Recycled remedy: Will Ivy 'transfer' to Van der Linde?
Four years after Albemarle County supervisors stood behind the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority's RICO lawsuit against recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde, claiming he had defrauded tax payers in Mafia-style fashion, they are now contemplating a "can't refuse" offer from the man. And while the city has contracted with Van der Linde for several years, so far, the county has stubbornly refused to embrace the trash and recycling technology of the man they once tried to punish.
Van der Linde’s successful Materials Recovery Facility [or "MURF" for short] in Zion Crossroads, which is permitted by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to process commingled recyclables, construction and demolition debris, and household waste for recycling, has transformed the local trash business, allowing haulers to offer "single-stream, all-in-one" trash collection. What's more, Van der Linde's tipping fees are lower at $52 per ton, compared to the $66 per ton the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority charges.
Back in 2010, the city saw the writing on the wall, dropped its contract with the RSWA, and contracted with Van der Linde to have curbside trash hauled by Waste Management to his facility. But the county, given the sticky legal history, perhaps, has been slow to embrace Van der Linde as a partner, preferring instead to stick with the RSWA, which operates both the Ivy Materials Utilization Center and the McIntire Recycling Center.
However, some big changes at Ivy may force the county's hand. Corporate hauler Waste Management, Ivy's
biggest customer, declined to renew its contract with the RSWA, and will stop hauling trash there at the end of June. Meanwhile, RSWA director Tom Frederick has been busy trying to secure continued funding from Albemarle County for Ivy's trash collecting operations. Over the years, he has argued that government support and higher tipping fees are needed to support Ivy, as well as the McIntire Recycling Center, and to fund hazardous waste collection, amnesty days, and other "special services" the RSWA provides.
But with Waste Management's withdrawal, that may be hard to justify. As Frederick himself explained to the RSWA board earlier this year, two-thirds of the trash coming into Ivy is hauled there by Waste Management, which, in not-so environmentally friendly fashion, then hauls it from Ivy to a company-owned landfill in Kent County.
What's more, on June 20, Van der Linde responded to a county RFP for trash and recycling services, and made an argument that's hard to refuse.
"We made a solid presentation," says Van der Linde, "basically offering to provide all the existing services plus adding some new ones, and doing so at no cost to the county."
Indeed, Van der Linde, whose operation makes money on the trash and recycling it collects, would basically operate the Ivy location and the McIntire Recycling Center as transfer stations for free.
The county's contract with the RSWA, which provides funding for both the Ivy Transfer station and the McIntire Recycling Center, was set to expire at the end of June, but the BOS voted on June 5 to approve a six-month extension of the contract, which will cost tax payers about $200,000 through the end of the year.
"Continuing with RWSA is still an option," says county Supe Dennis Rooker. "But we are exploring the options. Approving the extension continues the status quo while the RFP process goes forward."
Meanwhile, Van der Linde, who has been offering informally to take over the Ivy and McItire operations for over four years, has made his state-of-art facility even more so.
Recently, he took delivery of a new $2.5 million household trash separator. While the facility already has a machine that separates recycling and construction debris and has been extracting recycling from household trash as well as by hand, the new machine uses optics, magnets, forced air dryers, bag-breaking machines, and an assortment of other machines along a conveyor to extract clean recyclables from the household waste stream. Van der Linde says the system has already been approved by the DEQ, and that it should be set up and ready to operate in about three months.
But Van der Linde says he's not going to stop there. While much of the residual material from household trash goes to a waste-to-energy facility at James Madison University, Van der Linde says he's seriously hoping to install an "anaerobic digestion system" that converts that residual into compressed natural gas and an organic soil additive.
"Pretty exciting stuff," he says.
Critics of Van der Linde's facility argue that too much potential recycling gets contaminated when everything is thrown into one trash bin and then thrown into his machines. Indeed, Allied Waste, which is owned by mega-waste company Republic Services, has been surviving locally on its "separate, don't contaminate" ad campaign, claiming that single-stream recycling gets contaminated. Allied Waste offers a dual bin system: put the messy household trash in one and the bottles and cans in the other. The latter's contents get hauled to a small transfer station in Zion Crossroads (which happens to be right beside Van der Linde's facility) and then to a facility like Van der Linde's in Tidewater 90 miles away.
Van der Linde acknowledges that there is some contamination when you throw everything in one bin (that's why the city still offers curbside recycling, along with its all-in-one service courtesy of Van der Linde), but the sheer volume of clean recyclables he is extracting from the waste stream offsets that, he says. Plus, he says, the technology and the systems are getting better, and the percentage of recyclables that get contaminated is decreasing. What's more, he claims that markets are opening up for the materials that facilities like his are extracting, from the lime inside wallboard to the fibers in mattresses.
"I'm all for people separating their recycling if they want to," says Van der Linde, "but we can't continue to count on that alone, not with the volume of trash we produce. This, like it or not, is the future of recycling."