Friday, December 17, 2010

"Charlottesville's Recycling Possibilities," an essay by Mary Buford Hitz

Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday.

Come next spring, Charlottesville will be facing a decision on curbside recycling. If you are as confused as I was about what we are doing now and what our options are, keep listening.

Earlier this year we were told that the city had signed a contract with Pete van der Linde, who runs a state-of-the-art recycling center nearby at Zion’s Cross Roads, so I assumed that this contract was for C’ville’s curbside recycling. It is not, because the city already had a recycling contract with Allied Waste Services. The van der Linde contract is for city trash.

The city’s recyclables, placed in the bins at curbside, include glass, tin, aluminum, paper and plastics. We are still being asked to separate out only plastics 1 and 2 for recycling. This is a major pain in the neck, as it is often difficult to read the number, and some grocery stores cover the number with a label.

The city turned out to be my best source for information about recyclable materials – where they go and how they are dealt with – as getting information from Allied is like pouring blackstrap molasses in December.

Particularly if you say you’re trying to gather information for a media article, you’re handled like an unexploded land mine. Repeated calls to the Allied office in Charlottesville went unreturned. Finally I was told the man I was trying to reach, David Outing, “Doesn’t handle calls like this. They have to go through corporate.”

The parent corporation turns out to be Republic Services in Phoenix. Their automated phone system did not have an operator available. I was urged to leave yet another message.

Just the opposite is true when you contact Pete van der Linde. An avalanche of reasons to use his facility to handle ALL of Charlottesville’s trash and recycling needs pours forth. “We want it and we want it all,” he said, “just get it to us.”

In my phone conversation with him, van der Linde explained that he has installed new technology that is capable of separating trash from recyclables, including all plastics. This allows the comingling of waste, even food and dirty diapers, with recyclables in a dumpster. Van der Linde then sells the processed recyclables to various manufacturers.

Finally, Steve Lawson, Director of the Public Service Works Administration for the City, is able to shed light on what happens with the curbside recycling that Allied picks up. Ironically, it also goes to Zion’s Cross Roads, to a facility near van der Linde’s, where genuine recyclable material is separated and then sent on to Tidewater Fiber, in Chester, Virginia.

On the subject of only 1 and 2 plastics, Lawson says, “Allied’s hands are tied because they can only recycle what Tidewater Fiber can use. It is possible, though, that Allied may be able to change that.” Lawson went on to say that the city has not decided which way to go when the Allied contract comes up for renewal in April.

When the moment of decision comes whether or not to send both trash and recycling to van der Linde or to keep doing business with two separate companies, it seems to me it should depend on which company can deal with the largest number of recyclables at the lowest cost to the city. Since Charlottesville citizens are paying their bill, it would be nice if Allied were as forthcoming with information about cost and available services as van der Linde is.
-- Mary Buford Hitz is a writer living in Charlottesville

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