City faces recycling challenge

Published 9:49 pm Monday, September 23, 2019

With its current curbside recycling contract about to expire and with an increase in costs for a new contract, Suffolk is looking at that and other options on whether to continue or perhaps suspend recycling.

Public Works Director L.J. Hansen, in a briefing to City Council last Wednesday, said it put a new contract out for bid but got just one response — from Tidewater Fibre Corporation Recycling, the company that currently handles the city’s recycling.

The current contract with the Chesapeake-based company expires Oct. 6, but it has been extended by three months until January. If the city enters into a contract for recycling services, it would be for a five-year term beginning Oct. 7 through Oct. 6, 2024, according to the request-for-proposal for the curbside recycling service.


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Hansen said TFC Recycling has a rate increase in its bid, something the council would have to approve before it takes effect. The city currently spends about $1.5 million for TFC Recycling’s services, or about 16 percent of the refuse fund’s budget, with the company’s curbside service costing residents $3.10 per month.

At a mandatory pre-bid meeting held in July, just two representatives, both from TFC Recycling, attended.

“That has to do with a lot of changes that are in the industry,” Hansen said.

The cities of Portsmouth, Norfolk and Chesapeake, he said, are having similar issues.

Hansen explained some of the confusion over recycling, specifically what is and isn’t recyclable for TFC Recycling.

The items taken from residents’ blue recycling cans gets mixed together and taken to TFC Recycling’s material recovery facility. They use several pieces of equipment to separate recyclables, but they can’t get everything, he said.

Up until the last couple of years, Hansen said, China has been the largest consumer of recycled bundles, because they had ways of making economic use of those materials, but it decided it didn’t want more garbage and imposed an import ban on solid waste.

What resulted is that TFC Recycling was left with a lot of recycled goods with the market dropping for them, he said.

“China doesn’t have the ability to process it,” Hansen said.

China’s actions are having a big impact on the U.S. recycling market, with some smaller recycling companies having stopped accepting recycling altogether. Bay Disposal and Recycling, for instance, has closed its Southside facilities, Hansen said.

Hansen also explained how contaminants in certain recycling can make something that would seem to be recyclable not so.

City recycling audits were done in both 2018 and 2019. While in some loads there was nothing but garbage, others had “clean,” recyclable loads.

“There’s a question about how effective we’re being in our recycling program, so what do we do about it?” Hansen said.

Hansen presented council with four options for the program — continue with TFC Recycling with increased costs to residents, have residents opt-in to the program but not require everyone to participate, have the city operate its own convenience centers or suspend recycling entirely.

“I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer up here,” Hansen said. “I think we’re looking for the best answer, and we’re going to continue to work on that over the next 90 days.”

He said he would have a recommendation to council in about four to six weeks.

Councilman Mike Duman asked whether there might be a regional solution available since other localities are having similar issues.

“I would think that, maybe a hybrid system of some type could be looked at,” Duman said.

Duman asked whether a third party such as TFC Recycling would do it, or whether city staff would get involved in it.

“One of the things that we looked at is the potential to emulate what Portsmouth is doing,” Hansen said. “Perhaps we pick up our own recycling and take it to TFC for them.”

Hansen said Suffolk’s size makes it more costly for TFC Recycling to collect the city’s recycling.

Councilman Tim Johnson said he hoped the city would consider operating convenience centers, though Councilman Roger Fawcett said that, “unless you’re monitoring the convenience center, I’m not sure you’re going to get the same mileage that you’re going to get” from recycling with a third party.

“There’s a whole lot of things I can see crisscrossing here,” Fawcett said. “And I think you’re right. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this, whatsoever.”

The following guidance on what is and is not recyclable comes from TFC Recycling


Aluminum cans

Newspapers and magazines

Plastic bottles (rinse thoroughly, remove caps)

Detergent containers (rinse thoroughly, remove caps)

Paper books (must remove plastic covers and binding)

Clean cardboard (flatten to save space)

Glass bottles (drain, rinse and throw away cap)

Not recyclable

Plastic bags

Aluminum foil


Paper cups

Egg cartons

Clam shell plastic

Dirty plastic containers

Medicine bottles

Pizza boxes



Animal food containers

Packaging in a combination of cardboard and plastic