County supervisors have voted to use $218,000 of the county budget’s projected $93 million year-end balance to test out a separate glass recycling program, and directed County Administrator Tim Hemstreet to include another $145,000 in his proposal for next year’s budget.
The project will involve hiring a new maintenance worker to manage the recycling sites and could help create outreach and education on how and where to recycle.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) first raised concerns in October that, while Loudouners were putting recyclables into the county’s single-stream recycling program as they should, the glass items were was contaminating other recyclables and causing them all to end up in a landfill. Glass makes up about 20 percent of the recyclables collected in Loudoun. In 2018, Loudoun collected about 112,000 tons of recycling.
According to a county staff report, after China–formerly the world’s largest importer of recyclables—set strict import restrictions, the cost to recycle rose. In particular, the cost of transporting recyclables and sorting out glass—which can break and contaminate other recyclables, such as becoming embedded in cardboard—means the cost of recycling can outweigh the value of the reclaimed materials.
The increased funding will pay to set up glass-only dumpsters at the county’s nine recycling collection centers, as well as associated costs and one new employee, which in total is expected to cost $242,000 a year if it continues.
But there was debate among supervisors about how much of a difference it will make. Most Loudouners dispose of trash and recyclables with curbside pickup; only about 4-6 percent of recyclables collected in Loudoun comes from those drop-off sites, according to Director of General Services Ernie Brown. And much of the glass collected for recycling in Loudoun is actually just crushed down to be used in Fairfax County as an aggregate in construction projects or daily cover in the landfill. Loudoun, Brown said, does not use that aggregate in its landfill because it has enough dirt to use.
“So now you’re talking about a lot of money to maybe repurpose to a purpose that we can’t use in our landfill, and so it starts to get to be, why are we spending this money if we can’t get anything for it?” said Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). And, he added, “I don’t see a lot of my constituents saying, ‘I’m going to separate out my glass and make a special trip every week or two to drop-off centers.’”
Others disagreed, saying Fairfax County’s similar program has shown residents will make that trip.
“My view of my constituents is that they care a lot about recycling, and that when they hear what’s happening in the news about what’s going on with glass recycling, it does trouble them, and they’d like to try to make an impact on trying to fix that issue,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).
“Gosh knows I would,” Randall said.
“Fairfax has found it to be successful,” Brown said. “Now, they only have two centers that they have for people to come to, but they are coming to it … There’s a mindset about recycling, that people want to do it, but it is very difficult and very troubling if they are feeling that it is not being properly done.” He credited Fairfax’s “extensive education and outreach program.”
Supervisors approved the glass recycling program 7-1-1, with Buona opposed and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent.
The county is still closing the books on Fiscal Year 2019, which ended on June 31. An earlier estimate of the year-end fund balance, given to the county finance committee on Nov. 12, was higher at $100.5 million. Last year, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget finished with $99.6 million left over.