Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Wasn’t that lot at the end of Patton Avenue before it went down the hill to Bowen Bridge, which was a Volvo dealership before it was demolished, going to be where Duke was putting their substation? Now, and for a while, it’s just been an empty lot.

My answer: You misunderstand. Duke has shifted gears into the hoagie business, which is much less controversial. It’s looking to locate a Substation sandwich shop at this spot. OK, maybe with a hidden electrical substation underground.         

Real answer: This proposal has been talked about for a half-decade now, and the former Volvo dealership building has been demolished, but nothing else is going on there.

Duke Energy Progress owns this nearly four-acre lot at the corner of Patton and Clingman avenues in downtown Asheville. The utility announced plans to build an electrical substation on the site in 2017 and had the former car dealership building demolished, but no other work has taken place. // Watchdog photo by Starr Sariego.

Duke Energy Progress LLC is still listed as the owner of the 3.77-acre site at 252 Patton Ave.

“The Patton Avenue substation is still needed to serve customer growth in the Asheville area in coming years,” Duke Energy Progress spokesperson Bill Norton said via email. “The timetable for the Patton Avenue substation is not yet set, but we will inform the city and local stakeholders once construction nears.”

Plans had called for a “gas-insulated switchgear” substation at this location, a technology that is typically built inside an enclosed structure, according to Duke. The utility has said it needs the new substations because of increased demand for power downtown.

The whole substation issue became mired in controversy last year when plans emerged showing Duke wanted to build a large new outdoor substation behind its current substation just east of the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville downtown. Plans for the substation, designed to front Lexington Avenue, showed a large wall surrounding the facility, and that did not go over well with business owners in the area.

The businesses also complained about a lack of transparency in the deal with the city.

Regarding the Patton Avenue location, the city approved a permit for Duke in 2019.

“The conditional zoning designation for this project was approved in 2019 and contains a condition that the city has the right to rezone the property after two years if no building permit has been applied for,” Chris Collins, Planning & Development Division manager, told me via email. “This provision would require the city to actively file a zoning map amendment to revert the site to the previous zoning designation.”

“Without that occurring, the conditional zoning that entitles the site to the approved Duke substation project remains in place,” Collins continued. “With the zoning entitlement approved, the project would now need to apply for (and have issued) a zoning permit and any applicable grading and stormwater permits, as well as any needed building permits in order to construct the substation.”

Question: I have an idea for something you could cover. It has to do with plastic pollution and recycling. My concern started with what seems like a small thing, but every day I’m confronted with, “Can I put this in my recycling bin?” I try not to mess up the recycling center’s machinery by putting in the wrong items. I was surprised to read that plastic clamshell containers were not recyclable, so I reluctantly started putting my huge salad boxes in the trash. Then I realized that blueberries and other fruits sometimes come in clamshell-like containers on the bottom, but with plastic film on the top — what to do with them? I also was unsure as to whether I should be putting lids on bottles before putting them in the bin. This was bothering me way more than it should, so, feeling a little ridiculous, I called the recycling center and actually asked. To my great surprise, I was told that the only thing that matters is whether there’s a recycling triangle on the package — any triangle. And no, you don’t have to put the lids back on. This sounded great — life was simple again! Then I started reading the September issue of Nutrition Action Newsletter, put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It shows the seven recycling triangles and makes the point that there are really only markets for numbers 1 and 2. And that most plastic doesn’t get recycled, even when it’s put in recycling bins. I’ve read elsewhere that when China stopped accepting our recycling in 2018, most of it started being sent to landfills or dumped in the ocean. 

You could do a great service by clarifying:

  • The magnitude of plastic pollution.
  • The so-called 7 steps of sustainability: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Regift, Recycle — we cannot recycle our way out of plastic pollution — we have to do the other six, too.
  • What really happens to what we try to recycle.
  • How one correctly recycles in Asheville! 

My answer: Well, the good news is that by the time we figure all this out, the giant asteroid will have struck and recycling will be very low on our priorities list.

Real answer: Having written these columns for two decades, I can confirm that much confusion reigns on this subject. This list from Curbside Management should help with some clarity:

Luckily, Nancy Lawson, co-owner of the Curbside Management recycling facility in Woodfin, has more answers. The facility handles most of the recycling in this area, by the way.

“A large part of the confusion overall starts when someone reads a national article concerning recycling,” Lawson said via email. “What you can and cannot recycle is 100% dependent on whether or not your local recycling company has a factory or manufacturer close by — within a five-six hour radius — that will take what is sorted and separated and make it into something else.”

It’s these end-users who determine what may or may not be accepted in your local recycling program. So you may have relatives or friends in other regions who can get certain materials recycled while we cannot.

Curbside Management’s website (curbie.com) is very clear about what you can and cannot recycle locally. The site also has a video on the front page that explains what happens to recyclables that come into the plant.

“Just to be clear, EVERYTHING that is on our accepted recycling list IS RECYCLED!” Lawson said, including the all-caps for extra emphasis. “We currently have end-users for ALL PLASTIC bottles, jugs, tubs, and jars.”

That includes plastics number 1, 2, 3 and 7.

“There are always exceptions to every rule: We do not accept Styrofoam (#6), black microwaveable trays, to-go containers, plastic clamshells, nor any plastic film or bags,” Lawson said.

Plastic clamshells are not accepted as recyclables in many places, she noted.

Lawson acknowledged that China did stop accepting the world’s paper and plastic recycling in 2018. But…

“We have NEVER sent this material to landfills or ‘dumped them in the ocean,’” Lawson emphasized. “Domestic markets and factories took a while to step up in order to accommodate the higher volume. However, Curbside either found a home for the material or stored it until the market was available.”

As far as lids on plastic bottles being recyclable, Lawson said, “Please place the lid back on the plastic bottles or tubs. This ensures that the lid gets where it is supposed to go.”

The end-user knows lids are a different kind of plastic than the bottle.

“They melt them down at two different temperatures and utilize both types of plastic,” Lawson said.

Plastic bags are not accepted, so don’t put them in the recycling bin.

“The good news is that you may take that material to Ingles, Publix, and other stores that have a collection bin out front of their stores,” Lawson said. “This material is recyclable at those locations. It is sent to a company in Virginia that makes plastic lumber out of them.”

Plastic bags are a big problem at Curbie, comprising 70 percent of what pickers have to pull out of the material stream. Curbside cannot keep the material clean enough for the end-user to accept, so when they do get plastic bags they have to trash them.

Here’s a list of “Can’t Do” items from Curbside Management:


Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or (828) 337-0941.

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2 Comments

  1. I heard a long piece on NPR that only 5% of so-called recyclables are actually recycled. And newspapers and magazines can go into the trash bin with kitchen waste. Now Curbie says that isn’t so. What is going on?

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