Recycling in Virginia

less than half of the municipal solid waste generated in Virginia is recycled
less than half of the municipal solid waste generated in Virginia is recycled
Source: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Recycling in Virginia: An Evaluation of Recycling Rates and Recommendations (Chart 1)

The first waste pits in Virginia are the flakes of stone chipped away to create sharp-edged points.

The first recycling in Virginia was practiced by Native Americans. When stone spearpoints became dull from use, they were resharpened by skilled knappers. They used percussion and pressure to create new edges that would cut through animal skin and flesh, and in the process create more waste flakes. Broken points were reworked into knives and scrapers, or into smaller points for hunting smaller game.

Archeologists treasure the discovery of sites with flakes, known now as "lithic scatter." Those sites help identify where people lived and how they traveled in prehistoric times. Discovery of a lithic scatter along Route 3, at Brook Run in Culpeper County, revealed the presence of a jasper quarry which had been worked in the Early Archaic Period, until 9,400 years BP (Before Present).1

The largest waste dumps created by the first residents in Virginia are shell middens. Only a tiny percentage of shells from oysters and clams were used to create tools and ornaments. Almost all were discarded near where meals were eaten, creating large mounds of waste over time.

material being recycled in Chester
material being recycled in Chester

In modern times, the first municipal dump in the Western world was created in Athens around 500 BCE (Before Common Era). Paper recycling is documented in Japan 1,000 years ago. North America's first paper mill, built in Philadelphia in 1690, used recycled cotton, linen, and used paper as raw materials.

Organized recycling can be traced back to the "ragpickers" in England in the 1700's, as the Industrial Revolution led to the creation of more manufactured materials which could not be re-purposed within individual homes. An example of intentional recycling in North America occurred in 1776. A lead statue of King George III was torn from its pedestal and melted down to create bullets which could be fired at British soldiers.

The first incinerator designed to "destruct" municipal solid waste was developed in Nottingham, England in 1874. In 1885, the first incinerator was operating in New York City. To recover valuable materials from the waste stream, a materials recovery facility was started in New York City in 1897. It included "picking yards" to sort different types of paper, metals, and carpet. Even horse hair was collected and recycled for use in furniture upholstery and plaster.

The use of magnets to sort scrap metals was demonstrated at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. The shortages in World War I led to creation of the Waste Reclamation Service in the Department of Commerce, and national "salvage" campaigns in World War II. A few groups, such as Boy Scout troops, continued to collect used newspapers for cash after the war ended, and individuals collected soda bottles discarded along roads for the $0.02 deposit.

Recycling became a traditional household habit in the 1960's. Oregon mandated a beverage container deposit in 1971, though Virginia has never adopted that technique to reduce waste. In 1987, American consciousness about waste management was raised by the saga of the garbage barge which left New York City, but could find no landfill on the East Coast willing to accept the waste.

when full, landfill cells are capped with clay and become local hills
when full, landfill cells are capped with clay and become local hills

Recycling diverted waste away from landfills, increasing the number of years they could remain open. Plastic containers were labelled with different numbers, indicating if they had been manufactured with polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE - number 1), high density polyethylene (HDPE - number 2), polyvinyl chloride (PVC - number 3), etc. Hazardous materials collection programs were initiated, along with initiatives to collect and recycle electronic waste as TV's, computers, and smart phones were discarded.

sorted plastics are baled and stored before sale
sorted plastics are baled and stored before sale

In 1995, "single stream" recycling started. It reduced the need for homeowners and businesses to sort waste into paper, metal, plastic, glass, and other categories. Trash collectors could collect one pile of "garbage" and a separate pile of "recyclables." Garbage was transported to landfills or incinerators, while recyclables were taken to material recycling facilities (often described as a "Murf" for multi re-use facility). High-value metals, especially aluminum, were sold to industries in the United States for reuse. Low-value plastics and paper were shipped overseas for reprocessing, especially to China.2

When China stopped accepting low-value recyclables, the single stream process became too expensive. Landfills were no longer willing to accept glass or plastics other than #1 and #2, because there were too few domestic buyers to offset the collection/transportation cost. Some jurisdictions chose to accept glass, but only if deposited into separate containers.

Prince William County agreed to recycle glass, but only if deposited into special purple bins
Prince William County agreed to recycle glass, but only if deposited into special purple bins

"Advanced Recycling" of Plastic Waste in Virginia

Landfills in Virginia

Maplewood Recycling and Waste Disposal Facility in Amelia County

Municipal Solid Waste in Virginia

sorting material in Chester at a material recycling facility, separating paper, plastic, glass, and metal
sorting material in Chester at a material recycling facility, separating paper, plastic, glass, and metal

Links

  • Virginia Recycling Association
  • landfills divert liquids, such as motor oil and antifreeze, from burial with municipal solid waste
    landfills divert liquids, such as motor oil and antifreeze, from burial with municipal solid waste

    References

    1. Eric Voigt, Jeffery Flenniken, Jeffrey T. Rasic, "Archaeological Data Recovery at the Brook run Jasper Quarry (Site 44CU0122) Associated with the Proposed Route 3 Improvement," Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 31, Issue 8 (August 2004), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2004.01.003 (last checked January 25, 2021)
    2. Riadh Habash, Green Engineering: Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design, CRC Press, 2017, p.560, https://books.google.co.za/books?id=jWU9DwAAQBAJ; "Waste and Recycling History," Virginia Recycling Association, https://vrarecycles.org/waste-and-recycling-history/; "History of Recycling," Green Eco Services, http://www.greenecoservices.com/history-of-recycling/; "Waste reclamation: organization, functions, and objects of the national and local service," Government Printing Office, 1919, https://archive.org/details/wastereclamatio00servgoog; "Exactly What Every Plastic Recycling Symbol Actually Means," Good Housekeeping, February 26, 2020, https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/g804/recycling-symbols-plastics-460321/ (last checked January 25, 2021)

    refrigerators, air conditioners and freezers are recycled with special attention to recapturing hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas
    refrigerators, air conditioners and freezers are recycled with special attention to recapturing hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas


    Waste Management in Virginia
    Virginia Places