"We try to pull as much material out of the waste stream, and this program today is one more step in that process," said City Councilor Dave Norris.
Allied's campaign against "contamination" as the subject of last week's cover story.
In the latest battle against renegade recycler Peter Van der Linde and in an apparent effort to reverse a dwindling share of the local trash market, corporate hauler Allied Waste Services has won help from the City of Charlottesville to unveil an "enhanced" recycling program.
The announcement came May 3 in a City Hall press conference, at which the company– part of a larger concern called Republic Services– announced that it would soon begin handing out 96-gallon covered recycling bins for a bi-weekly recycling pick-up in much of the Belmont neighborhood.
"I'll put our waste management program up against any in the country," said City Councilor Dave Norris, who joined public works director Judy Mueller and an Allied executive at the Thursday morning event. "We try to pull as much material out of the waste stream, and this program today is one more step in that process."
As Mueller revealed, a pilot program of the new service launched last year in the Greenbrier neighborhood with a 76 percent participation rate and a 32 percent increase in the amount of recyclables collected.
The new program comes three years into to a five-year, $440,000-a-year contract Allied won from the City of Charlottesville to collect curbside recycling. Moreover, it follows a battle of the noodle, a barrage of Allied advertising claiming that the competing "all-in-one" approach espoused by Van der Linde leads to "contamination."
Since Van der Linde opened his $11 million Materials Recovery Facility four years ago in Zion Crossroads, that MRF's ability to extract recyclables from a mixed-waste stream has helped Van der Linde win over a dozen local haulers. Besides reducing the junk thrown underground, that translates into less business for the larger landfill-owning corporate haulers.
And they don't seem happy. Part of an S&P 500 company, Allied recently hired a local public relations firm to craft a feisty ad campaign to undercut the heart of Van der Linde's story. Talking about liquids, saucy pasta, and grease-stained pizza boxes, this campaign alleges that "contamination" ruins much of what goes into an "all-in-one" bin, an assertion Van der Linde denies.
Strangely enough, while Allied continues the campaign to discredit haulers offering all-in-one, the City contracts with another corporate hauler, Waste Management, by paying the firm $759,430 a year to collect household trash and recycling in a single bin– the all-in-one approach– and haul it out to Van der Linde Recycling.
The way Norris sees it, the City is offering a win-win situation for citizens, who can either separate recyclables from trash or just chuck it all in one bin. Either way, the entire household waste stream within the city limits is getting scoured for recyclables before heading to a landfill.
Still, does it make sense for one City trash partner to try to discredit the other? More importantly, what's the truth of Allied's claim that recyclables collected in an all-in-one system get too contaminated to recycle?
A recent move by the sprawling Forest Lakes community rejects Allied's assertions as inaccurate. On July 1, after months of deliberation, the neighborhood plans to dump Allied and go with a smaller hauler using Van der Linde Recycling.
While Allied's "Separate, Don't Contaminate" campaign claims that it can put less waste in landfills, it offers no hard data on contamination levels. And comparisons between the amounts of recycling processed by Allied compared to Van der Linde Recycling, VDLR, paint a different picture.
According to figures from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, VDLR collected 68,565 tons of construction waste and recycled about 56,000 tons of it in 2010. Meanwhile, Allied collected just 1,824 tons (due to limitations of the transfer station it uses) and recycled none. VDLR also managed to recycle 12,938 tons of trash and recycling to Allied's 4,725 tons.
However, as Meuller pointed out at the press conference, convenience is all well and good, but the quality of recovered materials, aided by public participation, produced measurable results in the Greenbrier test program. Indeed, one authority tells a reporter that segregating the obvious recylables maintains a high-quality stream.
"If the purpose of the recycling program is to recover materials to be used in manufacturing new products, then two streams [trash and recycling] is better," says Richard Gertman, a nationally known expert on solid waste and resource management issues.
However, Gertman said it also depends on the community's goal.
"If the idea is to reduce materials going to a local landfill," he said, "then [an all-in-one] trash system will likely better achieve that goal."
Ironically, when curbside recycling first came on the scene, studies suggested that it would lead to greater contamination of recyclables because households could put them together in the same bins. That's the same criticism currently leveled against the all-in-one approach. However, many of the criticisms of curbside bins were put to rest by the advancement of sorting technology.
Indeed, Allied's service manger Tad Phillips, who has been in the waste business since the late 1970s, gave a short history of progress at the press conference. He pointed out that the volume of recyclables that haulers began to receive in the early 1990s (when public participation began skyrocketing) became so large that the old way that haulers did it– sorting cans, paper, plastic, and different colors of glass into separate truck compartments at curbside– became a "losing battle."
"Then they developed good sorting technology," says Phillips, "and single-streaming became possible." (Even though it may seem more intuitive to use it to describe all-in-one systems, "single-stream" is still the EPA-approved term for segregating recyclables from household waste.)
According to Allied's advertising campaign, oily pizza boxes and spaghetti-stained newspapers appear to be obstacles that Van der Linde Recycling just can't handle. But given technology's role in the success of so-called single-stream recycling, couldn't advancements in technology also make the all-in-one approach espoused by Van der Linde equally as successful?
"I don't know the answer to that," says Phillips. "We just do single-stream recycling."