Corolla, N.C. Solid Waste Pickup Challenges Heat Up with Seasonal Influx

Corolla, N.C. Solid Waste Pickup Challenges Heat Up with Seasonal Influx

In the Corolla area of Currituck County, N.C., in the northernmost point of the Outer Banks, ocean waves, sandy beaches and wild horses attract upwards of 60,000 visitors per week during peak season from May through September. Summer visitors produce more than eight times the waste as the city’s 450 to 500 permanent residents do in winter months. Virginia-based Bay Disposal has been hauling waste and recycling in Corolla since 2014 and is learning to handle the changing tides as they come.

Corolla is located at the northernmost reaches of the Currituck Outer Banks, a 20-mile stretch of sand on a 50-mile-long peninsula running from the state of Virginia down to Oregon Inlet. While there are no incorporated towns in the county, “Corolla” refers to the area in the lower Currituck Outer Banks. The highly-populated vacation destination is comprised of miles of enormous homes, many reserved as weekly vacation rentals, and assembled closely together along the oceanfront. The narrow streets, teeming neighborhoods, and single long main drive are among the challenges Bay Disposal is meeting head-on.

During the height of the season, traffic, weather and sheer volume of waste creates a whole different approach to collection, says Brenda McQueen, super intendant of buildings and solid waste director for Currituck County, which holds the contract with Bay Disposal.

As temperatures rise, so too does the waste generated by an influx of visitors. In Jan. 2014, the solid waste tonnage in Corolla was just 92 tons, but in July, that grew to 778 tons, says Bay Disposal President Emmett Moore.

When Bay Disposal was awarded its contract last year, the company quickly learned that Saturday collection would be the most troublesome, he says. Saturday, which is one of two pickup days for approximately 70 percent of Corolla, is also check-in and check-out day for renters, says Moore. That results in heavy traffic.

The company approached property owners with the idea of switching collection schedule away from Saturday, but many chose to keep Saturday pickup for incoming guests.

“Since Saturday is one of two service days in Corolla, we moved about 1,000 residences from Wednesday/Saturday to Monday/Fri to try to avoid the Saturday traffic," he says. "That helped us quite a bit. But with that Saturday check in and check out, the only thing you can do is send enough trucks in there to get it done."

Trucks are in Corolla at 7 a.m. and still only get one load out, whether it’s trash or recyclables, says Moore. With heavy traffic in both directions, trucks can’t get back in. “Literally it would take you three or four hours if you didn’t have enough trucks and you left, say, 100 homes," he says. "It would literally take you four hours to get back in there to pick those up.”

The change has been good, says McQueen. When Waste Management held the contract, the company used 23 trucks for Saturday collection. Now, Bay Disposal picks up four days a week, but uses just nine trucks to haul waste and recycling from Corolla. The switch means less truck traffic on already busy traffic day, she says.

Soon, the company learned maintenance, too, could be a challenge. So a mechanic now sits in the area on Saturdays in case an issue arises. Having a mechanic nearby means minimal delays in collection. Trucks also are equipped with oil dry in case of spills and other fixes that would otherwise be hours away in traffic.

Finally, drivers are reminded to take safety seriously. Narrow streets and large crowds can be an intense combination, but Moore says his drivers handle it well. “You just can’t rush it, unfortunately. There are so many people—even at 7 o’clock in the morning—just running. There’s always activity.”

Recycling also is impacted by the summer boom.

“Recycling tonnage also goes up dramatically. But many visitors are forced to recycle at home, so they come here and recycle beautifully,” McQueen says.

January 2014 saw approximately 39 tons for recycling. In July, that increased to 335 tons of recyclables. “It’s dramatic,” Moore agrees. But the fact that it’s an ever-changing crowd hasn’t impacted the quality of loads. “The product out of there is pretty clean.” 

The shift from summer to winter is like servicing two separate communities.

“It’s really different in the winter time. It’s pretty boring here actually,” jokes McQueen. Most stores and restaurants close in the winter. The beach and tourist areas are quiet. Traffic moves right along the main drag.

As the season ends, and population drops back to just permanent residents, things change. Fewer trucks are needed. So the focus becomes keeping employees working, whether it’s in Corolla or near its main offices in Norfolk, Moore says. They work 65 hours per week in peak season, Moore says.

“Obviously we can’t hire people every year to do that. We just make sure they get their 40 hours during the winter months,” he says.

The seasons have their extremes, he says. “But it works. You just get ready for it.” 

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