Washington and Lee still recycling after Lexington ends curbside services

The program is fighting to survive alongside the global recycling industry

Jack Eason

Washington and Lee University will continue to recycle, after the city of Lexington announced an abrupt end to its curbside recycling program this summer.

Recyclable materials will no longer be collected from Lexington residents’  homes alongside their garbage. This end of curbside recycling is becoming common across the country, as the market for recycled materials, specifically plastics, shrinks on a global level.

 In early July, Lexington residents were notified of the end  of recycling pickup with a note placed at their homes. The last day of pickup was July 6. 

A short statement on the city website cites budget cuts as the reason for the end of the service. The statement offers no suggestions of alternatives for the curbside program, leaving residents who wish to continue recycling confused.

 Caroline Alexander, a Lexington resident for three years,was satisfied with the curbside service and was surprised by its abrupt end.

 Like many residents, Alexander  remains committed to recycling, even driving 45 minutes to drop off waste at a recycling center

She views recycling as a service that the city provides to its residents, not as a business that should be thought of in terms of profit and loss.

“It’s related to the beautification and effort that goes into the city… it should just be a service, period. It should not be ‘if we can make money or if it doesn’t cost too much, then we can do it,” she said.

Residents of Rockbridge County have always had to be creative with their recyclables. While some form of a recycling program has existed in the county since 1989, there is no curbside option. Instead residents must collect their recycling and take it to one of seven waste centers throughout the county.

 Lisa Greer, a professor of geology, and Robert Humston, director for environmental studies and a professor of biology, , are committed recyclers who live in Rockbridge County. 

They say they  don’t find it difficult to recycle because of the resources the county provides. 

But  Lexington residents do not have access to the dropoff locations in Rockbridge County..

“We recycle everything we can, which is not everything we would like to at all,” Greer said.

 They would both like to see recycling expanded, in terms of materials recycled, but realize that poses significant costs that not all Rockbridge County residents  may be willing or able to pay. 

 The key to the success of Washington and Lee’s recycling program has been keeping recycling completely on site before it goes to a processing facility in Roanoke, said Kim Hodge, the director of sustainability initiatives and education, who leads the university’s recycling efforts.. 

Washington and Lee  views the recycling service as an institutional responsibility and pays to have the campus’s  waste recycled, an some residents would  like to see the city and county governments adopt.

 But the university is still affected by international trends in the recycling industry. 

Because of changes in the plastics market, the school only accepts plastics 1 and 2. 

“It’s always a sort of volatile situation,” said Hodge, “You’re always adjusting.” 

 Washington and Lee  has dramatically increased its recycling from 31.57 tons in the 2014-2015 academic year, to 59.599 tons in the 2018-2019 year.

 There’s still room to improve, both in volume and quality, Hodge said.

Aiming for a less contaminated waste stream, Hodge encourages students to be sure that an item is recyclable, saying simply, “When in doubt, through it out.”