IW proposes recycling reduction

Published 4:55 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Isle of Wight officials are proposing to no longer accept glass, paper or plastic at any of the county’s eight refuse and recycling centers.

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors have yet to vote on the recommendation, but discussed the matter on Jan. 6.

According to Solid Waste Manager Michael Etheridge, limiting the county’s collection efforts to cardboard and aluminum or steel cans would create a “possible positive revenue stream.”

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Currently, Isle of Wight pays Bay Disposal & Recycling $65 per ton for single-stream collection, where various types of recyclables are commingled in a single container, versus the $61 per ton it would pay the Southeastern Public Service Authority to landfill them.

But the county retains the revenue from the sale of recyclable commodities. Cardboard, in particular, can carry a market value of $100 to $120 per ton, Etheridge said.

“Steel, aluminum, same thing … they may drop in value but they never drop to the point where you have to pay to get rid of them,” he added.

“If we can’t move to this, where we have a revenue stream, the next alternative is no recycling … we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances to at least keep a program going that everybody else seems to be killing completely, including towns within our community,” said Supervisor Dick Grice.

Replacing single-stream recycling with two bins at each recycling center — one for cardboard and one for cans — would require “an extensive retraining of the public,” Etheridge acknowledged, which he’s proposing to accomplish with signs and brochures funded by a roughly $12,500 litter prevention and recycling grant the county received last month from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Grice had requested the Jan. 6 recycling discussion last fall after County Administrator Randy Keaton told the board that the market for recyclables had “dried up” and that much of what’s collected locally ends up getting incinerated at the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth, rather than repurposed.

The proposed reduction in Isle of Wight’s recycling services comes amid a wave of recycling contract cancellations throughout Hampton Roads. Smithfield and the city of Franklin, which both ended their recycling contracts with Bay last year, had also claimed their recyclables weren’t actually being recycled — though Bay disputed the allegations. The city of Chesapeake, which contracts with Bay competitor TFC Recycling, also voted in December to end curbside recycling pickups this July.

Last year, in the wake of Smithfield’s and Franklin’s contract cancellations, Bay spokesman Brandon Newsome had estimated only 30% of what the company collects throughout Hampton Roads goes to Wheelabrator. The rest, he said, is typically accepted by a processing facility.

In 2018, China had banned the import of most overseas recyclables. According to reporting by The New York Times, the decision left a number of American municipalities unable to find a substitute market.

But Tad Phillips, vice president of business development for TFC, argues the market for recyclables has since recovered.

“The end markets for recyclables are currently very strong, as they started recovering from their lows going into 2021 and continuing into this month,” Phillips told The Smithfield Times via email on Jan. 7.

TFC collects, processes and markets just over 100,000 tons per year of recovered materials, including cardboard, paper, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, steel and aluminum cans, and glass, Philips said, and “can provide evidence that we actually recycle everything we collect.” Glass is currently used as daily landfill cover, but TFC is in the process of installing equipment at its Chesapeake plant that will allow the company to clean and sell glass to a North Carolina recycling company.

“Current prices for most of our collection contracts are around $5, plus or minus, per household per month, to come by a residence twice a month for service,” he added.

According to Keaton, placing non-recyclable items in with recyclables plays a role in how much currently gets sent to Wheelabrator — which may itself cease to be an option once the Navy ends its power purchase agreement with the waste-to-energy plant.

“People think they can put anything in there, and they don’t realize that a lot of what they put in there contaminates the whole load, so now none of it’s worth anything … we accept so many things that are outdated now, that don’t have any value,” Keaton said.

Wheelabrator currently has a $10 million contract to supply power to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, but company officials estimated in 2020, upon learning that the Navy planned to end its contract in favor of generating its own electricity via natural gas, that the waste-to-energy plant would be unable to continue operating absent the Navy revenue.