Trash talkin': Waste war could decide the future
As the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority and Peter Van der Linde, the area's two biggest players in the trash collection business, battle it out in court, the future of our trash and recycling services appear to be hanging in the balance.
While Authority director Tom Frederick has stated publicly that its $3.5 million lawsuit against Van der Linde, which is now seeking damages under RICO, is "in no way related" to Van der Linde's competing trash collection facility and that the private sector "ought to be encouraged," seeing Van der Linde's facility disappear may now be the only way for the Authority to survive.
According to the RSWA's own analysis, Van der Linde's Zion Crossroads facility, which competes with the RSWA, has been one of the main reasons why the RSWA has experienced a 20 percent drop in revenues this fiscal year.
Since the facility opened in December, private haulers have flocked to Van der Linde, bringing construction and demolition waste, as well as their recyclables–- attracted by the lower tipping fees. In fact, according to city Public Works director Judy Mueller, even the city has been using Van der Linde's MRF, materials recovery facility, bringing over 200 tons of large item collection materials since the beginning of the year.
In June, the RSWA board announced that a long-awaited Strategic Plan could include the option of shutting down the RSWA's trash and recycling operation entirely. The other option discussed, which also appears to be a nod to Van der Linde, is an upgrade of the RSWA's Ivy Transfer Station, which the station manager has said is “nearing what could be a catastrophic failure resulting in significant expenditure of funds to refurbish.”
"The Board has requested a 'business plan' be developed around a proposal to upgrade the transfer station," writes Frederick in an email. "The proposal would include receiving construction debris and single-stream recyclable materials for transfer to a privately-operated MRF such as what Mr. Van der Linde is operating."
In March, Frederick defended the importance of his operation by pointing out that the RSWA collected household trash, whereas Van der Linde did not. By mid-September, however, Van der Linde says he should have a "dirty MRF" approved and running, which will allow him to accept and recycle household trash.
"The day I launch, I should be able to take the RSWA's income to zero," says Van der Linde. "I'm not trying to boast; I'm just stating a fact. Once I get this up and running, they won't have an income stream."
As Van der Linde points out, he's already in talks with haulers, who may cease using RSWA facilities the day Van der Linde flips the switch on his new sorter, paying around $17 less per ton than the $62 RSWA charges.
Asked to respond, Frederick appeared to lay blame on local government, emphasizing that the RSWA is a "public agency " that only provides services the County and City agree upon. He says the RSWA has been encouraging the County and City "for several years" to consider funding alternatives to the service contribution fee, as the fee, he says, "pushes our tipping rate to the high end of the market, resulting in revenue shortfalls."
Meanwhile, the RSWA board, which now includes City Councilor David Brown and County Supervisor Ken Boyd, continues to wrestle with its future. In the board's July discussion about improving the Ivy Transfer station, Boyd said, "We'd have to make the price competitive enough so people wouldn't just drive directly to the private MRF."
The RSWA Board has also acknowledged that its McIntire Recycling Center has become increasingly expensive, goes unused by city residents who enjoy a free curbside recycling, and is located far from recycling-inclined county residents. And it still relies on people to separate their recyclables.
While the RSWA board continues to discuss ways to encourage recycling, one long-standing offer from Van der Linde continues to find no takers.
In a fax to the Hook, Van der Linde again outlines his offer to supply both the city and the county with as many of his orange containers as they want, in as many locations as they want, at no charge. People would be free to toss all their recyclables (no separating involved) in the containers 24/7.
He's also offered to turn a vacant 1.3-acre Rio Road site into a citizens drop-off spot at no charge. Van der Linde says he'll haul each container to his facility, dump it, and return the container for $75, with a tipping fee of just $24 per ton.
For some reason, however, Van der Linde says he's had trouble communicating the simplicity of his offer. He suspects it's because people have been so conditioned to think about recycling as a personal responsibility. For example, as a condition of approval for his Zion Crossroads facility, Fluvanna County officials asked him to set up a McIntire-type recycling center on the site.
"We were glad to do so," says Van der Linde. "So we placed a sign on a single, stand-alone container listing all the items you could toss into it."
However, when people began to show up, their recyclables carefully separated, Van der Linde says they just "stood there like deer in the headlights." Some would simply raise their arms in frustration and leave, others complained that Van der Linde was not meeting his recycling center obligation to Fluvanna County.
As a quick fix, Van der Linde says he put multiple containers on the site, one for brown paper, another for glass, etc., to restore confidence that he was recycling properly.
"When the containers are full, we just dump everything together for processing by the big green machine," says Van der Linde. "Because the machine actually does a better job of separating, despite all the best efforts of the citizens."
February 14, 2008–Coming soon! van der Linde's amazing recycling machine
April 2, 2009–What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?
May 29, 2009–Recycle this! Van der Linde steps up tone
August 17, 2009–Don Van der Linde? Wasteworks whacks recycler with RICO