As recycling costs skyrocket, Richmond looks to reduce single-use plastics

Updated: Apr. 8, 2019 at 6:05 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As we see more bans on plastic bags and straws pop up across the country, Richmond is encouraging similar ways to reduce plastics and other waste that could otherwise end up in landfills.

A new resolution is making its way through City Council, to help Richmond stay green.

Experts say the cost of recycling has skyrocketed in the U.S., since China is no longer accepting U.S. waste. Some areas in Virginia, like Harrisonburg, have already stopped collecting plastics because it’s become too expensive.

Since the 1980′s, China has taken in hundreds of millions of tons of foreign paper, plastic, electronic waste and scrap metal for recycling. But last year, the country began severely restricting the amount of waste it’s taking in. What it does accept must be extremely clean.

This has left the American recycling industry in turmoil, with costs rising significantly.

“Everyone is running into the same struggles,” said Tom Hartman, with Harrisonburg Public Works, in an interview with WHSV.

A lot of it comes down to supply and demand. There’s so much excess recyclable material now building up the states, companies that would normally pay localities for waste materials like paper and plastics, simply don’t have to.

“That material is just not marketable anymore,” said Hartman.

Rockingham County, Augusta County, Harrisonburg, Staunton and Waynesboro have either started limiting what plastics they’ll accept, or stopped taking them, altogether.

Kim Hynes, executive director of the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, says the CVWMA is no longer making money on the discarded paper it once was able to sell, which helped keep recycling costs low.

“(Paper) is still being recycled and mills are still taking it, but it’s really at a zero revenue,” said Hynes.

This has hiked recycling costs for CVWMA by as much as 30 percent, over the last year. That cost has been passed along to localities, but Hynes says residents have yet to see a rate hike at this point.

Thankfully, Hynes says CVWMA does not need to stop collecting any recycling materials, like plastics, at this point. But environmental experts warn everyone needs to reduce and reuse, as much as they recycle.

A resolution making its way through Richmond City Council would encourage residents and businesses to cut back on single-use plastics, like plastic bags and straws.

One measure in the resolution states, “Provide single-use straws only when requested; switch from plastic straws to compostable straws, paper straws, or reusable straws; or refrain from using or offering straws.”

More recycling cans would be placed across town, like at bus stops, according to the resolution.

At city events, non-plastic would be used whenever possible. Balloons would be banned, and a water station would refill drinks instead of individual plastic bottles being handed out.

“A little bit goes a long way,” said Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who is cosponsoring the resolution. “The last thing we want to do as city leaders is try to find a location for another landfill.”

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