Kirk Parker hard at work next to his Lowcountry Eco Bins rig. COURTESY LOWCOUNTRY ECO BINS

Forty months ago, Kirk Parker and his then-fiancée Christy Pinski took a leap, a belief in an emerging industry that could pay the bills while caring for the environment.

The idea was trash – not as in a bad idea, but as in the bins that house the discarded scraps of our meals and daily lives. One tear in your garbage bag, one little critter getting into your haul before the trash trucks come, and you’ve got a rancid remnant on your hands.

“Parker,” as the South Carolina native is known to friends, is not afraid to clean up your mess. As a long-time boat mechanic at Black Dog Marine in Ridgeland, he is used to getting his hands greasy.

“Now the smell, that’s a different story. That has definitely been a challenge,” said the man behind Lowcountry Eco Bins, a trash can cleaning service celebrating its three-year anniversary this month. “I’ve encountered some messes that would turn even the strongest stomach.”

Parker said the odors and the bugs have been far from his greatest hurdle. The trash bin industry has thrived for 30-plus years in England and other countries, but is a newer concept in the U.S. at just over a decade old. With more and more attention to going green, it is a fast-growing business nationwide – especially in more eco-conscious populations like Beaufort County.

“We care about our waters here, so this felt like a home run to me,” said Parker, who bought a customized Isuzu truck to launch his business in 2019. “But as much as we all care, this was a new concept and it’s been a lot of educating folks on the need behind what we do.”

Most folks will just spray their cans out with a hose. But in doing that, you end up dumping dirty water on the ground – water that is full of dangerous bacteria like E. coli or salmonella – that runs off into ponds and rivers, killing fish and other inhabitants of the waters.

“I’ve been fishing these waters forever, I take my kids and my friends out and we see the worst of what those bin dumps can do,” said Parker, an avid outdoorsman and one of the founders of the Bluffton chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina. “A lot of folks say, ‘That’s OK, I bleach the bins myself,’ but that can lead to even more damage to the waters.”

In an average-sized area neighborhood, if every homeowner used just an ounce of bleach on their bins, that’s over 12 gallons of bleach that pollutes the retention ponds and seeps into the rivers.

Lowcountry Eco Bins’ system uses 190-degree water as its base, which nearly eliminates the need for chemicals. The agents that Parker does use are all biodegradeable and eco-friendly and generally only needed for the first couple cleanings of the bins. All the disinfecting and deodorizing is done inside the back of the truck, so none of the dirty water ends up in the ground.

“There have been some folks that saw this as a get-rich-quick scheme and were not doing it the right way, and they muddied the waters for folks like me doing this for the right reasons,” Parker said. “We’ve been building and building our clientele by word of mouth and by following through on our promises.”

Launching his own business has long been a dream for Parker, who grew up on the less glamorous side of the Myrtle Beach economy, watching his family scrape for every penny.

He is constantly inspired by his wife, who took over the Sippin Cow eatery on May River Road in 2010. She faced her share of adversity, including an ill-fated move to the old Pepper’s Porch location before finding her home in the Promenade in 2016.

“This is a daily grind, but I have seen how that grind can pay off if you just stick to your belief in your dream,” he said. And folks are buying into Parker’s passion, too.

He has grown from a small group of friends willing to give him a try to more than 500 monthly residential and commercial clients.  Lowcountry Eco Bins has outlasted all upstart competitors to become the trusted local brand in this ever-growing business.

Parker is still working full-time at Black Dog and has hired a loyal assistant to run the rig day-to-day. The goal is to focus on building his business more and more, hoping he can add more trucks to make this a business he can pass on to his kids.

“The need isn’t going away. Trash doesn’t pay attention to the economy,” he said. “We see the signs of a recession, and folks get rid of luxury spends when that happens. That’s an education as well. Being a shepherd of the rivers isn’t a luxury. If we all do just one little thing, that’s how we keep the beauty.”

The service is $15 per month, which equates to less than 50 cents per day – a pittance compared to the water used by your toilet.

“You do that morning constitutional, that costs $2.15 alone in one flush,” he said. Eww, right? Well, talking dirty numbers is all part of doing the dirty work.

“When you’re dealing with the smells and the bugs that we get rid of out of those bins, talking a little bit about (flushing) is all part of dropping knowledge on my clients,” he said. “They hear the numbers, they see the work and the results, and it leads to a loyal customer.”

For more information about Lowcountry Eco Bins, visit lowcountryecobins.com.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.