IW recycling reduction moving forward

Published 5:27 pm Friday, July 8, 2022

Starting in September, Isle of Wight residents will no longer be able to recycle glass, paper or plastics at any of the county’s eight refuse and recycling centers.

County Administrator Randy Keaton told Smithfield’s Town Council on July 5 that Isle of Wight would be “transitioning” its recycling program to only accept cardboard and steel or aluminum cans.

Everything else, he contends, is being sent to the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth for incineration.

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“It’s not really being recycled,” Keaton said.

According to Isle of Wight’s solid waste manager, Michael Etheridge, the transition is slated to to coincide with the start of a six-month redesign of the county’s Wrenn’s Mill refuse and recycling center on Old Stage Highway.

“This will allow us to utilize the employees from the Wrenn’s Mill site to monitor the implementation of the new recycling program,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge couldn’t say yet what types of cardboard would and would not be accepted under the new system.

Once the county secures a cardboard processor, “the company will supply a list of cardboard items they will accept,” Etheridge said.

Currently, Isle of Wight pays Bay Disposal & Recycling $65 per ton for single-stream recycling, where various types of recyclables are commingled in a single container. But with the Southeastern Public Service Authority having raised its fee to an identical $65 per ton as of July 1, sending the no-longer-accepted recyclables to SPSA’s regional landfill in Suffolk is no longer any cheaper.

Any cost savings “will depend on the market price of cardboard and fuel cost,” Etheridge said.

The county retains the revenue from the sale of the recyclable commodities it collects. According to county officials, cardboard was carrying a market value of $100 to $120 as of January, but the labor to separate it from the less-valuable recyclables thrown into the single-stream containers is also costly.

According to Keaton, placing non-recyclable items in with recyclables also plays a role in how much 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 and brings its own natural gas plant online to power the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In 2020, Wheelabrator officials predicted they would be unable to keep operating the plant absent the Navy revenue.

County officials had proposed the transition from single-stream to just cardboard and cans in January as an alternative to outright eliminating recycling as a number of Hampton Roads localities have done.

In 2018, China banned the import of most overseas recyclables, leaving many American municipalities without an alternative market, according to reporting by The New York Times.

Smithfield and the city of Franklin both ended their own recycling contracts with Bay in 2021, each claiming, as Keaton had, that most of their recyclables were being incinerated rather than repurposed. Bay disputed the allegation, claiming the company only sends 30% of what it collects throughout Hampton Roads to Wheelabrator and the rest to a processing facility.

The city of Chesapeake followed suit in late June, ending its contract with Bay competitor TFC Recycling, despite TFC Vice President Tad Phillips having described the end markets for recyclables to The Smithfield Times as “very strong” and “recovering” as of January from their lows in 2021.

Bay officials did not respond by press time to a request for comments as to how much collected glass, paper or plastic the company repurposes versus sends to Wheelabrator.