Picking through your curb-side recycling

Picking through your curb-side recycling

When the general manager of the Tidewater Fibre Corp (TFC) recycling facility in Chester stands up in front of 15 visitors and says that 95 percent of the facility’s work is done by manual labor, he is to be believed. Citizens of Charlottesville: Recycling all your plastic, metal and paper may be doing its part in saving the earth, but it is slowly crushing the souls of 38 people for 12 hours every day.

That’s the number of workers on the 12-hour day shift at the TFC Recycling facility, located just outside Richmond. It is here that all of the curb-side recycling from the city comes to be sorted. Roughly a truckload a day arrives from Charlottesville, nearly a 90-mile trip.

A line of workers toil for 12-hour shifts at a Chester County plant, manually sorting the recycling from Charlottesville and other localities.

And for exactly half a day, workers stand at conveyer belts as ton after ton of waste streams past, picking out plastic soda bottles and milk jugs—just two of the valuable materials that TFC can in turn sell to places as far away as China. The conveyer belts that make up the guts of the 60,000-square-foot facility drone on all day, only shutting down come lunch break. The noise is inescapable. It feels as if everything—the catwalks, the walls, even the concrete floors—is constantly moving in concert with the machines’ hum.

Charlottesville’s curb-side recycling finds its way to Chester via a middleman. The city has a contract with Allied Waste to collect the recycling that city residents set out once a week.
That material ends up at TFC. But the five-year contract with Allied Waste is entering its last year, and if that contract is not renewed, it could mean changes to the city’s recycling program.

One of the changes could lead to bigger recycling bins, called “Totters,” plastic containers about 3′ tall that are equipped with wheels and a handle. Not only can they hold more materials, but they can be collected with an automated truck.

The upfront costs of using the totters would be large, says Steve Lawson, the city’s public service manager. But the money an automated collection process saves would offset those costs.

“The price of the bins would probably be partially offset by the reduction in the collection contract,” Lawson says. “It’s in our best interest to have as much automated collection as possible. And we think it’s in our best interest to have Totters on the street.”

Since the city does not have a contract with TFC, the end point for city recycling might not remain in Chester. But for now, all the things we don’t want—but don’t want to throw out—run past these 38 people until each of our individual efforts at recycling becomes a blur.

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