Ads created by Allied Waste have been challenging the trash collection method espoused by Van der Linde and the haulers who use his facility.
Trash in the city ends up at Van der Linde's facility, while Allied still does the city's recycling bin pick-up.
waste collection, recycling
For several years now, Allied Waste, which is owned by mega-waste company Republic Services, has been largely silent while Van der Linde Recycling (VDLR) steals all the local trash and recycling glory. Now the company is fighting back with a vengeance. With an onslaught of web, print, radio, and TV advertising, Allied suggests that much of the recycling collected by local haulers using VDLR is ending up in a landfill.
However, according to Peter Van der Linde, Allied's new "separate, don't contaminate" ad campaign is just the last gasp from a company tied to an outmoded way of handling trash– and to its own landfills.
"Republic's business model in our area is built on its landfill business," says Van der Linde, "and they are understandably fighting to stay alive."
Four years ago, Van der Linde put his money where his mouth is by opening a 100,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Zion Crossroads, a facility that transformed the trash business. Suddenly, local haulers such as Dixon Disposal and Time Disposal could offer their customers all-in-one, single-stream recycling: just throw all your household trash and recycling in one big bin and let Van der Linde's facility do the sorting. Not only does your recycling get processed, but those bags of household trash get probed for recyclables too.
"Recycling facilities are the enemy of landfills," says Van der Linde, "because they starve them of revenue."
Corporate haulers in the area like Republic and Waste Management, each of which operates their own landfills and recycling facilities, may find themselves getting squeezed by the new market Van der Linde's facility has facilitated.
Since VDLR opened, Van der Linde says that 30 area homeowners associations– including the sprawling Forest Lakes and the Lake Monticello communities– have ditched either Waste Management or Republic Service and gone with a smaller hauler. The Albemarle County School system now wants to hire a firm using VDLR.
While Allied has remained competitive in the household trash and recycling hauling business, collecting 40,540 tons of trash and recycling to VDLR's 42,961 tons in 2010, what happens next illustrates a key difference: VDLR sent 12,938 tons off-site to be recycled, while Allied Waste recycled just 4,725 tons.
In the arena of building scraps, the disparity is much more profound. In 2010, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, VDLR collected 68,565 tons of construction and demolition debris, while Allied Waste collected just 1,824 tons. Whereas VDLR recycled almost 56,000 tons of that amount, Allied Waste recycled none. (VDLR also turned 280 tons into mulch, and had 1,200 tons stored on-site at the time of the reporting.)
As Van der Linde points out, Republic operates over 200 landfills across the country,
including the largest, an Indiana mega-dump that receives 20 tons of trash a day. In Virginia, Republic owns landfills in Rockville, Richmond, and Little Plymouth. The company also operates a recyclery in Roanoke, and this year a 6.4-megawatt (MW) gas-to-energy plant opened up in the Richmond landfill, capturing the methane produced by decomposing trash for use as fuel to create electricity.
Landfills are big business in Virginia. In addition to the trash that Virginians generate, the state is the nation's number two importer of trash. (Pennsylvania is number one.) In 2010, according to the DEQ, 5.5 million tons of trash and debris from 24 states and a few foreign countries were dumped in Virginia. A vast majority of this trash goes to privately-owned landfills contracting with out-of-state clients.
"We're competing for your recycling business, for sure," says Van der Linde, "but we're also competing against the corporate landfill business in Virginia. The better we get at what we do, the less ends up in a landfill, and that's not good for the landfill business."
Meanwhile, Allied Waste's "separate, don't contaminate" marketing campaign is challenging the all-in-one bin approach espoused by Van der Linde. Putting all your household trash and recycling in one bin increases the risk of contamination. "For example, if Sunday’s newspaper mixes with Monday’s lasagna, the paper cannot be recycled," Allied asserts.
Allied Waste offers a dual bin system: put the messy household trash in one and the bottles and cans in the other, whose contents get hauled to a facility in Tidewater 90 miles away.
"Our goal is to educate people on what single stream recycling truly is, and we know that we need to make sure that people separate their recyclable goods and put them in one container," Allied's David Aikman told NBC29 during an Eco-Fair the company sponsored at the Main Street Arena to promote its green practices.
Van der Linde bristles at what he claims is hypocrisy and cynicism of the landfill-owning corporation.
"In four years of operation," says Van der Linde, "our facility has never had a single bale of cardboard or paper rejected due to commingled contamination."
As Van der Linde points out, if the majority of cardboard and paper arrived in bins with grease and pizza sauce on them, the vendors who buy his bales would balk. But he says that greasy papers represent a tiny percentage of the material received. He also says that technological advances are rewriting the traditional definitions of contamination.
