County details decision to end single-stream plastics recycling

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: March 10, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – Following the county’s move to no longer accept plastics for recycling at all of the county’s waste disposal sites, Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill explained, while it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly, the county had a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers to take action in the face of rising costs.

The comments came during February’s board of supervisors meeting and days after the county posted a notice on their website alerting residents that the county will no longer be accepting single-stream recyclables at any of their centers or the county landfill.

Metal, cardboard and aluminum cans will continue to be accepted, county public works director Gene Jones said in last month’s notice.

The reason for the decision came down to cost for the county, with Jones explaining it is “no longer cost-effective to continue” the single-stream recyclable aspect of the county’s recycling program.

“We will continue to recycle metal, cardboard and aluminum cans. The County will monitor costs and hopes to bring back single- stream recycling when it makes sense financially,” he added. The dollars-and-cents of the cost disparity were conveyed by Dinwiddie Deputy County Administrator for Finance and General Services Anne Howerton.

“This issue is not unique to Dinwiddie,” she said. “The cost of single-stream recycling has risen to $84/ton based on market demand, or lack thereof, overseas. This is in sharp contrast to the $28/ton we currently pay for municipal waste. At this time, we do not feel as though continuing the single-stream component of our recycling program is good stewardship of the public trust or taxpayer dollars.”

At last month’s board of supervisors meeting, the first since the county’s decision to end its single-stream recycling program, Massengill said he felt the county “had a fiduciary responsibility” to do what was in the best interest of the county taxpayers.

“Historically, if you look at recycling, we have promoted recycling as a good steward of the environment and, over my years with Dinwiddie County, recycling was a mutual benefit for everyone, and it still is,” he said. “But, what we have noticed is, over the last several years, and specifically over the last six to eight months, single-stream recycling has seen a lot more contamination.”

TFC Recycling employees sort through materials at their facility. With China not receiving the bulk of the world’s plastic waste, many counties are trying to figure out what to do with materials, some of it now ending up in landfills. (TFC)

Examples of contamination can include a cardboard box that contained pizza or a bottle that wasn’t emptied, where food, liquids, and other residue not only affect the suspect item, but other items that may be inside that same bin with it. That results in some companies opting to discard the entirety of the bin, ending up in a landfill ultimately.

“But then you find out what you are recycling is somewhat disingenuous and somewhat hypocritical because what is happening, if there is contamination in any of the recycling bins, that contamination has to be removed and, in some cases, depending on the severity of the contamination, the whole box gets thrown away, which goes back into the landfill,” Massengill said. “We would be paying $84 per ton to get rid of it, just for it to end up in the landfill anyway.”

That, tied with China ending its acceptance of recyclables from the United States and other nations in early 2010, has created a challenge for recycling companies. According to a report from NPR, 70 percent of the world’s plastic refuse went to China, accounting for 7 million tons annually.

 

“In speaking with Ms. Howerton, it has probably been three years since we have actually sent something overseas to recycle,” Massengill said. “In the United States, there are not a lot of manufacturers who will take recycled goods anymore because it is cheaper to use raw, virgin materials to generate the product than it is to use recyclables.”

“So,” he continued, “We are not sending as much overseas anymore, so the companies can be a lot more specific as to what they can take in,” which led to the county’s action to end single-stream recycling, asking consumers to separate their cardboard, metal, and aluminum.

“Unfortunately, plastic is one of the items we had a problem with trying to figure out what to do with,” Massengill detailed.

According to the county administrator, Howerton and Jones met with their recycling vendor, TFC Recycling out of Chesterfield County last month to discuss ways to think creatively to “make plastics recycling make sense again.”

“One of the goals of the county is to always be a good steward of the public trust,” Massengill detailed. “And I have a hard time as a county administrator when I know that our mainstream trash, municipal waste, is costing $28 per ton, while the cost to recycle to the Dinwiddie taxpayer would be $84 per ton. So we would have to spend four times the amount to recycle than we just throw it into the dump.”

For Massengill, he believes their decision to forgo single-stream recycling in the interest of saving taxpayers money was the right move as they work with their recycling partner to find ways to make plastics recycling work fiscally and environmentally.

“We think we are better than that. We shouldn’t be telling the citizens of the county to please recycle but, at the end of the day, we still know it is going to a landfill somewhere,” the county administrator shared. “We are going to fight hard on this to try and look at this in a different way, see if there are any ways or opportunities available,” adding TFC Recycling may come before the board to talk about the topic.

TFC Recycling is the county’s recycling partner. Last month, Dinwiddie opted to end its single-stream recycling program as costs for the program continue to soar. (TFC)

According to Massengill, with this stoppage in plastics recycling, the county doesn’t have anyone who would accept the plastics being deposited at the county’s waste sites.

“We don’t have all the solutions yet but, from a fiduciary standpoint, we felt like this was, in being good stewards of the public trust, we can’t afford to do that longer,” he closed, saying cardboard, aluminum, and metal will continue to be accepted at the county’s manned sites but, they are working trying to find some locations in the region that allows for plastics recycling.

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
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