Virginia city burning recyclables after contract with recycling company expires

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 (RDS)

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 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.

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.”

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