City committee to consider returning recycling to Lexington

By Mary Alice Russell

After plenty of complaints from residents, Lexington is scrambling

One idea might allow Lexington residents to bring their recycling to the Rockbridge recycling center on Greenhouse Road. Photo by Mary Alice Russell.

to come up with a new recycling plan just four months after ditching the old program to save money.

“We’ve heard from many people who are becoming recycling hoarders with the absence of curbside recycling and no alternative,” Mayor Frank Friedman said in a city council meeting on Oct. 1.

Chuck Smith, a Lexington City Council member, will head a committee to study options then present a new plan to the council, perhaps as early as next month.

On Tuesday, Smith talked to Rockbridge Area Conservation Council, RACC, and the 50 Ways Rockbridge environmental section about possible resolutions.

“With COVID we were very aggressive with our budget cutting which included the recycling because of the significant costs associated with the end result and most of it going to the landfill,” Friedman said.

Lexington saved over $90,000 by cutting recycling, according to the city budget.

“The bulk of the cost for recycling really wasn’t the materials, it was the labor and equipment involved in the program,” Smith said. “Curbside recycling is an expensive operation.”

But for some residents like Scott Dittman, it’s more about saving the earth versus saving money.

“Three decades ago, I took seriously the biblical idea that we are stewards of creation,” said Dittman, who has been saving his recyclables in his garage. “And we need to be looking for ways to look over creation without creating a lot of trash,” Dittman said.

The city used to have a single-stream recycling service, which collected cardboard, glass bottles, metal and plastic containers from blue trash bins parked outside houses. City Manager Jim Halasz calls that service the worst because all the refuse is sent to Roanoke and most goes into a landfill instead of being recycled.

Recycling has grown more and more complicated in recent years. One reason is the lack of demand for most of what’s tossed. For years, plastics were recycled into park benches or new bottles. But demand has dropped.

One reason: recycled plastic loosely tracks oil prices, which fell during the pandemic. Likewise, COVID-19 shut down auto plants, which use recycled plastics in car parts, according to Plastics Recycling Update, an industry publication.

“Over the past five years recycling has done a full 180. Plastics have nowhere to go. Glass has nowhere to go. The only things that are worth anything are metals and cardboard,” Smith said.

Most recently, only type one and type two plastics were accepted. This includes water bottles, peanut butter jars, and shampoo containers. But plastics like sandwich bags and Tupperware cannot be recycled.

Halasz said that many residents could not understand what should and should not be recycled, causing cross contamination.

To combat this in a future program, Smith said that he wants to educate residents on recycling and promote participation. And he wants to focus on the other Rs – reduce and reuse.’

“Maybe now that we’ve eliminated the program, it’s time for a reset on how we can move forward,” Smith said.