Virginia Recycles Day and energy from waste


To the editor:

Gov. Bob McDonnell proclaimed November 15 Virginia Recycles Day. This date is an opportunity to recognize efforts by Virginians to reduce, reuse, and recycle resources. Citizens throughout the state have voluntarily recycled waste for decades and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality reports that all counties comply with the mandate to have municipal recycling plans in place.   

Complementing these efforts in Alexandria communities is the Alexandria/Arlington Resource Recovery Facility. Studies have shown that communities with energy-from-waste facilities are likely to have higher recycling rates than the national average. Far from competing with recycling, energy-from-waste facilities are part of an integrated approach to solid waste management that includes recycling as a core component. 

The average recycling rate for energy-from-waste communities across the United States is 33.3 percent, compared with the national recycling rate of 28.5 percent, according to BioCycle/Columbia University. VDEQ reports the recycling rate in Northern Virginia was 37.2 percent in 2009.  High recycling rates can be attributed to the importance a community places on a comprehensive solid waste management plan. The Eco-City Alexandria initiative, the citys comprehensive environmental action plan to address environmental issues and overall sustainability throughout Alexandria, has set a recycling goal of 50 percent by the year 2030. 

Its important to recognize that some materials, such as household hazardous wastes, are not appropriate for placement in the trash. Mercury is a special concern because it is a volatile metal and is contained in many household devices and products such as thermometers and thermostats. Although energy-from-waste facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art pollution control systems that control mercury, mercury-containing products should be recycled properly.

Alexandrias Department of Transportation and Environmental Services and Covanta Energy, the owner and operator of the Alexandria/Arlington Resource Recovery Facility, are joining forces to recycle mercury and mercury-containing devices in honor of Virginia Recycles Day. Covanta will distribute gift cards to city residents and city-based HVAC contractors, in exchange for mercury-containing measuring devices such as thermostats, thermometers, sphygmomanometers, manometers, barometers and hygrometers, as well as liquid mercury.  Devices collected will be properly recycled. 

Collaboration among residents, business and waste management sectors is essential to the success of an integrated waste management system. But perhaps the most important factor in the success of recycling programs will be a significant increase in the publics awareness of the dangers of improperly disposing of hazardous materials, as well as willingness on the part of Alexandrians to participate in these events so they become part of the solution.

The writer is Covanta Energys Mid-Atlantic regional director of environmental science and community affairs.