Publisher’s Notebook: Call for Two-Week Recycling Boycott

With apologies for the eleventh-hour call to action, I am asking my fellow municipal recycling customers in the city of Portsmouth to join in a boycott of the non-recycling program over the next two weeks. As I was surprised to learn on November 13, our city administration allowed its recycling contract to expire sometime in the last few weeks and redirected our recyclable material to the Wheelabrator Portsmouth Waste-to-Energy facility, where the combustible material has been burned and the remainder, diverted to the SPSA landfill in Suffolk. (See the Virginian-Pilot investigative report on this matter.) Not only did these revelations come as news to recycling customers but to members of city council, as well.I consider the “no worries, mate” responses of the city management team when the facts came to light nearly as infuriating as the negligence in letting the contract run out without a replacement. We as customers, to say nothing of citizens, deserve better treatment. If my banker, attorney, or doctor dealt with me in this manner, I would be taking my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, in regard to recycling service providers, we do not have a competitive market from which to choose another supplier. With that being the case, letting the one we have know that we’re mad as Halifax about the lack of transparency and promised service is imperative.

Consequently, I am calling upon my neighbors to join me in withholding our recyclable materials for the next two weeks. Since the city has not announced a new vendor for this service, I believe we can safely assume that our separated “blue bin” materials will continue to be treated as ordinary solid waste for the near term. As one who considers recycling an essential part of my household’s “earthcare” practices, I am willing to let my bin accumulate more recyclables over the next fourteen days rather than let what I have collected be incinerated or covered with dirt and incinerator ash. If we as likeminded customers act in concert, we will be sending city officials, elected and appointed, a clear message that we care about both recycling and transparency.

Mark Geduldig-Yatrofsky, Publisher

14 thoughts on “Publisher’s Notebook: Call for Two-Week Recycling Boycott

  1. How will withholding our recyclables impact the city? I thought putting our blue bens streetside and leaving them their until the program is restarted would be a telling demonstration …

    • That’s an interesting idea, but one that comes with a certain risk. City code requires prompt removable of waste containers from the curb after the contents have been removed. Failure to do so can result in a notice of violation from zoning inspectors, something that may result in the householder receiving a fine. My proposal would not subject participants to such a penalty.

  2. Mark, good idea! Unfortunately our can is already full to the brim. Have you heard which materials are gettin f shipped to the landfill? The lack of information from the city is iis infuriating at best. Knowing what to focus on setting aside would be helpful. Thanks for staying on top of this and for stepping up with a call to action.

    • No, ma’am, the V-P article did not get into the specifics of material handling. Based on information received during a tour of the Wheelabrator plant a few years ago, though, I would imagine that metals and glass would be sent to the landfill and combustibles — newspaper, cardboard, other paper products, and certain plastics — would be burned.

  3. This has got to be the silliest protest in the history of “earthcare.” For all we know our recyclables are put to better use generating electricity than whatever happens to them in a recycling process.

  4. I fully support the idea of a boycott. However, I do not trust the city of Portsmouth to NOT bill me for the disposal of recyclables. Does anyone know where a city-wide recycling dumpster is?

    • When the city went to curbside recycling, it eliminated drop-off sites. Even if there were one, without a recycling contractor to collect the material, it would no more serve its purpose than the household recycling bins do. It’s a true “no-win” scenario.

  5. I’m sorry Mark but this request doesn’t make sense to me for the following reasons;
    1. a 2 week time frame doesn’t make sense because recycle is only picked up every 2 weeks and mine was picked up today (11/20/17)
    2. I completely fill my bin every 2 weeks and my only alternative would be to put it all in a black can meaning it will all, combustible included, go straight to the land fill without any sorting. This is less acceptable to me than sending all the burnable, about 2/3rds of the can, to be burned and produce electricity. Worse for the environment and our electric bill from what I can see.
    3. a protest that actually makes life easier on the Portsmouth government folks isn’t a protest at all. A reduction in recycle material collected in the blue recycle cans gives the government council support for the city to completely abolish all recycle pickup “because the public doesn’t support the effort since they are not using the recycle cans and therefore the cost of the city supporting recycling is unsupportable.” A better protest would be to double the amount of items put into the recycle cans so the city sees how much support there is for the recycle program and gets off their collective butts to get a new recycle contract approved and in place.
    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.
    Have a great day

    • You make good points. Regarding the two-week time frame, though, that is the length of time it takes to pick up from every neighborhood on the daily collection rotation. You and I will not have another recycling collection until two weeks hence, but our neighbors will each work in the sequence. With regard to your second point, the city is treating the contents of both bins the same. That is, the material goes to the waste-to-energy facility, the metal and glass products are pulled out for landfilling, and the combustibles are burned to produce steam for the shipyard and some electricity for the grid. Your third point hits the worst case scenario — i. e., giving the unwilling recyclers a rationale for dropping the program altogether. If that was their intent all along, we should still have an opportunity before it becomes a done deal to contradict their narrative. At any rate, we can only speculate as to their motivations. Raising a ruckus as I await further developments suits me better than just standing by. Nonetheless, I appreciate your thoughtful appraisal of alternative approaches.

      • Thanks for the reply Mark. Your stance and actions are well thought out. I wondered how the regular trash was handled so thank you for that info as well. Do you have other suggestions for people to show their support and desire for the recycling program to continue and grow?

        • Thank you for inquiring about additional actions. Letters, eMail messages, and telephone calls to the city manager, the mayor, and members of city council asking when the city will resume true recycling would encourage them to move forward more expeditiously. Also, you have the opportunity to make the case in person during the non-agenda portion of the next city council meeting on November 28.

  6. Mark: I emailed a letter to the Pilot last Thursday at 11 PM expressing concerns and calling for a boycott, which I personally have done today. That letter has not been published, but today’s Pilot has a letter from the Virginia Recycling Alliance that trashes (no pun intended) the city’s actions. A boycott may cause inconvenience for those who don’t have space or containers for their overflow from the bin, but everyone else should join in sending this message to officials.

    • Thank you for taking action. I hope your letter makes it into print. Whether it does or doesn’t, we would be glad to run it here.

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