Harrisonburg and Rockingham County limit plastic recycling

Published: Mar. 21, 2019 at 4:07 PM EDT
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UPDATE (Apr. 1):

Following the end of plastic collection at Sonoco Recycling, plastic recycling is taking a hit in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, as well as in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County.

The processor, located in Fishersville, was the only one in the area and worked with many localities in the Shenandoah Valley.

Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County governments announced last month that they will all be unable to collect any plastic recycling beginning in April and that glass would be collected, but used for landfill cover material instead of recycling.

As of April 1, the city of Harrisonburg announced that they, too, will have to make changes.

After hearing from Sonoco on March 21, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County reached out to recycling companies throughout Virginia and even Maryland to try and establish a partnership for recycling, but to limited success.

Due to Sonoco's move and continued instability in the recycling market that began with China's ban on recycling imports, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County will no longer accept #3 to #7 plastics from April onward.

They will continue to accept #1 and #2 plastics, however.

These changes apply to Harrisonburg's convenience center and mobile unit, as well as Rockingham County Landfill and container sites.



As of this coming month, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta County will no longer accept plastic for recycling and will accept glass, but use it for cover material at the Augusta Regional Landfill.

According to a press release from the city of Staunton, the only recycling processor in the Augusta County area,

, has informed the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro, as well as Augusta County, that they will no longer accept plastic and glass beginning April 1.

That means Staunton will no longer provide curbside collection of any sort of plastic, effective March 30. The city will collect glass, but it will be crushed and then used as refuse cover at the Augusta Regional Landfill instead of being recycled.

In Waynesboro, the city is effectively suspending collection of plastics at its drop-off center as of March 30. Waynesboro will also continued to accept glass, which will be used as cover material for the Augusta Regional Landfill as well, which they say will help reduce reliance on natural cover material like dirt and soil of varying quality.

Augusta County will stop accepting plastic for recycling at the Augusta Regional Landfill on March 28, and glass collected at county dumps will instead be hauled to the landfill and used as cover material, just like the glass collected in Staunton and Waynesboro.

“We recognize that these changes are unfavorable and will be a challenge for our residents who are committed to being good stewards of the environment,” said Staunton City Manager Steve Owen. “They also don’t align with the longstanding values of our city to encourage and support sustainability. We’re experiencing this predicament along with many localities across the nation. The recycling industry is failing and, in turn, forcing recycling processors like Sonoco to either pass along significantly increased costs to us or eliminate the collection of certain recyclable goods. We’re now in the unfortunate position of having to make substantial and undesirable changes to our recycling program.”

Just last month, in February,

because of rising recycling costs.

Last August, Sonoco started a new rate structure that raised the costs for both cities and the county by tens of thousands of dollars.

“City staff is in the process of examining alternative recycling solutions that provide opportunities for residents to recycle as much as possible at as minimal a cost as possible,” Owen said. “In the meantime, if market conditions improve, and our full recycling program again becomes sustainable, we’re prepared to reevaluate our options and broaden the program.”

“It is unfortunate that recycling market conditions have caused us to no longer be able to accept plastics for recycling”, said County Administrator Timothy Fitzgerald. “Citizens should know that Augusta County is committed to our well established recycling program and if market conditions change in the future we will re-evaluate our options."

Waynesboro officials say plastic cannot even be accepted for disposal in the landfill with this new change.

No changes are being made to mixed paper, cardboard, metal cans, or aluminum at this time.

Recycling costs have been skyrocketing across the U.S. over the past year due to changes in China. Essentially, China is no longer accepting much of the United States' reclaimed waste, which was previously exported across the Pacific Ocean for processing.

Now, with a decline in international demand, in addition to low oil process making plastic production cheaper, thinner packaging for bottles and cans, and lower pint newspaper circulation, the recycling market has faced a much lower demand, sending many cities into a recycling dilemma.

The city of Harrisonburg

last year, the town of Elkton did the same

, the town of Bridgewater has stopped

, and nearly every locality has had to make similar changes.

In Waynesboro, the city says their contract with Sonoco has operated at a break-even status for much of recent history, but the recent market declines have required increasing financial support through the city's Garbage Fund.

The city is conducting a comprehensive study of its waste programs and recycling to come to a new decision.

Page County, however, has recently had a

by purchasing a used baler and baling their own recycling to sell to multiple vendors.