It's 2017. Do West Virginians Recycle? (video)

Mar 11, 2017

Bale of plastic at Scrappy Pappy's in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Credit Chuck Kleine / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In the year 2017, recycling programs exist in several communities in West Virginia, but these programs have not significantly changed the state’s habit of burying trash in the hills. West Virginians are sending about the same amount of trash to the state’s 18 landfills as they have for decades.  

In 1989, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill that’s goal was to reduce residential waste going to landfills by 50 percent by 2010. The bill was necessary to meet federal requirements. According to data collected by the state over the years - West Virginia hasn’t yet made any progress toward that goal.

Scrappy Pappy’s Recycling: Pipe Dream or Inevitability?

Scott Ludolph owns and operates Scrappy Pappy’s Recycling in the city he grew up in -- Wheeling, West Virginia. He accepts a long list of items at his single-stream facility.

“We get rid of probably 30,000 pounds of cardboard and plastics,” Ludolph said as he separated a bag of recyclables recently dropped off. “All your other stuff is glass, metals, other materials -- but that equals about 50,000 pounds a week we do.”

Wheeling residents send about 1000 tons of waste to landfills every month (and have for more than a decade). Recycling hasn’t really picked up as a social norm in the city of 28,000 people. Ludolph wants to change the status quo.

“This is great to teach our children that not everything needs to be thrown away. We can recycle probably safely 80 to 85 percent of what get thrown in the landfill. So we want to challenge ourselves and make the future better, and make it brighter,” Ludolph said.

He and a small crew hand separate, bail and sell the various materials to local companies interested in reusing them. But it’s hard for a small business to play the commodities game and make money because prices fluctuate based on global trends.

Scott Ludolph atop bales of cardboard in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Credit Chuck Kleine / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Ludolph is also competing with the 2nd largest waste management company in the U.S.: Republic Services. Republic does not offer recycling in Wheeling, and did not return any phone calls for this story. Big companies have few, if any, financial incentives to divest from the much simpler business of landfilling.

Ludolph started his recycling business five years ago and says with more community buy-in, he could build a facility that employs dozens. His ultimate dream is to go a step further and manufacture products from the recycled materials he collects.                                              

It might sound like a pipe dream, but communities in the Eastern Panhandle have already accomplished something similar.

Berkeley County: Realizing the Recycling Dream

Clint Hogbin is chairman of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority which has created and overseen a recycling program that started in 1995. It’s grown appreciably since then.

Berkeley County recycles a wide spectrum of commodities from glass and electronics, to paper, plastic and metals, to yard and food waste.

“We have almost an individual market for each one of those items,” Hogbin said. “So you can't name one company or even two or three companies that gets it all.”

Berkeley County’s Solid Waste Authority also partners with a local residential waste hauler - Apple Valley Waste. That allows for curbside services for the public.

“Generally, [recycling] is not an extremely profitable venture,” said John Decker, the managing partner of Apple Valley. “But there is a cost avoidance when it comes to landfills.”

“Landfills will likely be an integral part of the solid waste circle for a long time,” he continued. “But what we want to try to do is move it to the back of the line. So instead of the material finding the landfill first, after being processed recycled, it finds the landfill last. That's our goal.”    

And like Scott Ludolph’s dreams of taking recycling a step further - toward repurposing - folks in Berkeley County are achieving the goal by investing in a company called ENTSORGA.

Decker explains that leftover waste not recycled on the curb by residents usually only can be landfilled or incinerated. Entsorga processes that waste, reducing the volume even more before it ends up in the landfill.

“It's a very simple, very environmentally friendly friendly process.” Decker said. “We basically just dry the waste with just forced air -- no heat, no combustion.” He explained that the waste heats itself just like a compost pile does. Once it’s dry, it’s sorted again, pulling any remaining metals.

“The remaining material is a very dry almost confetti like material that happens to be a great product to use either in concert or as a substitute for coal.”

It gets used at a nearby cement kiln.

“Through all of that we will again reduce the amount of material that's being landfilled down to probably 20 percent. So we will have hopefully an 80 percent diversion rate here in the panhandle in the very near future.”

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

“Managing your waste stream through recycling generally create six times more jobs than if you just landfill the material,” said Berkeley County’s Solid Waste Authority chairman Clint Hogbin. “In some cases, more than six times.”

Hogbin says it costs communities about the same to recycle as it does to landfill.

“We're competitive in the short term, and it's the right thing to do, and we're very competitive in the long term when you look at the end of the environmental costs remediation that you don't have with when you recycle something.”

Hogbin says it took a lot of local political support in the face of continuous legal battles with landfill companies to get to where the county is today.

He says ultimately, it’s the will of community that makes recycling possible.