GREEN HOME-Stop recycling! Local haulers want to do it for you
You’ve been doing it for years–-dutifully separating recyclables from your trash, rinsing jars and removing caps, tying your cardboard, and placing them in the assigned bin if you use the City’s curbside service; the guidelines for which you have memorized.
You also use the McIntire Recycling Center, the Paper Sort facility, and the Ivy Transfer Station and keep track of special collections days for bulky waste items, electronics, and hazardous waste. You take your metal to Coiner’s Scrap, your plastic shopping bags back to the grocery store, your clothes to Goodwill, your styrofoam and bubble wrap to Mail Boxes Etc. or Pack N Mail, your used construction items to the Habitat Store, and your used ink cartridges to Staples. You are dedicated to recycling. You are greener than thou.
Okay, maybe you're not.
Maybe you’re lucky to get a few bottles, cans, and some paper out to the curb before you have to rush to work, or only have time for a few runs to the McIntire Recycling Center each month. Maybe you've got a big bin of recyclables at home you've been meaning to get rid of. Maybe, to be honest, you find recycling to be a pain in the...
Don’t feel bad. You're not alone.
Despite how “hip” it has become to recycle, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest figures, only 33.2 percent of the 250 million tons of trash generated by Americans gets recycled. Locally, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Committee puts the recycling rate at 34 percent. What’s more, the average American now throws away 4.5 pounds of trash every day, compared to just 2.7 pounds in 1960. But you know that. You know how fast your kitchen trash can fills up. Basically, our elaborate efforts at recycling have been undermined by our capacity to create more and more trash.
“The demands of source separation have been the biggest impediment to participation in recycling,” claims Peter Van der Linde, who believes his state-of-the art Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Zion Crossroads is a solution to the problem. “Consequently, most of the population doesn’t even attempt to recycle.”
However, now that many local trash haulers have dumped the services of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority in favor of using Van der Linde’s new MRF, giving up on recycling could be the best way to recycle.
Say what?! Allow us to explain.
After surviving a $20 million RICO law suit brought against him by the RSWA–- which was supported by both local governments and finally settled out of court in January–- Van der Linde has been able to focus on operating his “landfill of the future,” which uses two state-of-the-art recycling machines, combined with hand labor, to sort and recycle construction and demolition debris, commingled recyclables, and even household trash.
Because all the sorting and recycling is done at Van der Linde’s facility, customers of those local trash haulers–- including Dixon Disposal, Time Disposal, SDI Disposal, Fluvanna Disposal, Kingrea’s Disposal, M&M Disposal, All American Trash Services, Ace Disposal, and Sandridge Disposal–- can simply throw everything into one big bin. According to Boyd McCauley of Time Disposal, many of his customers don’t even know they’re recycling.
"Van der Linde has changed everything," McCauley told the Hook. "Even our customers who don't recycle are now recycling. It don't get no easier."
Indeed, even when you attend a concert at the Pavilion or the Jefferson Theater, you’re recycling with Van der Linde.
“It’s saving us a ton in labor costs,” says Kirby Hutto, manager of the two music venues, on why he chose to dump the City’s trash service and partner with Dixon Disposal. “We had to pay our staff to sort recycling, but once we switched to Dixon we didn’t have to do that. ”
For about the same cost of city trash decals, Hutto says Dixon will pick up trash when the bins are full, not only during scheduled routes. What’s more, because there was such a large volume of trash generated at the Pavilion, Hutto says the City wouldn’t allow it to use the McIntire Recycling Center, leaving the Pavilion with few recycling options. Now all the trash and recycling generated by the 3,500-person venue is sorted at Van der Linde’s facility.
“As far as trash collection and recycling goes, this is transformational,” says Hutto. “There’s a new game in town.”
Waste of money?
Apparently, our local governments didn’t get the memo. The County recently decided to support the RSWA for another year to the tune of $350,000, while the City is still locked into agreements with the financially ailing Authority and its corporate partners, Waste Management and BFI/Allied/Republic, to the tune of around $2.6 million a year.
