Council seeks to clean up recycling ordinance

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect that the city isn’t actively considering bringing back curbside recycling but is instead updating the ordinance language to be consistent with current policy of encouraging and directing businesses and residents to voluntarily separate recyclable materials from trash.

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

The Harrisonburg City Council is updating its ordinance to direct businesses and residents to separate recyclable materials — such as cardboard, cans and certain plastics — from their trash. 

The city has left open the option of curbside recycling since discontinuing it in 2015 but has no plans to resume that service anytime soon.

City staff are currently updating Harrisonburg’s solid waste management plan, which was adopted in 1991 and sets out recycling and landfill goals for the next 20 years. Among the new goals drafted by staff is to require city businesses and residents to separate recyclable items from trash once more. 

Harrisonburg residents have been tossed from one waste and recycling system to another several times over the last few years. In 2015, the city scrapped the curbside recycling program in favor of a single stream trash and recycling setup. But that ended abruptly in March 2018 with the closing of Van Der Linde, the Troy, Virginia, company contracted to sort through all of Harrisonburg’s single stream waste. 

The city then set up a collection center on Beery Road for residents to voluntarily bring their recyclables. Mobile recycling units stationed at different parts of the city soon followed. But recycling supporters expressed frustration again in 2019, when changes in the global market ended Harrisonburg’s collection of No. 3 through No. 7 plastics.

Tom Hartman, director of public works, asked the city council to hold a public hearing, which is legally required, on the plan at the next meeting March 23.

The council also unanimously approved a few additions to the city’s waste management and collection fees having to do with the new toter trash cart program, which is set to begin early next month. The residential garbage collection fee will remain $24 per month, but for those who need a second toter bin, it will cost an additional $10 per month.

Mayor Deanna Reed and Council member Chris Jones expressed concerns about senior citizens being properly informed about the new program. 

“Sometimes in the most vulnerable neighborhoods, the message is just not getting there,” Reed said.

Also in the meeting:

  • Council member Chris Jones recognized the passing of educator and author Doris Harper Allen, who died last week. “We all know and love her and appreciate all the things she did, from just loving on individuals in her neighborhood, but also in the greater community,” he said. “She was a tremendous woman,” said Reed, who is Allen’s niece.
  • The council unanimously agreed to allow the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority to issue a bond to an affordable housing developer in Chesterfield County. City Attorney Chris Brown said the authority will not actually loan out the $19 million for the project – a bank does that. The authority will act as a pass-through entity, which then allows it to collect $40,000 in fees. Director Michael Wong said the authority will use that money on initiatives combating homelessness.
  • Council member George Hirschmann recognized the efforts of local resident Bucky Berry, whose latest food drive at Bridgewater Foods has already filled two school buses with non-perishable items for the Salvation Army. “I admire the man and how much time he puts in to help out this area,” he said.

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