Hazardous waste? RSWA cuts recycling amidst budget woes
The McIntire Recycling Center would seem to have been dealt a blow by City Council’s recent decision to award a major city trash/recycling contract to the area leader in no-effort recycling, Van der Linde Recycling, which (in addition to the City’s curbside recycling program) gives residents yet another reason not to use the park-and-drop center. But (yet another) blow also came from the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority itself, which voted June 22 on a slimmer budget that would terminate daily acceptance of fluorescent lights and batteries at McIntire, which will now be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. In a related move, paint will no longer be accepted at the Ivy transfer station.
That’s some pile of bad news for do-it-yourself recyclers, who, according to the RSWA’s recycling manager, Bruce Edmonds, have continued to flock to the Center, which has been on McIntire Road since 1979.
“Man, this place has never been busier,” says Edmonds, who recently announced he will retire in September to launch his own consulting firm. “There’s always a flood of cars here. And when we’re closed they save it up and come the next day.”
Indeed, according to a recent RSWA survey, 2,585 cars visited the center between June 8–13, or 430 cars a day, with 65.2 percent coming from the County, 31.7 percent from the City, and 3.1 percent from outside the RSWA's service area. But the struggling Authority's $2 million budget–- already representing a 47 percent decrease from last year–- will need continued financial support from both local governments through December. The current subsidy agreement expired June 30, and with a reported net operating loss of $1.8 million for fiscal 2010, the Authority appears to be in dire straits.
Indeed, during the recent budget hearing, the Authority proposed installing a “donation box” at the McIntire Center to help keep it afloat. The new budget also calls for the Ivy facility to be closed on Mondays, for 4.5 positions to be “reduced,” and for 1.5 positions to be eliminated.
The board's moves were lamented by the Sierra Club, whose leader, John Cruickshank, told Charlottesville Tomorrow that the changes could spur a wave of pollution, as frustrated citizens dump toxic products in environmentally unfriendly ways. The struggling Authority hopes to save $80,000 annually by reducing acceptance of hazardous materials to just one day per year.
“Although these programs have been popular, their elimination is needed to reach budget reduction targets,” Authority director Tom Frederick told the Board.
However, Peter Van der Linde of contract-winning Van der Linde Recycling points out that his state-of-the-art facility began accepting tires, batteries, paint, and light bulbs several months ago, services that he claims cost him next to nothing and which sometimes even earn him a few bucks by serving as a clearinghouse.
“You bring me a battery, I stack them up on a pallet, and then the battery guy comes and gets them and pays me a dollar each,” says Van der Linde. “We get enough tires, we call the tire guy. We get enough light bulbs, we call the light bulb guy.”
As for paint, which he says he doesn’t get much of anyway, Van der Linde says he has a system approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality, in which paint is poured into an absorbent material where it hardens, rendering it non-toxic.
“We can take anything the RSWA does six days a week,” says Van der Linde.
Ironically, Van der Linde’s facility appears to be the main cause of the Authority’s budget woes. As Frederick informed the RSWA Board, the steep revenue decline can be traced to the fact that most commercial haulers are now using “privately owned facilities.”
It should come as no surprise. After all, the RSWA’s Ivy facility charges a tipping fee of $66 per ton, $27 per ton more than Van der Linde is charging the City, and at least $14 more than other Van der Linde customers pay.
Meanwhile, Waste Management is basically the only commercial hauler left using the RSWA’s Ivy facility, and that’s because the company is still locked into hauling and disposal contracts with the Authority for trash coming from UVA and from the City or County.
A contract between Waste Management and the RSWA dating back to 1997 requires the hauler to dispose of UVA’s waste at the Ivy facility. Remarkably, Waste Management pays the RSWA a tipping fee of only $5.35 per ton for UVA waste, but as Frederick points out, Waste Management is also responsible for transferring the waste that is accumulated at the Ivy facility to one of the company's landfills.
Another more or less identical contract requires Waste Management to dispose of waste it collects in the City or County at the Ivy facility, then transfer it to a company landfill, at a rate of $6.71 per ton.
Basically, Waste Management pays the RSWA to park the waste it collects at the Ivy facility before taking it to one of its own landfills.
As recently reported by Charlottesville Tomorrow, Frederick says that Waste Management has expressed a desire for " flexibility" in its contract that would allow disposal of waste at other facilities, particularly Van der Linde Recycling, as the City contract has allowed the company to do. Indeed, Van der Linde claims the company, whose slogan, after all, is Ã¢â?¬Ë?Think Green: Think Waste Management,” has been eager to align itself with the greener facility.
However, at the budget meeting Frederick revealed that Waste Management "may be changing its position" on wanting more flexibility. He did not provide any reasons for the company’s sudden change of heart. The Hook later asked Frederick if Waste Management were going to continue with its current contract, and why, but he had not responded by the time of this post.
Meanwhile, the RSWA continues to fund an Ivy transfer station operation that mainly serves Waste Management.
Indeed, according to April figures, citizens disposed of 982.87 tons of trash at Ivy, while commercial haulers [Waste Management] disposed of 1747.05 tons.
As Van der Linde has argued, operating a simple convenience center at the Ivy location would cost a fraction of what it does to operate now, while supplying the same services to citizens. According to documents obtained by the Hook, payroll for the 15 employees at the Ivy facility amounts to approximately $500,000 a year without benefits. Plus, there are approximately $250,000 in operational cost each year.
"I completely endorse the idea of a convenience center at Ivy," says Van der Linde. "There's so much that people can do themselves."