GreenBlue: Leading the Way to Better Recycling and Packaging Sustainability

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Looking for guidance on the future of recycling in the Charlottesville area? Right now, we all are!

In our research for an upcoming blog on recycling options, we had the chance to catch up with Tristanne Davis, Project Manager with GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition, to hear her perspective. In this interview, Davis shares her insights about the impact of China’s Green Fence on local recycling efforts, and how residents can improve their recycling habits since the closing of Van der Linde Recycling at Zions Crossroads, the region’s former main recycling facility.

On behalf of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, what are your thoughts on China’s Green Fence and how that is impacting local recycling?

The China import ban on recyclables has impacted community recycling across the country. Many communities, including here in Charlottesville, have switched to single stream or ‘co-mingled’ recycling, which aims to increase the quantity of recyclables collected by putting everything into the same bin, but inadvertently also leads to higher contamination rates, which have in part driven the China ban. Contamination is caused by consumer confusion about what is recyclable, contamination between materials in bins and at recovery facilities, and poor consumer habits like not washing recyclables before tossing them.

This is a national problem, but the effects have been noticeable locally. Van der Linde Recycling recently closed its mixed waste facility near Charlottesville, which mixed not only co-mingled recyclables but also regular trash. There are no markets for those dirty materials either here or abroad. Nearby Staunton has raised its rates for recycling and Roanoke has stopped accepting plastics #3-7.

Other communities around the country have also felt the impacts, some removing certain materials from collection and others stopping collection entirely. Our How2Recycle label helps inform consumers about good recycling habits, but more needs to be done to clean up our materials and develop domestic markets to recover and process them.

We know that one of the goals of the End Market Industry Leadership Committee is to explore how companies can create more demand for recycled materials... What is one or two of the best ways to achieve that objective locally in Albemarle and Charlottesville?

If a product is recyclable, and gets recycled, circularity is only complete upon the use of that recycled material in the manufacture of a new product. Without end market demand for recycled materials, you cannot really call something recyclable. End markets can be closed loop (i.e. bottle to bottle) or open loop (i.e. bottle to carpet).

Local businesses in Charlottesville or anywhere have many options available to support end markets. They can create takeback systems for their waste through programs like Terracycle. They can use BPI certified compostable packaging which can be turned into usable compost.  Charlottesville is one of the lucky few communities to have access to composting infrastructure through the City Compost program. Stores must be sure to also supply separate collection bins for this material through providers like Black Bear Composting company or the material may not actually end up as compost.

Creative businesses like Community Bikes and the Charlottesville Recycled House are key as well to the culture of reuse. It would be great to see the community invest in more reusable takeaway food container options like Durham, NC recently has. Residents should support local business in these endeavors by demanding these kinds of products and services.

Beyond Charlottesville, we would encourage residents who want to support products with recycled content to contribute to this directory — — recycle with How2Recycle, and reach out to brands (local and national) to ask them to use recycled content in their products and packaging and help drive markets for recycled materials.