Just in Time for Spring Cleaning, Prince William Expands Recycling

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By Roger LeBlanc

GMU Environmental Science students Learn About Recycling at the Landfill. 

As you prepare for spring cleaning in your home, it’s important to know the latest in recycling and proper disposal in the community. According to American Disposal Services, over 75% of the waste we produce can be recycled, but after it’s thrown in the trash can or recycling bin, where does it go? For most families this is a mystery, but many Prince William residents have the opportunity to pull back the veil.

More than 2,000 people a year including youth groups, students, international visitors, and local leaders tour the landfill to learn the fate of trash and how waste reduction, reuse and recycling efforts extend the life of the landfill.

“Recycling is a dynamic program,” says Deborah Campbell, Communications Specialist for the Solid Waste Division. “Things are always changing. The array of materials that can be recycled increases and the convenience of recycling opportunities improve.”

New in 2017, Prince William County is introducing new recycling trailers to the community. The trailers have 80 percent more capacity than the previous trailers. The new “single stream” trailers also simplify recycling, by allowing residents to place all of their recyclable paper, cardboard and bottles and cans into the same trailer, with no sorting required.

Single stream recycling in this area is generally delivered to one of the two material recovery facilities in Manassas. These sites process 30-50 tons of mixed recycling per hour using a combination of mechanical and people to separate and process the materials.

In addition to recycling, the County expects the Landfill donation center to reopen after renovations and improvements. Last year, the donation center kept nearly 390,000 pounds clothing and household good from becoming part of the landfill. Like recycling, this is another program that helps extend the useful life of the landfill.

“We also maintain a lot of metrics to help us monitor our programs”, says Scott MacDonald, Recycling Program Manager. In 2015, more than 133,000 tons of metal, paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, yard waste, automotive fluids, tires, and electronics were recycled and kept out of the landfill.

One major innovation has been the electronic recycling program, which collects old phones, computer monitors, laptops and more. If not properly managed, electronic waste leak materials harmful to our health and environment, such as mercury and lead.

“For example, a Cathode-ray tube monitors (the old heavy glass type monitors) and older style televisions can contain as much as eight pounds of lead,” says MacDonald.

In Prince William, electronic waste is collected and properly handled by two companies, eRevival and Potomac eCycle. This collection is available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the landfill and on the 2nd Saturday of the month at the Balls Ford Compost Facility.

Recycling gives our old goods a new purpose. Old electronics, such as batteries or old cell phones, are mined for valuable metals like copper and gold, which are melted down and turned into new components. Cardboard is baled and sold to become newspaper. A single bale of recycled paper saves ten trees, and can become new egg cartons. A single bale of plastic bottles can save as much as five barrels of oil, and can be used to make new carpet fibers. Aluminum cans are unique in that recycling does not wear down the materials, so they can become aluminum cans again, indefinitely.

Campbell reminds residents that being mindful of our waste disposal is a responsibility we all share, “There should be concern that without improvements in recycling, waste reduction and reuse on the part of Prince William County residents and businesses, the landfill is projected to be filled to capacity between 2060 and 2070.”

Want to know the best thing you can do to support the recycling process? Recycle all you can, the right items, the right way, at home, work and in the community and avoid contamination of recycling stream.

“Some of main contamination culprits are plastic shopping bags and other “tanglers” such as garden hoses, Christmas lights, etc., and diapers,” says Campbell, “These items cause equipment shut downs, lost productivity and pose danger to recycling facility workers. The good news—plastic shopping bags can be recycled by taking them back to grocery and large discount retailers. But, “tanglers” and diapers should be placed in the trash.”

Beyond landfilling and recycling operations, the Prince William Solid Waste Division is building unique environmental sustainability programs. The landfill will become the site of an Eco Park Complex, which currently encompasses the Outdoor Discovery Trails, as well as protected wetlands and streams. Landfill gas given off by decaying trash is captured using a well system and converted into electricity. Future anticipated projects include: solar panel energy generation, a windmill demonstration project, a solid waste conversion demonstration project and a net-zero energy education center that will empower students to solve today’s environmental challenges through hands-on STEM investigations.

For more help while you sort through your spring cleaning, the dos and don’ts of recycling in Prince William can be found on the county website through several downloadable guides: pwcgov.org/government/dept/publicworks/trash/pages/recycling-in-prince-william-county.aspx.


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