Facing mountains of trash, residents recycle

Pam King, Black Mountain News

(Editor's note. The lead paragraph of this story has been changed from the print edition to more accurately reflect the expected change in Black Mountain's growth.)

Black Mountain's population is expected to grow significantly by 2025, and that means residents will generate a lot more trash.

In 2011, the year after the county wrote its solid waste management plan, each Black Mountain resident produced a half ton of garage - some three pounds daily. If population projections for 2025 are correct and the half ton-per-person amount isn't decreased, Black Mountain will be responsible for more lots more garbage headed for the landfill annually.

As fast as they can, pickers at Curbside Management, a regional recycling business in Woodfin, pull plastics from Black Mountain and elsewhere from a speeding conveyer belt.

Already Black Mountain residents are working to reduce the amount they send to the landfill. BlueFire MacMahon, a clay artist living in Swannanoa, is reducing her contribution one piece at a time.

Currently she is eliminating plastic from her life (and her garbage). That means she is no longer using plastic Baggies or produce bags. It's not just about garbage reduction, however. "I do not want my food or the food of my pets absorbing chemicals when it comes in contact with plastic," she said.

BlueFire MacMahon said reducing the amount of her garage by composting and other means is also improving her health.

MacMahon, whose art can be seen in the Seven Sisters Gallery in Black Mountain, started composting recently and has found bears and raccoons to be a problem. "I need to upgrade my system," she said. Her next focus is to reduce the number of cat food cans she uses (even though she recycles them). 

MacMahon's new interest in garbage reduction is part of her commitment to live more simply and health consciously. She's eating right and exercising (and feeling better, she said). "My environment is an extension of my physical body," she said. "Taking care of the physical environment is just like taking care of my physical body.  I now even think more clearly. These changes are profoundly affecting my quality of life.”

Black Mountain makes recycling easy. It has 25 recycling containers around town and downtown, at parks, the Carver Center, the Lakeview Center, and Grey Eagle Arena, town clerk Angela Reece said ( “In addition, almost every employee has recycling receptacles at their desks," she said. New residents who apply for water service receive a brochure about recycling in town. 

Belinda Boxer of Black Mountain has always cared about reducing the amount of her garbage. “I grew up in England, and we just don’t have the space to dispose of lots of garbage,” she said  Boxer’s father was recycling in the 1970s “before it was cool,” she said.

"I’ve lived here for 14 years now, and I’m so interested in minimizing garbage, I embarrass my kids," she said. "I pick out the recyclables in the trash at their soccer games.  I drive home with recyclables from high school football games to make sure they get disposed of properly.”

Boxer, who manages the 10,000 Villages store in Montreat, said she has made it her quest to reduce the garbage output of the store as well.  She insists all cardboard boxes and brown paper be sent to Mountain Nest Gallery in downtown Black Mountain to be used for shipping art purchases.  Styrofoam is stored until Asheville Greenworks has one of its "hard to recycle" events. Electrical waste, like batteries, are likewise stored until it can be taken to the hard to recycle event (she pays $1 per bag to donate those, since they must be driven to Hickory for disposal, but feels it's worth the price to keep toxic chemicals out of the landfill).

“Light bulbs are still hard," Boxer said. "I haven’t found a way to keep those out of the landfill yet. However, when our store got all new computer equipment, I kept the old equipment until I eventually found homes for each piece.  Charlotte Street Computers in Asheville was helpful with that effort.

“My biggest struggle with recycling at the store is plastic and cellophane. I am working to get it to jewelry artists to package their wares. Even if plastic is recycled, it is down-cycled - made into more plastic.  At home, the key is preventing plastic use in the first place.  I select items in the store that are not wrapped in plastic.”

To avoid plastic bags in the grocery store, Boxer takes her own cloth bags for produce and bulk items. 

“All choices involve trade-offs,” she said. "I use cloth napkins instead of disposable paper, but then I’m using energy to wash them.  When I save my compostable materials, I use energy if I drive them to the (Dr. John Wilson) Community Garden (in Black Mountain). In the long run, I feel my choices pay off for the environment.  I do ride my bike whenever possible, which helps a lot.”

Used kitty litter and disposable diapers remain challenges for which Boxer doesn't have ready answers.  “It’s good to make people aware of the problem - awareness is so important" and will help people adopt new recycling practices, she said. She suggests creating one new habit at a time. If you want it to be reusable grocery bags, figure out a routine that makes it easy to remember the bags when you go shopping, she said.

Rainbow Recycling (, a Black Mountain nonprofit that started the hard-to-recycle events in Black Mountain, participates in waste reduction in a variety of ways. It collects compostable food scraps from food vendors at the annual Sourwood Festival for use at the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden. Annually it hosts special recycling events, like collecting plastic flower pots and trays and Styrofoam and packaging. It collects packaging from Asheville-area businesses to give to small businesses, artists and galleries in Black Mountain. 

"It’s time we rethink how we deal with our resources, both natural and man-made," said Marilyn Sobanski at Rainbow Recycling. "Is building more landfills - a costly proposition - the answer to our 'throwaway' patterns?  Are landfills the best use of our land?”