County ranks high in recycling

Lorena Pankey unscrewed an old bottle of motor oil and tilted it upside down.
 Thick and chocolate-like goop came slowly oozing out of the white bottle and into the oil recycling tank at the Blackburn Convenience Center in Newton. She wiped perspiration from her forehead.

“I’m glad there’s a place where I can get rid of all this junk,” Pankey said. “It’s less waste I have to deal with.” 

Pankey, a Conover resident, is but one of many Catawba County residents utilizing a growing list of recycling services the county offers — only increasing the Greater Hickory area’s reputation as one of North Carolina’s most green-minded areas. 

For the last decade, Catawba County has ranked as one of the top five counties in the state for recycling, according to a N.C. recycling report.
Ranking as the No. 2 recycler for the last four years, Catawba County officials said area residents have set an example for the state to follow. 

“Catawba County has always had a high percentage of its residents that recycle,” said Jack Chandler, assistant director of Catawba County Utilities and Engineering. “Curbside recycling is available to nearly everyone in the county, which helps out a lot.”

In fiscal year 2009-10, Catawba County recycled 35,063 tons of material. With a population of about 157,002 residents then, the county’s per capita recovery was 446.7 pounds. Only Pitt County had a better per capita recycling performance. 

Amanda Kain, Catawba County Waste Reduction coordinator, said residential curbside recycling programs, the county’s partnerships with municipalities and the new Eco-Complex landfill helped the county form a “model” program. 

“Our residents do a great job of participating with the county’s recycling programs,” Kain said. 

Kain said the county’s ultimate goal is to get 20 percent of the total waste stream coming from recycling. 
The emphasis on recycling is felt throughout the county. 

In Newton, Public Works Director Wilce Martin said the city has gone from 58 to 81 percent recyclable in the last two years.

“It will help our landfills last a lot longer,” Martin said. “We will be taking a lot of things out of the waste stream of the landfill and will help save our natural resources, as well.”

Catawba County landfill superintendent Rodney Hamby agrees with Martin and said an increase in recycling helps the landfill thrive long term.

“Every item our citizens recycle is less waste we have to bury,” he said. 

Hickory has also seen an increase in those participating in recycling services, with more than 12,000 tons of material being recycled last year.

“We’ve seen an increase in those who are participating,” said Andrew Ballentine, Hickory Solid Waste manager. “Due to the downturn in the economy, you are seeing less volume because people are buying less. Ultimately, when the economy turns around, we will see a bump in volume.”  

In the last year, Conover recycled about 33 tons of material a month — numbers that their solid waste supervisor Keith Lynch said are consistent. 

“Our routes are pretty full, and the guys very rarely get somebody that doesn’t put out (recyclables),” Lynch said. “About 80 percent of our customer base does recycle, which is pretty good for the industry.” 

For more information about Catawba County recycling, contact Kain at