CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- When Chesterfield County announced it was ending its curbside recycling program and instead encouraging residents to buy their own services through private companies, Ryan Williams knew he might feel the pinch of a cost increase.
“Every dollar counts. I'm sure everyone else is feeling the pain as well," Williams said. "A lot of us are just living paycheck to paycheck, and with four children, on my side, it hurts."
Williams previously took advantage of the curbside recycling that the county offered through its regional partner Central Virginia Waste Management Authority (CVWMA) for about $40 per year.
But the county's move to privatize recycling, starting in July, will now cost families between $80 to $120 per year.
For Williams' family, he said the change amounts to "nearly triple the price." However, the county maintains those prices are the most economical for its residents, compared to options presented by CVWMA.
Williams noted the transition has been frustrating.
“The bills just changed overnight," he said.
His trash company, Choice Waste Services, automatically tacked on a monthly curbside recycling fee of $8.95 for all customers. However, Williams said he was already locked in to a lower three-year-rate of about $3 less than that.
The recycling fees were initially set to kick in in July when Chesterfield's contract with CVWMA expires, but Choice moved up the schedule and will now charge customers in April.
Williams claimed he was not notified in advance.
“I found out via bill. I got a bill in my email, virtual bill, saying that I owed an additional $18 for recycling charges starting April and May," Williams said.
Conversely, Choice General Manager Jim Talpas said the company sent letters, emails, and calls alerting families of the change.
“So, we've sent a couple notifications to all of our customers," Talpas said. "Is it possible that we have a misspelling of a name or something like that, and they didn't get it? Of course. Things get lost in the mail, but it's few and far between."
He said the reason they're billing people earlier than expected is due to high demand. Talpas said Choice has about 40,000 recycling carts to deliver to homes between now and July.
“They roll out about 400 a day. That's why it's going to take us a few months to get this all out to everybody," he said.
Though all customers have been opted into the service, Talpas said any customer can decide to opt-out.
Less than 10% of customers have done so.
“If you don't want the recycling services, you can call us, and we'll just take that off of your account, and you don't need it," Talpas said.
Talpas said he's been working with the Chesterfield County government for several years in preparation for the privatization of recycling.
"It's been years in the making. We really weren't sure until last year that this was actually going to happen, but there's been a lot of collaboration. They want to make sure that the haulers here can do it," he said.
And he's hoping for strong participation, citing concerns about the capacity of the landfill in Chester.
"The county had a lot of participation in their program, so if our program doesn't have a high participation rate, those recyclables that the county was collecting have to go into the trash," he said. “So, if you don't get those into the recycling center, it's going to go into the landfill, and unfortunately in Chesterfield, currently, the landfill is running out of room.”
Once the landfill fills up, he said haulers will have to take waste elsewhere, which could drive up trash costs.
Williams said ultimately his choice was to opt out of the curbside recycling services. Moving forward, he said he'll recycle using one of the county's two convenience centers which contain drop-off recycling bins.
His message to other families: "I hope they look at their bill. I hope they pay attention to this, and this doesn't strike anybody."
A Chesterfield County spokesperson said she encourages residents with questions or concerns about the transition to reach out to individual haulers since all companies have varying processes. The county is not charging CVWMA curbside participants between now through July in an effort to encourage people to establish a private hauler.
She said residents can check this webpage for the latest information.