Stephen King made a difference in recycling in Haywood

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 11, 2017
Photo by: File photo Stephen King is shown at the Materials Recovery Facility in Clyde.

When Stephen King became the director of the Haywood County Solid Waste Department in 2007, the county was operating a landfill, a dozen or so convenience centers and a recycling operation in Clyde where employees hand-sorted household garbage to remove recyclables.

By 2013 when he left his county job to work with Consolidated Waste Service to oversee the convenience centers and Materials Recovery Facility in Haywood, the department had been transformed.

King, 52, passed away Jan. 7 after suffering a massive heart attack. Many who he worked with through the years fondly remembered his dedication to his job and the passion with which he pursued recycling.

County Manager Ira Dove mourned King's loss.

"Stephen was passionate about recycling programs and educating citizens on recycling," Dove said. "His efforts helped to divert streams of materials from the landfill and raise the consciousness of those around him to their duty to do the same. He was also dedicated to getting litter off of the streets."

David Francis, who worked closely with King during the time solid waste services were studied for privatization opportunities, recalled how King's effort to recycle mattresses brought in in more than 5 tons, which was nearly 200 mattresses.

Haywood was one of the first counties to attempt total electronics recycling, Francis recalled, which brought in hundreds of televisions, computers, radios and other electronics that occupied a good portion of the MRF floor space.

He also started recycling carpets and carpet pads, and investigated ways to recycle more difficult items such as fluorescent lighting, smoke alarms and biofuels, Francis said.

"Stephen's enthusiasm for recycling was infectious and his commitment to the environment was unmatched in North Carolina," Francis said. "His impact on recycling in Haywood County and the Carolinas may have been his brief, but everlasting. He was one of the best persons and dads I have ever met."

Anne Garrett, superintendent of Haywood County Consolidated Schools, spoke appreciatively about King's contributions to the school system.

"Mr. King was very knowledgeable in the area of recycling and waste management," she said. "Our students also got to see his humor when he performed a recycling skit for our elementary students. He did a fantastic job with our students about teaching the concept of recycling and being good ambassadors for our community."

Joanna Swanson, who started the Commission for a Clean County, worked with King extensively as he visited each elementary school in the county to bring his recycling message in a way the students would find engaging.

“For a number of years, Stephen King was a board member," Swanson said. "One of his very welcome contributions was to take the entire board on a comprehensive tour of the Solid Waste Facility in Clyde and make us extremely aware of the work and the importance involved in breaking down waste and in recycling.  He was a very fine, intelligent and caring person about the environment.”

Joan Kennedy worked with King in 2009 when she began efforts to expand a recycling program at Haywood Regional Medical Center in 2009.

"He worked so hard to educate our community on the benefits of sustainability and proper waste management," she said. "He would go anywhere and speak to anyone about these benefits in an attempt to increase rates of recycling in Haywood County."

King attended numerous meetings at the hospital to provide ideas and educational resources to help the hospital expand sustainability and decrease costs, she said, and praised the numerous stories he generated in the press to help spread the word about recycling.

"He taught me so much and was kind, patient and very compassionate towards anyone in need," she said. "He was also extremely devoted to his family and friends and I will miss him very much."

Under King's leadership, the Materials Recovery Facility in Clyde became a "one-stop shop" for almost everything that could be recycled. He oversaw the transition of the "pick line" where individuals hand-sorted garbage to a system where recyclable items were placed in the appropriate containers at the convenience centers.

He also expanded the recycling service when it came to used oil, furniture, cardboard, newsprint, appliances, and the list goes on.

King found a way to market the recycled materials to create a revenue stream, but constantly made the point that the real savings came in avoiding landfilling items that were reusable. His research found that 60 percent of household garbage can be recycled, though most areas have a hard time exceeding 10 percent.

Under his leadership, Haywood County went from 63rd in the state for recycling in 2007 to 11th in the state's 100 counties in 2012.

He was at the helm of the department as the landfill transitioned from a county operation to one where the county partnered with Santek Environmental, which is now operating the facility and will handle all the costs associated with the landfill. The move was projected to save county taxpayers $60 million in a 30-year period.

The Santek contract signed nearly four years ago guaranteed the county would have a place for its solid waste for the next 30 years, and provided that the county would pay a per-ton fee for all that was disposed (currently $22.43 a ton), plus receive 5 percent of the proceeds from trash disposed in the facility from 17 surrounding counties in North Carolina.