By Alex Bahr
Capital News Service
Recycling is on the rise in Virginia, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality, but several localities are having trouble getting residents to recycle their trash.
Statewide, Virginia’s recycling rate topped 38 percent in 2006 – up from about 32 percent the previous year, the department’s latest data showed.
Of the 9.7 million tons of solid waste produced in Virginia in 2006, about 3.7 million tons was recycled. That was an increase of more than 1 million tons of recycled trash from 2005.
The DEQ compiled the data from Virginia’s 74 solid waste planning units. The units – some representing several counties and others a single community – differed widely in the proportion of their trash that gets recycled.
More than half of the trash was recycled in three localities: The town of Vienna ranked No. 1 with a recycling rate of 55 percent, followed by the Tidewater area (Norfolk, Virginia Beach and six nearby localities) and the city of Falls Church.
It was perhaps no surprise that densely populated communities in Northern Virginia had high recycling rates. Generally, the higher the population density, the easier it is to promote recycling. Vienna has about 3,373 people per square mile, compared with a statewide average of 193 people per square mile, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Rural areas, such as Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Brunswick County on the North Carolina border, reported much lower rates, with less than one-tenth of their trash getting recycled.
Northampton County reported a recycling rate of less than 8 percent in 2006. Janice Williams, assistant to the county administrator, attributed to the low rate to the county’s sparse population.
“We’re a very rural county,” she said. “We don’t have curbside pickup or anything that would make it really easy, so it’s a large learning curve to teach our folks over here to separate their stuff.” Northampton County has a population density of approximately 64 people per square mile, according to census data.
Williams said the county is establishing “convenience centers” with on-site personnel to make recycling easier for residents.
“We are constructing manned convenience centers. So instead of people just dumping their stuff at the landfill or at the unmanned ‘green box’ sites, we actually have manned sites now where you can come and drop off your solid waste, and there are areas there for recycling,” she said. “And it’s really very easy now for county citizens to recycle. They have access to it, and it’s easy.”
The county contracted with Chesapeake-based Tidewater Fibers to handle the collection of recyclable materials at the convenience centers. Three centers already are running, Williams said.
Three more centers are on the way, she said. One is under construction and is expected to be open by June or July, and the other two will be open before the end of the year.
One exception to the correlation between population density and recycling rates was the city of Manassas Park. The city has a population density of 4,570 people per square miles but reported a recycling rate of less than 10 percent in 2006.
Steve Coe, manager of the office of recycling and litter prevention at the Department of Environmental Quality, said problems can arise in high-density areas when large portions of the population live in multifamily housing, such as apartments and condominiums. Coe said the topic came up in discussions with Manassas Park officials about the area’s low recycling rate.
“Anybody who has such a dense population and a lot of that is in multifamily housing such as apartments and high rises – in many cases the property managers don’t have ways to access recycling in those buildings,” Coe said. “There is not an easy way to get each apartment or condo to get their stuff from point A to point B and then transported to point C, in that type of setup.”
Coe stressed that multifamily housing units might not be the only cause of Manassas Park’s low recycling rate and that the department has not had enough time to discuss the issue with city officials.
Kathy Gammell, director of the Department of Public Works in Manassas Park, said she didn’t know why the city’s rate was so low, but said action is being taken to try to improve the rate.
“I just don’t know why we are having such a hard time getting people to recycle, but we have taken some additional measures this year, and I’m hoping we’re going to be able to boost that up.” The town has worked to get local schools more involved in recycling efforts, as well as putting more recycling bins throughout the town.
Gammell said the city had taken steps to help increase recycling rates in multifamily housing complexes. For example, the city is placing at multifamily developments large bins where residents can drop off recyclable items, with the bins being emptied weekly.
“We’ve put some recycling bins in the multifamily developments as well, hoping that would bring it (the recycling rate) up,” Gammell said. “We’ve got quite a few townhomes and stacked townhomes where they really can’t just put this stuff out on the curb.”
More about recycling:
The top 5 communities for recycling in Virginia — with a Google Maps mashup (below) for Northern Virginia.
A chart ranking every city and county in the state by their recycling rates