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More than treasure

Randolph County trash situation could see solution in recycling

July 23, 2011
By Mallory Bracken, WVUncovered contributor, Special to The Inter-Mountain , The Inter-Mountain

In less than two months when the Elkins Landfill closes, Randolph County residents will no longer have a local site to discard their solid waste. Gone with that will be the monthly Free Day on which residents could bring a level pick-up load of garbage to the Elkins Landfill free of charge.

The Free Day for June brought in 30.87 tons of solid waste. After the scheduled close in September, where is that garbage going to go? Without an answer, Randolph County is likely to see more illegal dumping in the forms of littering, taking advantage of other citizens' garbage services or using business' dumpsters.

Steve Kerns, of Elkins, believes that recycling is the solution for placing much of that waste. What began eight years ago with collecting cardboard from two businesses and six Tygart Valley Youth Group members collecting recyclables from their own homes has developed into a daily enterprise.

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"I had no dream it would ever get to this point," says Kerns, founder of Tygart Valley Youth Group, Secretary of the Solid Waste Authority and former self-employed business owner.

Originally devoting just a few hours per week on the project, Kerns now spends at least five hours a day, seven days a week working to keep the effort going and the community involved. He begins each day by picking up recyclables from various local businesses including Beander's, Applebee's, Graceland Inn and Davis & Elkins Dining.

Every Wednesday afternoon, he conducts a glass drop-off in the Wees District, often using a U-Haul truck rented by the Randolph County Solid Waste Authority, which gets its money from landfill fees and the state Solid Waste Authority. The tally marks in Kerns' notes representing each drop-off multiply as the hours progress. On average, around 30 people bring their glass during the three hours that Kerns waits, parked behind the U.S. Forestry Service Building on Sycamore Street.

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Photo by Mallory Bracken special to The Inter-Mountain
Steve Kerns waits for community members to drop-off their glass recyclables on a Wednesday afternoon. Each week, he parks either a U-Haul truck or his own vehicle behind the U.S. Forestry Service Building in the Wees District, giving citizens the opportunity to bring their glass for recycling.

Once a month, Kerns, with the help of volunteers, makes rounds through certain Elkins neighborhoods, picking up recyclables that residents have left at the curb. Over the past year, 150 volunteers, including Tygart Valley Youth Group members, Davis & Elkins College athletes and other locals, have helped him with his various projects. Randolph Recycling donates a large truck. Following the pick-up, Kerns returns the truck and donates everything collected.

Each day of the week, Kerns also conducts personal collections in which he will either pick up a person's recyclables or schedule a time for them to be dropped off. Between the monthly curbside and daily pick-ups, the recycling endeavor serves 1,500 households monthly, collecting glass, yard waste, cardboard, newspapers and electronics.

In addition to the benefit of collecting recyclables from the community from these various events, Kerns believes that the face-to-face contact is extremely important. He says that these opportunities give residents a contact and the chance to ask questions, share ideas and see something positive happening in the community.

Fact Box

Quick facts

- Each year, Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.

- Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags a year, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste.

- Aluminum can be recycled forever with no loss of quality.

- The energy saved by recycling one glass bottle can light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or run a computer for 30 minutes.

- Recycling one ton of mixed paper saves the energy equivalent to 185 gallons of gasoline.


The Elkins Landfill, opened in 1975, has nearly filled its current capacity. In order to continue dumping waste there, a lined area in the ground called a cell must be constructed. Although there is enough land available and even drawn-out plans for a new cell, the city does not have the approximate $1 million that it would cost annually for the site to remain open with the construction of the additional cell. The landfill will be closing in mid-September. According to Michael Taylor, president of the Randolph County Commission, the loss of "free day" is one of the commission's biggest concerns.

"People are going to have to take the initiative on their own, take some pride in their surroundings and in their community and not dispose of it illegally," Taylor says.

Although there are laws requiring county residents to subscribe to a garbage service or prove that they properly dispose of their waste in a lawful manner, Taylor says he worries that the trash of those who took advantage of "free day" and cannot afford proper services will end up "over the hill," dumped illegally in various areas of the county.

While Kerns' efforts can help to reduce much of this waste, he is currently not involved with recycling furniture, which makes up a portion of the garbage that would have been taken on Free Day. He says that with some imagination and planning, though, a community could easily set up something similar to what he has with glass, yard waste and other recyclables. Also, the Tucker County Landfill will still offer a "free day" on which residents can take their garbage.

Following the upcoming close, Elkins Sanitation will continue to collect city residents' garbage, but instead of taking it to the Elkins Landfill, the proposed plan is for them to take it to a transfer station such as Tygart Valley Sanitation. From there it will be taken to another landfill, possibly in Clarksburg or Tucker County. The Tygart Valley Sanitation transfer station would charge $67 per ton of waste as opposed to the $70.25 that the Elkins Landfill charges.

Between 2008 and 2010, the city of Elkins has lost a total of $610,292 through the landfill. These losses are a result of not bringing in enough tonnage to pay for the maintenance costs. Kerns believes that with his recycling goals in effect, the city could save even more money by reducing the tonnage that would go to a transfer station.

In 2010, his recycling efforts kept 250 tons of glass, cardboard, yard waste and paper out of the Elkins Landfill, Kerns says. According to his data, landfills would fill more slowly if the public were to recycle more.

Kerns says that the public is key in making a difference. "Recycling relies entirely on the individual, the individual household and individual business, and without them no board or government can do anything that's going to be successful," Kerns says. "If the public doesn't take the lead in being involved and in control of it, then it's really ineffective."

If you or your business is interested in becoming involved with the community's recycling efforts, contact Steve Kerns at 304-642-6968.



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