Last February, after giving interested companies just 15 days to respond to an Invitation to Bid, the city signed a five-year contract worth $3.7 million with Waste Management to collect household trash. Two months later, the city renewed a one-year contract with BFI/Allied/Republic Services worth over $400,000 a year to collect curbside recycling, with four more renewal options available to the company. In addition, the city pays over $900,000 a year in disposal fees to the RSWA.
Under the contract, Waste Management must bring city trash to the Authority-sponsored BFI/Allied/Republic transfer station in Zion Crossroads (which happens to be right next to Van der Linde’s MRF), due to the city’s service agreement with the Waste Authority. From there, the trash is trucked 77 miles away to a BFI landfill, while the City’s curbside recycling, picked up by BFI/Allied/Republic and sorted at its transfer station, is supposedly trucked 87 miles away to a MRF in Chester, Virginia.
Waste Management also has a $1.4 million annual contract with the RSWA to haul waste loaded in trailers at the Ivy Transfer Station to a company's landfill in Amelia, Virginia, and the RSWA also pays BFI/Allied/Republic $675,000 annually for the services of its Zion Crossroads transfer station.
Of course, as trash haulers that own giant holes in the ground, BFI/Allied/Republic and Waste Management are clearly not inclined to pay to use Van der Linde’s MRF.
In fact, Van der Linde began ruffling feathers the moment he broke ground. Last December, Valley Department of Environmental Quality waste manager Graham Simmerman, who issued Van der Linde his permits, revealed that “people were trying to use our agency to irritate Mr. Van der Linde.”
Simmerman described the many anonymous, unfounded complaints his office received about the facility since it first broke ground, which he believes came from “players in the trash business” and happened because the facility was "upsetting the status quo" by diverting waste "away from the RSWA and BFI." RSWA and BFI claim innocence.
With more homeowners (Van der Linde reports that the Lake Monticello community, home to 4,200 homes, is currently discussing going with him via local haulers) and businesses like the Jefferson Theater and the Pavilion going with local haulers aligned with Van der Linde, tonnage rates–- and therefore tipping fees–- at the government-sponsored transfer stations have been declining. Tipping fee revenues were down $364,000 in the RSWA's 2007-2008 budget cycle, before Van der Linde opened his facility, but that figure jumped to $758,000 the following year after Van der Linde opened. Currently, the Authority is attempting to save itself by privatizing the operation of the Ivy Transfer Station, having issued a Request for Proposals in January. To date, no proposal has been selected.
Meanwhile, the City appears to be contemplating closing the money-losing McIntire Recycling Center and ending its agreement with the beleaguered Authority, which expires at the end of June.
“That’s providing us a rare opportunity, a welcome one in my book, to take a comprehensive look at our solid waste management system,” says Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, “and consider ways we might reform it to reduce costs and steer more materials away from the landfill.”
However, while the governments continue to plan and discuss, local haulers may have already made those plans obsolete.
If the city were to simply allow local haulers like Dixon to take over, the expensive budget for “waste collection services” could potentially be reduced to zero. Plus, Van der Linde's facility could potentially steer approximately 3,000 tons of city household trash away from landfills, recycling rates could increase, and trash service might actually be cheaper for city residents.
For example, Dixon is currently charging city residents $19 per month to pick up a 96-gallon container of trash and recycling every week, which adds up to $228 per year. That’s $55 less than the $283 cost of an annual city trash decal for a 96-gallon container.
Of course, the city's "pay as you throw" sticker system, which generates about $1 million a year, allows people who don't generate a lot of trash, or who strive to recycle more, to save money as they save the planet, as 13-gallon stickers can be purchased for just $1.05.
"Our household of two, using free curbside, puts out a large can of household trash every three weeks," says City Councilor David Brown, who sits on the RSWA board and claims that he spends only $3 a month on trash stickers.
“I think this issue needs a lot of looking into,” says Brown of a possible deal with Van der Linde. “If we can achieve a good recycling rate with a MRF, great. But let’s make sure before we move in that direction."
However, as Van der Linde points out, under the existing system, the recycling rate for the approximately 7,800 tons of city household trash collected every year is exactly zero percent.
