Portsmouth is burning recyclables after contract expires with recycling company

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As the city works to find a new recycling company to handle residents’ paper, plastic and glass, collections are being taken to the same spot as regular trash.

At Wheelabrator Portsmouth, recyclables have been burned since Nov. 4, the day the city’s contract ended with Recycling and Disposal Services.

In August, RDS told the city they did not wish to continue receiving the recyclables under their current contract, according to City Manager Dr. Lydia Pettis-Patton.

Joe Benedetto III, president of RDS, says his company was not making a profit turning the city’s recyclables into reusable materials.

At Wheelabrator, they burn the city’s trash at a higher cost and create steam — or energy — for Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

“My goal would be as a public official, that anything we throw away get recycled and not ‘landfilled,'” said Mayor John Rowe. “Whether that’s recycled into energy or recycled into some other product, it’s recycled.”

Rowe says the trash eliminates Wheelabrator’s need for fossil fuels, which is why he considers the process “recycling.”

“The shipyard to me is a money maker, so they got to have electricity to keep stuff going,” said Sadie Green, of Portsmouth.

However, Benedetto told WAVY.com over the phone, “I think it’s sad that residents are going through the trouble to separate their trash. When you truly recycle products, you create value out of it … It’s kind of deceptive.”

Thomas Culpepper, a longtime Portsmouth resident, say he expects more transparency from City Hall.

“That’s not recycling; not as far as I’m concerned,” said Culpepper. “If they are going to recycle, recycle. Don’t just throw it all in one pile.”

Rowe says it’s a temporary solution that is more environmentally friendly than dumping recyclables in the landfill.

The Virginia Recycling Association said Wednesday they do not support what Portsmouth is doing. The association says they stand behind the Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) definition of recycling, which is the process of turning recyclables into new products.

Margaret Eldridge, executive director, says the city should also be honest and up-front with residents about where they take the recycling.

“[Burning recyclables] is not on the same level as recycling. It’s definitely a lower use,” said Eldridge. “Recycling is a continuous process, and it is a critical component to a sustainable economy.”

Benedetto says RDS has submitted a new bid, but the city has not responded.

Pettis-Patton says bids are being reviewed and a final selection is expected “in about a week.”