Timely disposal: City dumps RSWA for Van der Linde
Last year, our local governments stood behind the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority as it spent nearly $400,000 trying to prove that recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde had defrauded area tax payers. Now it appears that tax payer funds, including disposal fees that once went to the RSWA, will be headed Van der Linde’s way.
Last week, Charlottesville City Council said good-bye to its long-standing support agreement with the RSWA, which had required City trash be taken to an RSWA-sponsored transfer station for the purpose of collecting a “service contribution fee” to support the Authority’s services, awarding a new City contract for trash disposal services to Van der Linde Recycling.
Under the contract, all City curbside trash will be taken by Waste Management (whom city has a separate $759,430 hauling contract with) to Van der Linde’s Materials Recovery Facility 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.
With a low bid of $39 per ton, Van der Linde beat out his neighbor, former RSWA partner Republic Services Inc. (formerly BFI and Allied Waste), which has received City trash since 2001 in a joint agreement with the RSWA. Republic wanted to charge $41 per ton to bring trash to its own Zion Crossroads transfer station, which happens to be right beside the Van der Linde facility.
The new contract with Van der Linde, combined with the termination of the agreement between Republic and the RSWA as a result of the settlement agreement in the Authority’s lawsuit against Van der Linde, amounts to a serious financial blow to the RSWA and Republic: for fiscal year 2009-2010 the City paid RSWA/Republic $916,885 in disposal fees.
The City estimates that approximately 7,000 tons of household waste will be sent to Van der Linde’s facility each year, not counting any of the 3,332 tons of City recycling that may find its way to Van der Linde’s under the contract.
Oddly enough, Councilors chose to renew the City’s $403,831 a year curbside recycling contract with Republic, who picks up the curbside bins and processes the recyclables at their Zion Crossroads facility. The service allows residents to toss common recyclables into separate bins at no cost.
But why continue to separate recyclables when everything tossed in your trash bin now goes to Van der Linde’s recycling facility?
Indeed, in a memo to Council, City public works director Judy Mueller said there was a possibility that people might stop using the curbside service, but said there is “some built-in financial incentive for continuing to use the City’s curbside recycling program.”
As Mueller explained, the curbside recycling service is free, while any recyclables tossed in with the ordinary household trash might require additional trash stickers or a more expensive City trash decal.
Practically, though, the only real difference between using the recycling bins or the big cans will be the journey the recyclables make.
• Throw trash and/or recycling in your big trash bin and it will all go to Van der Linde’s high-tech facility where up to 95 percent of the trash it is sorted, separated, and bundled for recycling.
• Throw recyclables in the your City recycling bins and it will go to the low-tech Republic transfer station where both trash and recycling is dumped on a tipping floor, loaded into trucks with a front loader, and trucked 87 miles away to a recycling processing center in Chester, Virginia.
And, of course, the system requires the City to continue paying for two separate hauling contracts, despite the fact that Van der Linde can receive both household trash and recycling, at a total cost of $1,163,281 per year.
So why continue curbside?
Councilor David Brown, who sits on the RSWA board, believes the city’s “pay as you throw” sticker system, which generates about $1 million a year, provides a needed incentive to make sure recycling rates increase. Brown, a dedicated recycler, claims he only spends $3 a month on trash stickers.
But how much City curbside recycling actually gets recycled? While the City knows that Republic picked up 3,323 tons of it last year, they don’t know how much of it actually gets recycled. That’s because Republic’s reporting responsibilities end at the curb.
However, according to Republic representative Peg Mulloy, managers at the Zion Crossroads facility claim that “100 percent” of the recyclables collected in the City get recycled at the Chester plant.
“Because our system is “source separated” collection, we know exactly how much is collected and recycled,” they said.
But a former BFI/Republic contract employee who spent time at the Zion Crossroads facility believes that’s unlikely.
“They can’t really recycle properly in that environment,” says Delbert Beasley, who now owns his own waste hauling business in Lynchburg, describing the simple tipping floor on which trash is dumped.
“Some places just go through the motions and say they recycle,” says Beasley,”but no more than just to make a showing.” At Van der Linde’s facility next door, which Beasley is familiar with, “they really want to recycle,” he says.
City officials have also argued that source separation prevents contamination of recyclables, but Van der Linde says that contamination rates at his facility hover around 10-20 percent, and that those numbers are getting smaller every year as the technology gets refined.
Then, of course, City residents have private options as well. Since Van der Linde’s facility began accepting household trash, companies like Dixon Disposal have been offering City residents single streams trash/recycling services for as little as $19 per month, which works out to be $55 less than buying an annual 90 gallon City trash decal.
In April, the management of the Jefferson Theater and the Pavilion dumped the City trash service and went with Dixon Disposal, which is saving them “a ton in labor cost,” said venues manager Kirby Hutto, because they no longer have to pay staff to sort recycling.