“The recycling rate for our dirty MRF isn’t perfect, yet,” he says, “but isn’t it better than all of it going to the dump?”
As Van der Linde explains, his survival depends on diverting as much as he can away from a landfill, thereby avoiding tipping fees and associated transportation costs.
“The more material we send to the landfill, the higher our cost of operation,” he says.
In addition, Van der Linde says there's money to be made in a steadily expanding local market for recyclables, including cardboard, paper, metals, wood products, plastics, commingled recycling, brick, block, concrete, and drywall. He also mentions that a new $5 million tire recycling facility recently opened in Louisa County.
Van der Linde claims his current recovery rate for construction and demolition debris is consistently 90 percent, that the rate for commingled recyclables (recyclables that have been separated by businesses or home owners) is 95 percent, and the rate for household trash is currently at 38 percent, a number he hopes to raise with recently-purchased equipment.
But Brown wonders if Van der Linde’s facility could handle the 7,800 tons of trash the City generates, plus all the recycling and construction and demo debris. And what about the quality of recyclables collected this way? Doesn’t much of it get contaminated?
Van der Linde claims his permit allows the facility to process a thousand tons per day. He admits that recyclables get contaminated, as some “pretty weird things end up in there,” but he also points out that much of it gets contaminated before it gets into the trash can– bottles containing cigarette butts, oil-soaked pizza boxes, and uncleaned peanut butter jars, for example. In the end, he says, the potential increase in the overall recycling rate among the local population as a result of his facility more than makes up for the amount that gets contaminated.
What’s more, he says his facility has a newly installed recovery system for contaminated materials, which are sent to a massive Ã¢â?¬Ë?waste-to-energy” facility in Harrisonburg that heats and cools the James Madison University campus by burning household waste.
As a recent article in the New York Times pointed out, a 2009 EPA study favored these waste-to-energy plants over landfills “as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste that cannot be recycled.” In Europe, the Times noted, there are about 400 such plants producing heat and electricity, many of them state-of-the-art, while there are only 87 plants in the United States, nearly all of them built more than a decade ago.
"Maybe the best system would be to continue to offer curbside recycling," offers Brown, "but put all remaining trash through a MRF."
However, as Van der Linde mentions, dedicated recyclers like Brown can reduce the chance of contamination by simply putting food waste in one bag and everything else in another. More importantly, though, by dropping them both in one container, it eliminates the need to run two separate pick-up routes.
The appeal of working with Van der Linde, says Dixon's Randy Dixon–- besides not having to run a separate route for trash and recyclables, which had made offering curbside recycling cost-prohibitive–- is feeling confident about telling his customers that their stuff is getting recycled.
In contrast, while BFI/Allied/Republic told the city they collected 3,332 tons of curbside recyclables last year, the city has no idea how much of that actually gets recycled. Under the city contract, the company basically “owns” the recyclables once they get picked up on the curb, and is under no obligation to report what’s done with them.
“We have no reason to question that all of our materials are recycled,” says city public works director Judy Mueller, though she admits to not knowing what and exactly how much actually gets recycled in Chester.
However, some of the haulers the Hook spoke to have been questioning how much the City and BFI/Allied/Republic actually recycles for some time, which is why they says they were happy when Van der Linde’s facility finally opened.
“I know it’s being recycled at Pete’s place,” says Dixon.
Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed “green” city of Charlottesville continues to pay big bucks to have 7,800 tons of the trash thrown in a landfill.
However, there might be a way out. According to the contract with Waste Management, the city can terminate the agreement at “any time” and “for any reason” with 30-days notice.
So might the City dump the RSWA and its corporate partners in favor of our local haulers?
“Everything's on the table with regard to how we collect and dispose of or recycle solid waste in the City,” says Mayor Norris, who mentions that City Council held a work session on waste disposal April 19, after this special section of the Hook went to press. "Including privatization.”
Update 4/22/2010 3:46pm: Charlottesville Tommorow provides a podcast of the April 19 Solid Waste work session.
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