York River Group of Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club

Limiting our Waste

image of members of panel sitting at table discussing recycling

On May 15, 2019, facilitator Cheryl Ferriera led a Sierra Club York River Group program on how we as individuals can curb our waste and make recycling more effective. Ms. Ferriera introduced three speakers from the local Hampton Roads government. Together, they covered gasification and biochar as a waste management tool, the China crisis and how it affects our recycling, the “Recycle Right Campaign” to educate citizens of York County, and taking personal responsibility to reduce waste.

The first speaker was Dan Baxter, Business Recycling Coordinator in the city of Newport News. He talked about the Stoney Run landfill, closed in 1996, and the 30 year process it takes to convert it to a park for the public to enjoy. It is well on its way; it should be fully ready in the mid 2020s. He also covered the city’s recycling process. Curious what happens to your recyclables in Newport News? See http://newportnewsva.swagit.com/play/02262016-1595. Mr. Baxter also showed the group a glimpse of a possible future for waste management: biochar gasification. This process could completely break down waste to basic elements, plus produce energy! Just imagine… technology like this may eventually make landfills a thing of the past.

Laurie Halperin, Waste Services Manager for York County, discussed the fact that we (meaning everyone in the U.S.) are in the middle of a recycling crisis. Did you know that much of U.S. recycling is sent by municipalities to China for processing? But recently, China has cracked down on the materials that they will accept. See the NY Times article about this important topic. Unfortunately, many people try to recycle materials that are unacceptable. For example: one should never recycle greasy pizza boxes, diapers, or packing material like “peanuts”! Throwing non-recyclable “trash” materials in your recycling bin can result in a lot of recyclable material being turned away, ending up in landfills instead. Ms. Halperin stressed the importance of each citizen taking the time to learn about which items are acceptable and which are not. And be aware that different municipalities often have different recycling restrictions. Be sure to learn what recycling material is acceptable in your area, and follow the rules.

Debbie Blanton, Director, Hampton Clean City Commission, talked about the solid waste system in Hampton. She also stressed “recycling right,” and taking responsibility as conscientious citizens to stay informed and pressure local leaders to improve trash and recycling programs.

Ms. Ferriera ended the evening with her personal story of trying to reduce her “trash footprint.” She urged everyone to think twice before purchasing items that include a lot of wasteful packaging. If you don’t buy it in the first place, you don’t have to figure out how to throw it away. On the internet, look for “Package Free” items. Avoid disposable items as much as possible. Bring your own reusable bags whenever you shop. You can even make a lot of your own package-free products, like detergent and lotion!

This program closed out the 2018-2019 season of monthly talks. They will resume in the fall. Sierra Club programs like this one have been an excellent resource for the many people who have packed the meeting room at Sandy Bottom Nature Park Visitor’s Center in Hampton. Both educational and fun, the programs have inspired the attendees to try to make a difference in the health of the local environment and the planet. Even small steps, multiplied, can make a big difference!

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