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Chesterfield's decision to end curbside recycling services will increase recycling costs in Henrico

Posted at 6:38 PM, Sep 22, 2022

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- In an announcement that some Chesterfield residents said they didn't see coming, the county is moving to end its curbside recycling services.

The decision not only impacts 62,000 households across Chesterfield but thousands of families in other Central Virginia localities including neighboring Henrico County.

Kerry Langford, a lifelong Chesterfield resident who currently resides in the Brandermill community, considers herself an avid recycler.

“My parents got the bin when they started in ’91, and we’ve continued it since then," Langford said.

Langford said she's not thrilled that the county has decided to eliminate itself as, what it called the "middleman," in implementing the convenient program. She was also perplexed to see it posted on the county's Facebook page Wednesday evening and did not recall a community engagement process before the change was announced.

“It was a surprise. It doesn’t seem very forward-thinking like Chesterfield usually tries to be. It seems almost like a step back," Langford said.

Curbside recycling services have been available to Chesterfield residents for decades thanks to a partnership with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority (CVWMA). CVWMA also works with the government in 12 other localities, including Richmond, Henrico and Hanover to provide the same or similar services.

Right now, 62,000 Chesterfield households utilize the program, which operates in Chesterfield on a model that encourages new residents to opt in and allows existing customers to opt-out.

Costs to Chesterfield citizens that participate in the program have risen over the years and currently sit at $41 annually per household.

However, announced in a presentation by Director of General Services John Neal to the county's Board of Supervisors Wednesday, Chesterfield is ending the program come July 2023 and asking families to buy their own private curbside recycling services if they wish to continue them.

“I’m confident it will make things much better," Neal said in an interview with CBS 6 Thursday.

Neal said the change boils down to two things:

  • Diminishing demand, as he said 8,000 homes in the county have already transitioned into a privatized trash and recycling bundle.
  • And rising costs, which the county attributed to a transforming market and collapse of overseas markets for recyclable commodities in 2019

“Knowing that the recycling market has changed from when the contract was originally done, there is that cost increase, and we're trying to find the best way to keep it as low as possible," Neal said.

The county identified four private vendors to serve interested households countywide. Annually, Neal said they'd charge between $80 and $120.

Even though those costs are double and triple what families currently pay, Neal said it's still lower than what a renewed contract with CVWMA would cost. Chesterfield asked CVWMA to issue a request for a proposal for a subscription-based model, but CVWMA only received one response and it would've cost households $200 per year.

Chesterfield was the only county to request a subscription-based model in what Neal called an effort to better reflect participation in the program. For all other jurisdictions, CVWMA put out a request for a proposal for a "base service" model.

Neal said the county could not come to a deal with CVWMA and thus decided to privatize recycling services and end its contract.

“I think you’re going to have a lot of people who get frustrated with signing up, whether the company will service them, whether they’ll be on time, and then it’ll just be easy to throw it in the trash," Langford said. "I don't want that for my family. I don't want that for my community."

Currently, the region diverts 60% of its waste from landfills, and Neal does not believe Chesterfield's decision will bring that number down. While he said diversion rates are not measured by locality, Neal said Chesterfield was a "strong contributor to that 60%."

“We still anticipate our recycling efforts to be strong and robust in the county," he said.

But Langford doesn't see how that's possible.

According to Neal's presentation, Chesterfield collects 13,000 tons of recyclables through curbside services and 1,000 tons through drop-off sites.

Residents will continue to be able to utilize drop-off sites for recycling but have complained that there are only two locations in the whole county. Additionally, they usually have long lines and both are closed two days a week.

When asked if there were plans to add more locations, Neal said, "We're looking at our two convenience centers and trying to make some operational modifications there, potentially going back to a seven-day-a-week operation at the convenience centers, and then we'll just closely monitor how things are going."

Back in December 2020, Chesterfield County said through a Facebook post it had "no plans to leave" its regional partnership with CVWMA. Now, Neal has emphasized it is continuing its partnership through education and marketing efforts. The county will give CVWMA about $100,000 per year for that.

When asked if there was a community engagement process before making the decision, Neal said, "We've been thinking through this, knowing that this change was coming, and that's why we're making the announcement ten months before the end of the contract so that residents will have time to adjust and make plans accordingly."

Langford's request: “What can you do for us to make it accessible and as easy as it has been while taking something that made it easy away?”

Meanwhile, neighbors over in Henrico County will feel the impacts of Chesterfield's decision, according to County Manager John Vithoulkas.

"Chesterfield’s decision to end its recycling contract with the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority increases the cost of recycling for Henrico. This is a fact, and we continue to calculate that cost," Vithoulkas said.

He said all of Henrico's recycling programs are free to Henrico residents, contrary to Chesterfield, with the exception of disposing of CRT televisions.

"This Board of Supervisors and County Manager are going in the opposite direction from Chesterfield by enhancing options for the 90,000-plus residents who take advantage of recycling in our community. In addition to curbside collection, we offer 12 drop-off recycling locations, while Chesterfield only offers two," Vithoulkas said.

He added, "Our residents value and depend on recycling, and Henrico County is committed to providing it, as we not only serve our residents, we serve our environment."

He said all of Henrico's contracts with CVWMA have been renewed or are in the process of being renewed and called it a "shining example" of regional collaboration.

In Hanover County, a spokesperson said six trash and recycling centers are available across the county, and 3,800 households participate in a curbside recycling program through Citizen Initiated Service Districts.

"Curbside recycling service is approximately $38.50 annually in 2022 and projected to go to $49 in 2024 and $59.50 in 2026 due to increases in curbside cost most of which is in transportation," spokesperson Tom Harris said.

Harris said Hanover is currently working with CVWMA and regional partners on a new contract that will begin July 2023 to replace an expired contract.

Richmond did not respond to CBS 6's questions about its recycling services.

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