Residents of Virginia’s Henrico County are about to be given access to brand-new, 95-gallon recycling bins for their paper, glass, and recyclable plastics. The county is spending approximately $5.7 million to buy the bins. Recycling is voluntary in Henrico County, so it is not clear how many residents will take county officials up on their offer.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Chesterfield County, officials have finally brought their municipal recycling program to an end. Anyone in Chesterfield County who still wants to recycle can do so, but they need to pay for private sector service. As you can imagine, there is plenty of disagreement between officials from both counties as to the best way to handle municipal recycling.
Bigger Totes, More Recyclables
Henrico County officials decided that their voluntary municipal recycling program wasn’t engaging enough residents. Not enough people were participating in the program, in their eyes. So after asking residents what the problem was, they determined the smaller bins they were using were too small. What was the solution? Buy new bins that are four times larger.
If the size of the county’s recycling bins is truly the number one reason, not enough people are participating, offering the larger bins should solve the problem. The county’s decision to spend millions on new bins will ultimately pay off. But for the record, this writer is skeptical. I would be willing to bet that participation will not increase substantially. Any noticeable increase will be a mere bump.
Too Expensive in Chesterfield
Chesterfield County officials decided to end municipal recycling and turn it over to the private sector because it was costing them too much money. Under the county program, residents would pay a nominal fee and the county would absorb the rest. Going completely private means that residents who still want to participate will now spend hundreds of dollars annually.
The money problem is not unique to Chesterfield County, VA. Every month, another municipal recycling program is shut down for the exact same reason. Not only are counties unable to make money on recycling, but they are also losing money on the deal – and lots of it to boot.
Concerned residents in Chesterfield County are understandably unhappy that they will have to spend more to recycle through private service providers. What surprises me is that so many of them think that county-funded municipal recycling cost them less. It did not. Their monthly fees may have been lower, but they still made up the difference in their local taxes. Nothing government provides is free. Public services are always paid for by taxpayers.
Private Recycling Is a Workable Solution
The companies providing private municipal recycling services in the greater Richmond area do what they do to make a profit. It is no different than Tennessee’s Seraphim Plastics making a profit by recycling industrial plastic waste. Private recyclers are in the business to make money. That’s why they charge for their services.
County governments are not-for-profit entities by their nature. They are also notoriously inefficient, just like every other government entity. They cannot recycle plastic, paper, and glass nearly as efficiently as the private sector. That is just a fact. Government cannot do anything as cheaply as private companies can.
Some Henrico County residents are thrilled to have access to much larger recycling bins. They will enthusiastically use them. But will the new bins attract enough participation to satisfy county leaders? I’m betting not. I think it is pretty safe to say that county leaders will look back on this a year from now and wonder why more people still don’t recycle. They do not get it.