Recyclables from Orange Beach and Gulf Shores will be handled at the Gulf Shores Public Works facility
By John Mullen
A little operation started in an empty lot and housed in temporary fencing across from the beach to recycle abandoned beach chairs, tents and remove trash will grow in 2019 to cover both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
If an agreement is passed on Nov. 13 by Gulf Shores City Council, recyclables from both cities will be handled at the Gulf Shores Public Works facility north of the Intracoastal Waterway on 36th Avenue West.
“In 2016 we were just behind Alvin’s Island trying to figure it out and we’ve evolved to where we are now which is pretty significant,” Assistant Public Works Director Noel Hand said.
Orange Beach will pay Gulf Shores $4,000 a month to process its recyclables, payable in a lump sum of $48,000.
“Republic Services does their waste hauling and our waste hauling and recycling and they’ll bring it to our shop,” Hand said. “Technically, island-wide it’s going to come to us. Orange Beach is going to have more skin in the game. Otherwise, they are just giving their problem to us. We have gone back and forth on that and that was the fair price we thought we could be at.”
Orange Beach will also add glass collection receptacles at its city collection sites and bring what it collects to the Gulf Shores center.
“This is strictly drop off,” Hand said. “Orange Beach will have remote drop-off area and Orange Beach will bring their glass to us separate from Republic Services. You can’t put glass in your recycle bin because it gets contaminated with the single-stream recycling.”
Hand has led the Gulf Shores recycling effort beginning with the Leave Only Footprints program in 2016 and has expanded the program through grants from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, especially the glass program.
“We got a glass pulverizer that’s about an $80,000 ticket item we got from ADEM,” Hand said. “Then we got a surge hopper that goes on top of it that we can dump large amounts of glass in it. That was probably a $40,000 item that was an attachment to that piece of equipment. Now we can dump it in with a tractor front-end loader instead of individual trash cans.”
ADEM grants have also bought balers for cardboard, collection bins for drop-off centers, larger bins for remote drop-off areas and tilt trailers for easier unloading of materials collected from the beach and brought to the center.
“We can actually dump the material onto the conveyor belts,” Hand said. “That has helped streamline the process.”
Hand said the more automated the process becomes the more the program can save on labor costs. And, like many private businesses on the island, finding workers to man the center has been a struggle.
“But you have to make investments with the equipment to make that happen,” Hand said. “You won’t see that investment turned around in a year but it does help when you don’t have to have the labor to be able to sort. We have specific equipment and conveyor belts to be able to things a person can do. It’s becoming more difficult when the economy keeps getting stronger. The way it is it’s hard to find the labor pool because everybody’s got a job.
“But we’re evolving. The more we can streamline this process of doing it more mechanically instead of the hand sorting, it will get better.”
The program runs at a loss but is making back about 30 percent of the cost by selling the materials collected. The pulverized glass is used by Public Works to fill potholes.
“Let me put it this way: We make money but if this was a private business we may be bankrupt,” Hand said. “On the big scale of things on doing what we’re doing and changing perspective and trying to do the right thing, it’s working. It keeps the material out of the landfill. On top of it, we’re collecting at the beach and that’s a cost, the Leave Only Footprints, that’s a cost. There’s a lot of things in the program we would never get money back for that anyway. Maybe there’ll be more aluminum in Orange Beach and we can make up for it.”
Councilman Gary Sinak said he believes in expanding the program.
“I think it’s good we’re taking care of the environment and I think it’s important we tried to get involved as much as we can,” Sinak said.
In other business, the council discussed a fourth budget amendment, liquor licenses for the Flying Harpoon and Woodside Restaurant in Gulf State Park and paying the county for use of voting machines for municipal elections.
The council also agreed to set a date for a public hearing on rewriting the zoning ordinance on beach access for properties on the north side of West Beach Boulevard.