maybe go out there and put up a little better building," he said. "Insulate it a little bit better and put a window unit on it. In the winter, heat is a problem."
"We are in the process of fixing and doing upgrades at each site," Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said. "We are exploring a contract for a modular unit to replace the older units."
Young said the county is doing "incremental upgrades all the time" to all the sites, but with a site within five miles of every county resident's home, the "process is time consuming."
Young said each site does have a climate-controlled administrative building and shaded areas where employees can receive relief from the elements.
"They work at the site in twos so they can swap off and get air," Young said, noting the county has also put electrical outlets in the sheds so employees can hook up fans.
Johnson also noted some containers have rusted through, leaving holes in their bottoms. The container holding white goods at the North Road site is just one example.
"Employees need good equipment to do the job," he said.
Young said the county is aware of the needs and has acted upon them.
"We just made big purchases of new compactors," Young said, referring to the county receiving a $149,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Grant for the purchase of 21 trash compactors for the entire county this May.
But Johnson's concerns go beyond the employees. He says waste collects at the site to the point of overwhelming the containers.
He noted in particular the container at the North Road site with televisions and electronics was full to capacity and was flowing out from under the shed housing the items.
Yard debris also frequently overflows the container, making it difficult to find placement for the debris.
"Evidently the containers are not being picked up like they should be," he said. "A lot of the containers were overflowing."
For the past five years, the county has contracted with Florida-based Dorado Services for solid waste disposal.
The contract with the company is through June 2020, with the county paying about $58,400 per month.
Dorado picks up the containers of household trash at the collection sites and hauls them to The Three Rivers Solid Waste Authority in Aiken County, Young said.
There the trash is separated and recycled accordingly.
Young said it is the responsibility of site attendants to call in the hauling trucks when containers become full.
He said there can be delays in trash pickup as there is a shortage in truck drivers.
"We feel like we are getting a decent service for the amount we pay on the contract we have with them," Young said, but the county has "put the company on notice" that it may explore the market for another hauling company when the contract ends.
Young explained the handling and packaging of electronic waste have changed over the years.
For the last eight years, it has been illegal in the state to dispose of e-waste in landfills. E-waste includes computers, computer monitors, computer components, printers and televisions, as well as parts of any of these items.
Currently, the North Road site, sites in North and Santee, and the county's landfill accept e-waste. The e-waste is for residential use only. Commercial customers have to recycle these items with a bonafide recycler or in a take-back program from the retailer/manufacturer.
E-waste is segregated and taken to the county's landfill, where Salley-based Intelligent Lifecycle Solutions collects and disposes of the waste.
Young said the process can be time consuming, resulting in the buildup of electronics at the convenience sites.
Despite the drop-off points, residents are encouraged to first utilize take-back programs from retailers/manufacturers. Information on the programs can be found at https://scdhec.gov/environment/recycling-waste-reduction/electronics-recycling.
In addition to e-waste, the county has contracted with recycling companies to take cardboard, tires and white goods (refrigerators, washers, driers) from the convenience site to various recycling facilities.
Young explained that construction and demolition debris is taken from the collection centers to the county's own construction and demolition landfill.
Metal scraps are sold to Orangeburg's Sunshine Recycling.
Johnson, who has lived in Orangeburg since 1976, says things have gotten better in the county's solid waste disposal.
He recalled back in the day before the convenience sites when the North Road had two containers that were not staffed.
"People would go there and dump all sorts of stuff in the containers," he said. "Back then, when I pulled up and threw something in there, you would have to kind of look in there and make sure nobody was in there, because occasionally you would throw something in there and there would be somebody dumpster diving in the containers."
Currently, Orangeburg County has 21 collection sites, not including the county landfill. The sites are located throughout the county with the intent that individuals are within short driving distance of each site.
The collection centers are open Monday and Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The collection centers are closed Wednesday and Sunday. The centers are also closed on major holidays.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.
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