By Natalie Jacobsen
On February 19, the area’s main transfer station for trash and recycling haulers, Van der Linde Recycling, abruptly shuttered its household waste processing facility. The sudden halt jolted Charlottesville and the counties that have relied on Van der Linde as the focal transfer station for processing recycled materials placed into customers’ all-in-one-bins. In a statement, founder Peter van der Linde promised 30 more days of service and invoice fulfillment.
Liz Palmer, the Samuel Miller representative on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, says she and local municipalities were unaware of any decisions until the press release. “Van der Linde did not alert anyone ahead of time, as far as I know,” she says. Haulers such as Time Disposal may have “been somewhat aware ahead of us,” she says.
Time Disposal had not returned C-VILLE’s phone calls by press time.
Van der Linde, which opened in 2008, is continuing most of its operations with a shifting focus on construction and demolition debris, according to the release. The decision to close the household waste processing facility “was not an easy one, as much time, effort and expense have gone into it,” Van der Linde says in the release, and the company decided to concentrate “efforts in areas of business that are more profitable.”
What does that mean for household waste and all-in-one recycling items?
“[It is] all going to the landfill,” says Palmer. “I believe that their faulty machinery led to them taking most of [the intake] to the landfill anyway,” she says.
In 2011, Van der Linde was plagued by vandalization of its equipment, and earlier, in 2009, the company was blindsided when the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority filed a RICO lawsuit, typically used against organizations like the Mafia.
Peter van der Linde said at the time that RSWA’s decision was creating a “waste war.”
Out of all materials picked up from consumers, Palmer recalls Van der Linde reporting that around 20 percent was successfully recycled. She believes the number in reality was much lower. Van der Linde declined to comment for this story.
“Commodity prices for recycled materials has gone down over the last several years. This is different from single-stream recycling,” she says. “When you do all-in-one-bin mixes, the quality of the material is poorer and harder to get rid of.” Dumping prices are lower at a landfill, making that a significantly cheaper option.
Commodity pricing woes are echoed in Van der Linde’s press release, saying “the bleak forecast” played into the company’s “economic decision to close our household processing facility.”
These issues are not restricted to Charlottesville, or even Virginia. China’s tidal wave decision to cease to accept foreign waste in December 2017 caused a ripple effect. Nearly one-third of the U.S.’s waste is exported, with half of that having been shipped to China. Now that relying on China is no longer an option, companies and cities have scrambled to reduce their waste, and increase local programs to process and store it.
This is where the problem lies: “Everyone wants it, but nobody wants it near them,” says Palmer, of processing facilities.
Currently, Charlottesville has two other sites where city and county residents can take recyclables: McIntire Recycling Center and Ivy Material Utilization Center. (The city’s contracted trash and recycling program will be unaffected.) “McIntire Recycling is very user friendly—it is very easy for individuals to take their bags of waste there,” says Palmer. Their websites list all of the materials that can be dropped off with them.
At this time, County Waste serves more than 350,000 customers in the Central Virginia region, both urban and rural.
County Waste currently is the main hauler of single-stream pickups across Central Virginia, with its Chester facility meeting “high expectations and specs, and [it] is producing quality material,” says Jerry Cifor, County Waste principal.
“My hat is tipping off to Peter [van der Linde],” Cifor adds. “His facility did a fantastic job; he put in a lot of effort and maintained it, and it wasn’t easy or cheap.” County Waste will use the former Van der Linde facility and landfill as a transfer point between their other branches and facilities, including Chester and Richmond.
Whether that helps with making recycling programs more accessible to all Virginia residents, however, remains a question.
“Right now, Augusta County has 11 drop-off points, Nelson has six and Albemarle has one,” says Palmer. Time Disposal is working to make arrangements with County Waste to expand routes and service options to both urban and rural citizens, she says.
Cifor says, “the best and more successful recycling programs have high individual involvement. When someone invests and gets involved, that’s when the program becomes most effective.”
Another conflict with the recycling and waste management programs has been oversight.
“Virginia has very few regulations regarding recycling,” says Palmer. “These companies have community-wide services that the cities and counties rely on, but they are totally private. There is no checking.”
As climate change has become an increasingly discussed issue in communities, Palmer says Charlottesville, the counties and Virginia “need to [do it] better.”
“The community wants to reduce [its] carbon footprint, and the city needs to [reflect] that,” she says. “UVA is doing great work in composting, and the city is responding, but we need to do this more appropriately,” she says. If County Waste is able to follow its plan of opening a local single-stream processing facility next year, Palmer says that would help the city immensely.
“The elderly and disabled living in counties have few or no options,” she says. “We need [to have] more source centers, better quality material and to recycle more.”
What’s the difference?
Single-stream recycling programs allow a household to consolidate all of its non-hazardous recycling products (newspaper, plastic, aluminum, cardboard) into one recycling-designated container, which is later separated at a facility. All-in-one-bin allows compost materials, recyclables and garbage to be mixed together and sorted by a processor.
Peter van der Linde, owner of Van der Linde Recycling, announced the shuttering of the company’s household waste processing facility to focus on construction and demolition debris.