"Given the situation in this country, relying on public participation for recycling only guarantees that more stuff ends up in a landfill," says Van der Linde.
If everyone could be counted on to carefully sort recycling into a separate bin, all of this wouldn't be necessary, but that's just not happening in America. In Japan, for instance, the public dedication to recycling should make us blush. Today, Japan recycles a world-record-holding 72 percent of the plastic bottles they use, compared to just 29.1 percent in the United States.
But Van der Linde thinks there's hope without doing what one Japan city did a few years ago when it issued a 27-page sorting manual that provided instructions on the disposal of over 500 items.
"Recycling technology has made dramatic advances in cleaning everything from cardboard, plastics, paper, and metal," says Van der Linde. "In fact, the advances have spawned the mining of landfills to go back after overlooked recyclables."
For example, metal cans are now smelted in vats at 16,000 degrees, eliminating virtually every contaminant, while plastic bags and broken glass, long cited as contaminants, are now getting used for sandblasting material, as so-called road "glassfault," and for making wood-alternative decks and railings.
A company called Terracycle, featured last year on National Geographic's series Garbage Moguls, recycles pens, candy wrappers, tooth brushes, and even that supposed scourge of the waste bin: dirty diapers. The materials are remade as park benches. Any young athlete has already noticed the recycled tires in her playground mulch, turf cushioning, and track-and-field surfacing; but tires also appear in cosmetics and in the shock absorbers that now grace many highway guard rails. Even wax-coated cardboard, long considered a contaminated recyclable, can be repurposed as a fireplace wood substitute.
"We are in the midst of a recycling revolution," says Van der Linde.
Several attempts to contact Allied Waste's Aikman finally prompted a call from a local public relations firm representing the company, questioning the purpose of this story and demanding to know what the "angle" was before answering any questions. Anne Hooff, with Payne, Ross & Associates, insists that Allied is the only company in town meeting the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of single-stream recycling.
Indeed, current EPA definitions of the practice don't encourage throwing household waste into the mix, and that bolsters Allied's point. While single-stream recycling is all the rage, numerous EPA studies have determined that it can contaminate recyclables. Encourage people to throw household trash into the mix, and the problem gets worse.
However, proponents of VDLR's system assert that the sheer increase in the amount of recyclables collected off-sets what gets contaminated. Indeed, according to the EPA, communities that switch to single-stream trash and recycling collection typically see a 40 percent jump in the amount of recyclables collected.
After months of deliberation, the folks at Forest Lakes disregarded Allied's claim about contamination caused by the VDLR system, which they determined "not to be accurate." The community had previously been using Allied Waste/Republic Services, but decided to go with SDI Refuse Collection, one of a dozen area haulers now using the VDLR facility.
"Even if there is some contamination, the total volume of what we recycle here at Forest Lakes will increase," says Forest Lakes Community Association board president David Shifflett. "Now, 100 percent of our residents will be involved in the recycling process."
Shifflett also points out that one less truck, the one that used to collect recycling, will be driving around the streets of Forest Lakes. And because the local trash hauling business has become so competitive, he says, they were able to negotiate a contract that will lower trash and recycling collection bills by 40 percent.
The directors also like the idea that Van der Linde's facility can sort through household trash for recyclables, making it a so-called "dirty" MRF, and that anything left over is sent to a waste-to-energy plant in Harrisonburg. One more way trash is being diverted from landfills.
According to a March invoice from the facility, Van der Linde spent $18,000 in tipping fees in two weeks disposing of household waste–-after it had been sorted through for recyclables–for use as fuel.
Indeed, lost in Allied's "separate, don't contaminate" campaign is a biggie: the fact that household trash collected by the company is going to a landfill, while household trash at Van der Linde's facility gets picked through and about a third of what's in the bins recycled. Anything left over is burned rather than buried.
Here's another oddity: instead of taking advantage of Van der Linde's recycling facility, Allied Waste hauls all its trash and recycling to a small transfer station (basically a warehouse building with no sorting equipment) right beside the Van der Linde facility. From there, trash is sent to a company landfill, and recycling is sent to the facility in Tidewater.
Meanwhile, fellow corporate hauler Waste Management, as part of its City trash collection contract, uses VDLR, while Allied Waste, which has a separate contract with the City for curbside recycling collection, hauls it to Tidewater.
With the recent installation of a new bag breaking machine (see one in action here), air knife dryers that rapidly dry recyclables, and an electro-magnet that picks out metals, Van der Linde says that his household waste recovery rate, which has been about 30 percent, should increase significantly.
"Given the current technology, a relatively few soiled pizza boxes or lasagna making contact with paper is no real impediment to the recycling process," he says. "To attempt to leverage this as a basis for derailing what we are doing is to turn back the hands of time to the bygone days of the dump."