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A Conversation with Avery County Solid Waste Director Eric Foster

By Tim Gardner

In his position as Avery Solid Waste Director, Eric Foster is another example of a dedicated county employee who is in the trenches every day making decisions in the best interest of the county and its citizens, without expectation of any credit or recognition.

Under Foster’s direction, the Solid Waste Department partners with each community in the county to provide exceptional customer service and outstanding waste collection, recycling and disposal services in a safe, efficient, cost effective and environmentally sound manner. The department truly enhances the appearance of the county and its environment as Foster and his dedicated and hard-working staff are always eager to assist Avery’s citizens with their trash disposal and recycling needs.

Continue reading for a interview exchange between this reporter (my questions) and Foster (his answers) about various topics, including details of his specific job duties, recognition of his employees, the top changes he’s witnessed in solid waste collection, disposal and recycling and what items can and cannot be accepted at the county’s material recovery solid waste sites and the transfer station and construction/demolition landfill.

High Country Press (HCP): To begin with, for those who may not know you and for anyone who may want to know more about you, what are your personal and professional backgrounds?

Foster: I have worked for Avery County since 2012. I have been the director for four years. I have certifications in land field operations manager, transfer station specialist and as a construction and demolition specialist. I hold accreditations for household hazardous waste collection and I have 14 years of supervisory experience.

HCP: In detail, what are your job duties?

Foster: The most important job duty I have is to meet State and Federal Regulations and the safety of the general public. I am the recycling Coordinator for the county. I schedule preventive maintenance on all solid waste equipment. I supervise 30 full-time employees. I am the household hazardous waste coordinator for the county and its Electronics Recycling Coordinator. I also compile State and Federal Mandated reports that are required to be completed each year. I oversee and budget projects for the Construction and Demolition Landfill and Transfer Station.   Additionally, I schedule and train all site attendants and I complete all the maintenance issues at the seven sites. Lastly, I schedule the landfill employees their required certifications and make sure they are complete.

HCP: Is your general work schedule and duties basically the same every day or is each day different to a degree?

Foster: In the daily operations of solid waste, no two days are the same. Examples include: Mechanical Issues, absenteeism and weather. Everything I am responsible for is the reason my schedule varies. I work to handle each challenge that happens daily.

HCP: How has your job and Solid Waste collection, disposal and recycling changed during your tenure?

Foster: Since 2012, the amount of garbage has increased by approximately 700 tons a year. Recycling has also increased which has reduced more tonnage that we normally would have to haul off. The increase in recycling it shows the residents of Avery County are concerned with the environment and the future of their children and grandchildren.      

The county implemented comingled recycling, which includes plastic, paper, cardboard, metal cans and aluminum cans. This has had an increase of recycling over previous years by an amount of 30 percent from previous years. The new collections make it more user friendly for the patrons.

HCP: You also serve at the leisure of the five-person Avery County Board of Commissioners, County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. and Assistant County Manager Cindy Turbyfill and of course, all the county’s citizens. How do you describe this professional experience?

Foster: The amount of support that I have received from each of these individuals has been outstanding. They are always there to hear and help when I need assistance. Each one has questions about the equipment that I need to perform my duties safely and efficiently.

HCP: You are known for having a dedicated and excellent staff. Who are your employees at each of the county’s seven (7) material recovery solid waste centers as well as at the transfer station and construction/demolition landfill? And what would you like to say about their work as a whole?

Foster: These employees do a job that is admired by surrounding counties and other states. I am very proud of the job they do, their professionalism and their helpfulness. I think the residents of Avery County are blessed to have these employees. They make my job easier. They include:

Elk Park- (Three Lane) Harold Vance, Wayne Erwin and Michael Mitchell

Banner Elk- Bobby Hodges, James Hughes and Joe Clawson

Altamont- Danny Crowder, John McCoury and Vernon Clark

Linville- John Burleson, Roy Vance and John Henderson

Plumtree- Carter McKinney and Jake Ingram

Beech Mountain- Dean Estep, Raymond Brown and Junior Ward

Three Mile- Pat Vance and Jerry Cantrell

Avery County Transfer Station / Construction and Demolition Landfill at Ingalls- Weigh Masters-Robert Woody and Bobby Bailey

Heavy Equipment Operator-Robert Banner

Truck Drivers: Joe Owens, Jr., Jesse Crowder, Steve Turbyfill, David Hughes and Dale Daniels.

I also have 8 fill-in employees: Gregory “Peck” Taylor, Clare Singleton, Joe Owen, Sr., Wayne Daniels, Lewis Johnson, Ryan Hodges, Clint South and Gary Rash.

HCP: Although it’s often looked upon as an unpleasant job, what are the rewarding aspects of working in solid waste?

Foster: I get to meet the residents of Avery County and to keep our county clean. It is rewarding to hear positive feedback from patrons that utilize the sites and landfill.

HCP: Approximately how many pounds of solid waste does Avery County handle and dispose of each week?

Foster: Avery County hauls away 475 tons per week to the City of Bristol, TN/VA Landfill.   We handle 950,000 pounds of trash every week and approximately 50 tons of items per week are placed in our Construction and Demolition landfill.

HCP: Besides household trash, wood debris, scrap tires and metal, automotive batteries and junked cars, what other types of solid waste does the transfer station accept?

Foster: Oil filters and burnt motor oil.

HCP: What determines if an item can be recycled or must be deposed of as trash or solid waste?

Foster: Plastic containers will have a recycling number on them, usually on the bottom. Contamination has become a problem for in users. This contamination includes: material left in bottles, cardboard that is waxy or greasy, plastic bags that are placed in the recycling containers. We do not accept pizza boxes of any kind. If you have any questions about recycling please ask the site attendants. Knowledge is the key to reducing contamination.

HCP: What items cannot be accepted at material recovery sites or the landfill due to various governmental and environmental regulations?

Foster: Certain things can be accepted at the landfill that cannot be accepted at the sites, such as: large loads of Construction and Demolition, oil, tires and Petroleum- based products.

Currently we have of electronics that occur every second and fourth Saturday of each month. The address of the collection site is 269 Old Vale Rd in Newland behind the Board of Education complex. It is open from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.   We request that no electronic items be left unless an attendant is on duty.

We also have paint collection is one time of year, usually the last Saturday of August. Notifications are handed out a month prior to the date.

HCP: What days and hours are the material recovery sites and landfill open?

Foster: The landfill is open Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-until 4:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.

All convenient sites are open every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (excluding holidays) from 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.

Anyone who has questions can visit the Avery County website at www.averycounty.org departments: solid waste.

HCP: What can Avery County’s citizens expect from Avery County’s solid waste operations in the future?

Foster: The Solid Waste Department will continue to offer trash disposal, convenient centers and professional service. We are always looking for ways to improve our process.

HCP: Do you have any other comments you would like to make?

Foster: I would like to thank all the employees who work for the Solid Waste Department and each one is a valuable resource. The support I have received from the Commissioners, County Manager and the Assistant County Manager are instrumental in making the department a successful one. I look forward to all the new challenges that may come in 2019. I thank everyone who has lent me their support and anyone should feel free to call my office at 828-737-5420 for any assistance he or she needs.