Trash talkin': Waste war could decide the future

cover-murfPeter Van der Linde's Zion Crossroads recycling facility, one of the main reasons the RSWA has experienced a 20 percent drop in revenues. FILE PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

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."

Related stories:

February 14, 2008Coming soon! van der Linde's amazing recycling machine

July 17, 2008Single-streamin': Why not try private sector recycling machine?

April 2, 2009What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?

April 20, 2009Wasted revenue? Authority realized in 2005 station didn’t track origins

May 29, 2009Recycle this! Van der Linde steps up tone

August 17, 2009Don Van der Linde? Wasteworks whacks recycler with RICO

This story is a part of the Waste War: the fight over trash and recycling special.


David Brown did answer some of my questions and he does support the suit and believes the Mr. Van der Linde is not being truthful. He also said:
" From what I know a dirty mrf can only extract 5 - 15% as recyclables (knowing you to be a GREAT researcher, I hope you will look into it, and let me know what you discover). The City does better; it makes a big difference to separate out recyclables first (How can paper really be separated from coffee grounds and banana peels?)"

So loyal readers am asking your help does anyone know the answer to this question ?

Another question I have is --if this is about recovery of fees why a RICO trial which means federal court, a jury, weeks of testimony. I can't begin to imagine the expense and I know the Rivanna lawyer is paid $515 an hour. The only reason I can imagine for this move is to intimidate Mr. Van der Linde into shutting down, which is the only way apparently RSWA can survive.

There has got to be a better way to settle this ! I am pleading with our elected officials to talk to Mr. Van der Linde, and intervene with RSWA, and find a mediated way out of this mess, and not go to federal court which will surely ruin him and the taxpayers pocketbooks as well.

I agree with Downing Smith this makes me want to cry .

What is freeeekin awsome sbout this is as the country is leaning to that bad word I'd rather not talk about. here is a privet busines beating out the gov.!!!!!!! freaken awsome!!!!!!

Bruce what do you mean? They're wasting millions of taxpayer dollars.

Another point: Fluvanna County is in the middle of this mess! If the facility was located in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle County then obviously the fee would be collected on everyone using the facility because this is where the trash and debris would be coming from! Obviously, Fluvanna County wouldn't be hauling their trash and debris to the City or Albemarle County when they have their own facility at Zions Crossroads. Just a thought.

At least Van der Linde's representatives volunteered to ban his big, orange, loud trucks off of Route 250. Before this we would hear them going down the road, while in the shower, at arount 5:00 in the morning. How would you like to hear this noise at this time of morning? At least he did something to help the Fluvanna County citizens after numerous complaints. I haven't seen any of his trucks on Route 250 since. This is more than I can say for BFI and its big customers that use the facility a/k/a Allied Waste! Just take a look at the poor condition of Route 250 heading west from Zions Crossroads because of all of these trucks that won't use I-64 at Zions Crossroads but continue to use Route 250 when they have no pick ups on the road. We understand the private trash haulers that pick up on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. At least they provide a service to the community. But anything larger than those should use I-64 at Zions Crossroads out of community service and respect to those that live on Route 250. We were here before these facilities were built! We sympathize that BFI a/k/a Allied Waste isn't taxpayer friendly to City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County resident because they sure aren't to those Fluvanna County residents who live on Route 250. Get with the program BFI!

All I can say is that you have to laugh when the private business man is paying the local/regional law firm and getting value for his money with Garren and Klug from Scott Kroner...and the public entity is paying the mega national firm big bucks to churn the heck out of this thing. Hilarious. Doesn't RWSA have a fiduciary duty to get a law firm other than one of their former board member's big firms? We have great law firms here, why don't our municipal entities use them? Thanks for taking my hard earned tax money and wasting it on some national firm and covering the overhead for their Hong Kong office.

GOLLY GEE WILLIKERS BATMAN ! Another example of our fine local government in action AND once again they can't get out of there own way. Who said common sense has died? Government, at best, is MEDIOCER ! Or better yet..garbage in, garbage out! Oh, you want a profound analysis, here it is...FREE ENTERPRISE WORKS better than a constipated government..let Mr Van der Linde do his thing.

If I were Ken Boyd and thinking of running against Perriello in the 5th, I wouldn't want to be associated with the RSWA and RWSA scams on the public.

Don't think fleecing the public with sky rocketing water and sewer rates for a limitless dam budget, and lawsuits against private citizens trying to save money for the community look too good on the resume of a Republican/fiscal conservative candidate.

Wrong info --no announcement yet, still time for Boyd to jump ship

WINA reports he's in the race . If I were him I'd put on my running shoes and get out of this mess, can see the campaign adds now

Boyd in favor of new dam --no price too high --just raise their rates to pay for it

Boyd sues Albemarle citizen trying to use private enterprise to save the taxpayers money

umm, doesn't look good

Isn't it also a conflict to have the lawyer at RSWA who is advising the board to go forward with the suit and the lawyer earning the big bucks for arguing the suit from the same firm ? They sure are raking it in !

Sometimes I just want to cry. Here is a fellow who wants to save the City and County money, make it easier on citizens, and help the environment. So what do the geniuses at RSWA do? Call him a mobster and sue him for $3.5 million.

It's a structural problem working itself out.

What is so important about these service authorities?

RWSA and RSWA. Non-names.

I have toured the Van Der Linde site and give a big Thank You to Pete and Mike for the great work they are doing for Fluvanna and the surrounding counties as well as businesses who didn't have a solution to recycling needs. Thier "green machine" offers rural residents, especially ones like myself who don't have curbside, an alternative to landfilling wastes. We as well do have the Fluvanna county recycling center at the transfer station but that one is still one where the items are sorted for the most part and it is not convenient for my needs, but nothing against them in any way.

I can't understand for the life of me why anyone would side with the RSWA in this matter when for many years they have shown to not be that in tuned with how the community feels about the Environmental needs and their concerns. Instead of bickering with Van Der Linde, RSWA should partner with them as the article states to provide better solutions for recycling which will in turn help thier costs. The cost seems to drive RSWA anyways and not the Environment.