Beaufort County employee Warren Ladson monitors entry into the trash portion of the Bluffton Convenience Center. GWYNETH J. SAUNDERS

Beaufort County’s nine free convenience centers have made it easy for county residents to dispose of trash, broken furniture, unwanted goods, and all kinds of recyclable materials.

And that’s a problem.

It has also made it easy for non-residents and commercial contractors to dispose of their debris, thus tying up access, inconveniencing those who pay taxes for the service, increasing costs to the county, and causing dangerous situations.

Those concerns prompted Beaufort County Council to initiate a mandatory decal policy. Chris Ophardt, the county’s public information officer, said the decal was one suggestion that came out of a report generated in 2019 by A. Goldsmith Resources, LLC (AGR) to evaluate operations at each of the county’s convenience centers, and will become a requirement this fall.

“We’ve done a soft roll out, so even if you don’t have a decal you can still use (the centers),” Ophardt said, “but the employees there will inform you that eventually you will have to get one.”

Nearly 48,000 residents had signed up for their decal by July 9. Ophardt said the wait time at the centers has since significantly decreased, and while there hasn’t been a decrease in recycled materials, there has been a decrease in trash by eliminating unauthorized users.

The recycling sections do not require a decal, so everyone – including renters – can continue to drop off their items in Bluffton or at the Shanklin site in Beaufort.

“The council commissioned the study to compare us to like-sized counties in the state. The consultants said, ‘You’re essentially exceeding anticipated amounts of garbage, which is costing the county a lot of money.’ It was determined that it was because there were contractors and people from outside of the county illegally dumping in the collection centers,” he said. “Also the situation was becoming dangerous because the dumpsters were overflowing, and could not be emptied fast enough. Because of those issues it was determined to institute the decal system.”

The AGR report stated that bulky waste, i.e., Class 2 construction and demolition (C&D) debris, was 30.7% of the total solid waste received at the convenience centers, and more than one-third of the total received at Bluffton and Shanklin convenience centers.

“Given the proportion of C&D observed in these loads, it is likely that at least a portion of the C&D observed in bulky waste received at the convenience centers is from contractors and other non-residential generators,” the report stated. “Fewer tons, especially of bulky waste, would reduce the number of times containers must be pulled, and lower associated hauling and disposal costs.”

The actual cost savings will be coming out and should be announced at the 26 July county council meeting, Ophardt said.

“We want to make sure we’re maximizing the tax dollars that pay for the dump as the garbage impact fee. That fee is the money that used to go into the General Fund and could be used for garbage collection or other stuff, but the council decided to show how much of our tax dollars are going to trash,” Ophardt added. “Now it will be saved as a Solid Waste and Recycling Enterprise Fund for long-term convenience center projects. It’s not a new fee but it’s is now broken out in the tax statements.”

With the roll-out, the county has heard a number of concerns from residents and visitors, with the biggest complaint coming from renters at commercial rental properties.

“Because they do not qualify for decals, their trash solution is provided by the rental companies run by the property owners, including Airbnbs. If they have big materials to dump they need to go over to the main landfill in Jasper County,” said Ophardt, referring to the Oakwood Landfill at 751 Strobhart Road in Ridgeland.

The second biggest complaint was people not knowing how to get the decals, and knowing that they could get multiple copies. Residents can register for their decal at beaufortcountysc.gov/SWRDecal.

“We need to verify property owners, and we do give two decals – one digital and one sticker. We felt it was more effective for the people who use the collections centers to apply for their own sticker,” Ophardt said.

Registration gets the resident the actual decal that goes on the vehicle’s windshield as well as an email link to a digital version for a mobile device. It can also be printed out for use by other residents of that address.

The third biggest concern came from those renting single family homes or duplexes.

“If you are renting, your property owner is supposed to give you the decal, and we’ve informed a number of people about that as well,” Ophardt said. “

Even though a major concern about illegal dumping focused on construction debris, individual home owners who are also construction contractors and doing their own renovations can still make use of the centers even if they are using their business trucks.

“As long as the person has a decal and he is doing a personal trash trip,” Ophardt said, “it should not be a problem. Everyone does not own a truck and they understand that at the centers.”

With the decal, residents can visit the trash centers three times a week. The study determined that was the number of times the average person frequented a convenience center. The decal holder can use either the sticker on the car windshield, the digital copy on their mobile device, or a printed copy of the decal itself.

Once that number is recorded by the barcode reader used by the center employees, residents can take their debris and trash to the Oakwood trash center.

“When the decal scan goes into the system, the decal person sees how many times you’ve been there,” said Ophardt. “The system resets itself every Sunday.”

One group of residents with unique concerns are those who live on heirs property – the land and homes that are jointly owned by descendants of a deceased individual whose estate was not handled in Probate Court.

“Heirs property has been an issue and we’re helping councilmen Gerald Dawson and York Glover to help the families to get their decals. They can’t use the automated system because their homes do not have assigned numbers,” Ophardt said. “We’re taking every effort to make sure every property owner in the county is getting their decals.”

No other changes are planned at this time to the county’s convenience center operations.

“We just need people to get their decals. Our employees are going to hand out cards to help you get your decal, and sometime this fall we are going to start requiring you have decals. And we’re still trying to help citizens get the decals because we don’t want to turn anybody away,” Ophardt said. “The taxpayers are going to benefit from this program, because they are not paying for contractors and non-residents to illegally dump, and we hope to show that with the finished accounting at the end of July.”

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.