Virginia’s reported recycling rate reaches record high

Despite market challenges, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said the commonwealth had an overall recycling rate of 46 percent in 2018 – a historic high rate for reporting localities in the commonwealth.

Since 1989, the state has set recycling rate targets for local governments at 25 percent and 15 percent for smaller localities. Each year, local governments and regional planning units collect their data and submit a report to DEQ. The agency reviews the information and then calculates an overall recycling rate for the state. The 2018 report includes data received from 17 Solid Waste Planning Units (SWPUs) representing 117 Virginia cities, counties and towns with populations more than 100,000.

According to the report, Virginians in these areas recycled 2.7 million tons of principal recyclable material, which includes paper, metal, plastic, container glass, yard waste, waste wood, textiles, tires, used oil, used oil filters, used antifreeze, batteries and electronics.

In 2017, Virginia’s recycling rate was about 42 percent. The increase of more than three percent for 2018 is attributed to a rise in the amount of recycled paper, metal and yard waste. The increase is notable, considering the market for recyclables has changed with buyers in China requiring clean, “uncontaminated” materials.

“DEQ works with businesses, localities and environmental groups to mitigate ongoing changes to the waste stream that could impact recycling rates, including China’s recycling market revisions,” said Leslie Beckwith, DEQ director of financial responsibility and waste programs. “Citizens are clearly very engaged in recycling and we continue to encourage everyone to purchase items that are recyclable.”

DEQ has been working with localities since the early 2000s on recycling best practices and, as a result, mandated rates have generally been met or exceeded. DEQ said all SWPUs are encouraged to manage solid waste by first using the three “Rs” – reduce, reuse and recycle – with landfilling as a secondary option. This enables Virginians to adopt better waste management practices as well as increase recycling rates. DEQ also encourages recycling and proper waste management to businesses through its Office of Pollution Prevention by providing incentive programs, like the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program.

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