Van der Linde disputes claims of recycling slowdown

Peter van der Linde (left) at his Zion Crossroads facility in 2012. Staff photo Peter van der Linde (left) at his Zion Crossroads facility in 2012. Staff photo

An Albemarle County supervisor has questions about a temporary slowdown in operations at a local recycling plant, but Peter van der Linde says his facility is running strong—and is about to see a big upgrade.

Samuel Miller District Representative Liz Palmer serves on the county’s Long Range Solid Waste Solutions Advisory Committee, which is tasked with taking a broad look at how to handle trash and recycling services. It’s a big question for Albemarle: Many in rural areas depend on the ability to drop trash off at a waste transfer station in Ivy, but that facility, run by the joint city and county-funded Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, has struggled to break even as more and more local haulers take their trash to private competitors.

One of those competitors is Van der Linde Recycling, a 6-year-old facility in Zion Crossroads. Van der Linde’s method—encouraging the disposal of all household garbage and recyclables in one bin, and then sorting everything out—concerns some locals who think source separation of recyclables is more effective and responsible, especially when it comes to paper waste.

A few of those skeptics sit on the solid waste committee, and Palmer said rumors have been circulating for months about a partial shutdown at van der Linde’s site while the company installs new equipment. She talked to Graham Simmerman, land protection manager for the Valley Region of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and didn’t feel reassured.

“He said basically that as far as we know, his sorting machinery is shut down and has been shut down as far as the DEQ is concerned for eight months,” said Palmer. That bothers her and others, she said, because it would mean that van der Linde’s facility “has been advertised for the last year as something that it’s not.”

Simmerman told C-VILLE the situation isn’t as dire as that. He said that even during the upgrade, which has lasted about eight months, the Zion Crossroads facility has continued to meet the 15 percent recycling rate required of a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). (C-VILLE’s own analysis in 2012 put Van der Linde’s rate at around 32 percent.) Simmerman said he’s not certain how much the temporary switch to hand-picking has affected operations, but the company is still recycling.

One thing that has changed, he said, is that a Harrisonburg incinerator that previously took some of the paper and plastic waste that van der Linde couldn’t find a market for has shut down, so his company “doesn’t have any recourse at this point but to send it to a landfill.”

Peter van der Linde said his recycling rate has only dipped by 1 to 3 percent over the last few months, and he’s been told that the Harrisonburg plant’s shutdown is  temporary. He said his minor slowdown is a small sacrifice to make in order to launch the massive, $3 million-plus upgrade that will go online by the first of the year and includes an optical scanner that picks out various grades of plastic and a “hamster wheel-like” trash tumbler that will recirculate waste until his staff is satisfied that all the recyclables have been grabbed.

It’s been “a challenge” keeping his recycling rate high, “but that’s something I wouldn’t budge on,” he said, and he’s been totally transparent about the changes at his site. “I have only one agenda, and that’s to recycle. Our financial survival depends on maximizing the proceeds from recycling, because otherwise I’ve got to spend to haul to the landfill.”