So you’ve signed up with Time Disposal or County Waste for biweekly recycling pickup— now what? What exactly can and can’t you recycle, and how should you prepare it for pickup? As outlined on the green recycling bin lids, you can throw clean glass bottles, aluminum cans or foil, plastic bottles or containers 1-7, flattened cardboard including paper egg cartons, and paper—including newspaper, magazines, office paper/envelopes, and junk mail—into your recycling bin. All containers should be open and clean. These materials should be “loosely co-mingled” in the recycling bin with no caps or lids and, most importantly, no plastic bags. Either use paper bags to collect your recyclables, or just drop them loose into the green bin. Do not include plastic bags, caps or lids, food waste, styrofoam, or pizza boxes—which are contaminated with food and grease and cannot be recycled.
Plastic bags cannot be used or recycled in your recycling bin at all. “Plastic bags get tangled in the sorting machines,” explained Brian at County Waste, “so they reduce efficiency and contaminate the load, leading to its rejection. The same goes for bottle caps and container lids.” Those “contaminated” loads don’t get recycled at all but end up in the landfill with regular trash. County Waste owns the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) near Richmond that accepts, sorts, and processes recyclables from various trash collectors in this area. These guidelines are also available at www.county-recycling.com/recycling as well as www.recycleoftenrecycleright.com.
To accommodate their automated trucks, trash and recycling bins should be placed at least three feet apart, with the lid opening and the short metal grab-bar facing out toward the street. But make sure the lid is closed to keep the materials dry and secure from wind, and remember that recycling is only picked up every other week.
So what can you do with your plastic bags? Those that have been contaminated with food or other waste belong in the regular trash bin. But clean plastic grocery or other retail bags, as well as those pernicious blue wrappers that often come with newspapers, may be collected separately and taken to any grocery store that recycles, such as Harris Teeter or Kroger.
If you haven’t signed up for curbside recycling yet, consider adopting this “habitual good deed,” which can be added to your regular trash pickup for a $6/month additional fee (unless your HOA absorbs the cost, as in Old Trail). You may prefer transporting your own recycling to either the McIntire Rd. or Waynesboro facilities. The Ivy Materials Utilization Center (MUC) on Dick Woods Rd. currently recycles only newspapers, magazines, and cardboard, but a master planning process is underway for use of the former trash drop area for collection of more recyclables. “I can hardly wait for that to be in operation,” commented Ann Mallek, chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
As part of their October 10 meeting to discuss legislative priorities for the upcoming year, the Board of Supervisors indicated their support for environmental legislation that would prohibit businesses from using disposable plastic bags and plastic straws. The BOS plans to ask the Virginia General Assembly for the authority to put such a ban in place. Supervisor Randolph emphasized the need for an exception to the straw ban for hospitals and care facilities. Supervisor Palmer noted that plastic bags are the bane of municipal waste and sewer systems, and expressed her hope for state leadership on this issue. “I am so pleased that the Board of Supervisors supports this effort to ask the General Assembly for authority to restrict the use of plastics,” Mallek commented. In 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores, and many other cities have enacted plastic bag bans or fees. In July, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban single-use plastic straws and utensils, and in California restaurants provide straws only upon request. According to www.lastplasticstraw.org, 500 million straws are used and discarded every day in the United States alone.
You can help reduce the waste stream and plastic pollution by taking reusable bags with you to the grocery store, requesting paper bags when you forget, and using paper straws at home. Smojo in Piedmont Place sells reusable metal straws, and even heavy plastic straws you can wash and reuse are better than throwing plastic straws away after each use.
To do more good, you can compost your food waste by signing up for Black Bear Composting at www.blackbearcomposting.com. For $21.25/month, they provide a weekly residential food scrap pick up in Crozet, with a monthly delivery of garden compost (or you can donate it to a community garden of your choice). If you wish to include yard waste, the cost is $24.25/month.
This is an ideal solution for those who do not have space for a permanent compost bin on their property. The service also allows you to include meat waste, paper products and compostable plastics that might not decompose effectively in a home-compost system. Food waste that alternatively ends up in landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas.
There are many ways to be part of the solution rather than the problem!