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2019-11-13

Virginians Are Recycling More of Their Trash

By Eric Everington, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia recycled almost half of its trash last year, setting a record despite China’s ban on importing plastic and other solid waste.

The statewide recycling rate in 2018 was 46% — up 3 percentage points from the previous year, according to data released this week by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The data showed that:

  • The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority, which includes Richmond and surrounding localities, had the highest recycling rate in the commonwealth — 59%.
  • The Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority, which includes Hampton, Poquoson and Williamsburg and nearby counties, had the lowest rate — 29%.
  • The city of Newport News had the biggest improvement in recycling in recent years. Its rate jumped from 38% in 2016 to 57% last year.

The numbers represent the percentage of municipal solid waste that is sent for recycling. Local governments also get credit for activities such as programs to reduce the amount of trash generated.

Several factors affect an area’s recycling rate. They include population, population density, location of recycling facilities and funding.

By April 30 each year, the local governments and regional planning units that oversee recycling collect their data and submit a report to the Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ reviews the information and then calculates an overall recycling rate for the state.

“DEQ works with businesses and localities and environmental groups to promote environmental awareness through recycling,” said Leslie Beckwith, the agency’s director of financial responsibility and waste management programs.

The statewide recycling rate was 44% in 2015. It dropped to 43% in 2016 and 2017 before jumping to 46% last year.

The increase came despite an unstable market for various types of trash to be recycled — especially China’s decision to stop accepting solid waste.

“China’s revisions in recycling material acceptance is having a big impact on the recycling market,” Beckwith said.

As a result, DEQ has asked localities and planning units to identify any changes or challenges regarding their recycling efforts when they submit their 2019 reports.

One change is that many localities have dropped recycling glass because it is hard to find a market for that product. That is why DEQ is asking Virginians to minimize their use of glass.

“Citizens should try to generate less waste, like purchasing products with the least amount of packaging and those that are readily recyclable, such as aluminum cans vs. glass bottles,” said Anissa Rafeh, the department’s communications coordinator.

Glass can be problematic to recycle for several reasons, said Joe Romuno, director of national accounts for an environmental consulting firm called Great Forest Sustainability Solutions.

“Broken glass can contaminate other recyclables like paper and cardboard, lowering their value,” Romuno said. Moreover, broken glass can be a safety hazard to workers and can damage machines at recycling facilities.

Also, glass must be sorted by color in order to reprocess for recycling. “Glass is difficult to sort when broken, and if broken down too finely, it may become too difficult to reprocess,” Romuno said.

Four localities in Northern Virginia have teamed up to tackle the challenge of glass recycling.

The city of Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington Prince William have joined forces to collect source-separated glass in purple bins for better recovery. The glass is then crushed at Fairfax County’s Glass Processing Center to produce sand and gravel that can be used in construction and landscaping projects.

DEQ is also keeping an eye on new technologies to improve Virginia’s recycling efforts. For example, the agency was on hand when the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority announced it was deploying 2,000 recycling bins from an Israeli company called UBQ.

The bins are made with a thermoplastic created from household waste that would normally end up in a landfill, including banana peels, chicken bones, plastics and old pizza boxes.

Mail Often Arrives Late in Richmond Area, Data Shows

By Jaclyn Barton, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Rachel Westfall, who lives in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, says her mail service has always been hit or miss. But since April, there have been a lot more misses.

“My personal property tax check apparently never made it to City Hall, even though I mailed it at the beginning of April, two months before the due date,” Westfall said.

Her complaint is a common one in the Richmond area, which has some of the worst mail delivery in the country, according to data from the U.S. Postal Service. Last spring, less than 84% of the region’s first-class mail was delivered on time. Only two service areas in the U.S. had a worse on-time delivery rate.

According to the Postal Service, single-piece first-class mail service is the least expensive and fastest option for mailing items such as postcards, letters and large flat envelopes. Delivery time is measured from the collection box drop point to delivery.

Every quarter, the service posts on its website data showing what percentage of first-class mail arrives on time in each of its service districts.

One measure looks at mail that is supposed to arrive within three to five days. On that metric, the Richmond area has been below the national average since the summer of 2017.

For example, between April and June of this year, 86.5% of the mail nationwide arrived on time, the latest quarterly performance report shows. But for the Richmond area, the figure was 83.8%. Only two service areas in the U.S. — both in New York City — had on-time delivery rates lower than Richmond’s.

The Richmond area’s worst quarter in recent years was October through December of 2018, when less than 66% of the mail that was supposed to be delivered in three to five days arrived on time. That was a difficult quarter throughout the country for the Postal Service: The nationwide on-time delivery rate for that period was just over 72%.

The Postal Service also measures on-time delivery for mail that ought to arrive in two days. On that yardstick, too, the Richmond area is usually below the national average.

Between April and June, for example, about 92% of two-day mail in the Richmond area arrived on time, the Postal Service’s data showed. Nationwide, the figure was about 94%.

The Postal Service’s target is to deliver 96.5% of two-day mail and 95.3% of three- to five-day mail to arrive on time. The service set those targets in 2014 but has never met them.

The Postal Service’s media relations staff did not respond to several requests for comment about the performance data.

Mail delivery depends on several factors. Mistakes during sorting can occur at the post office by machines or clerks. Moreover, mail carriers may have more than 1,000 addresses per route.

On social networks such as Nextdoor.com, many Richmond-area residents have complained about poor mail service.

“We constantly get mail in our box with someone else’s address on it — several times a week. A few months ago, I even got some poor person’s medication delivered to me by mistake. I had to carry it several blocks to the proper recipient,” a resident of Richmond’s Highland Park neighborhood commented on Nextdoor.com.

Another said, “I have missing mail every month. This has been a problem for several years. I have called and wrote the Postal Service with no resolution. This has caused me anxiety.”

Such complaints became so prevalent that U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin of Richmond held a town hall meeting with his constituents about the issue last spring.

“The constituents of the 4th Congressional District deserve reliable and predictable mail delivery. They deserve the best quality service, and right now that is not happening,” McEachin said in a press release in April.

Westfall, a private music teacher in Richmond, said she tried reaching out to her local post office about her missing tax-payment check to City Hall. But she said she was unable to speak with someone who could resolve the issue.

Eventually, Westfall said, she was told to fill out a “missing mail” form on the Postal Service’s website. She said she experienced error messages and technical difficulties on the site and couldn’t find a technical support number to help her.

After resubmitting her request for three weeks, she received a confirmation email that her request had been submitted. Claims remain active for seven days and then are deleted.

Westfall’s lost check appeared at the end of July. She knew the check resurfaced only because she had put a stop payment on the missing check and was notified by her bank that someone had tried to process it.

Westfall said no one from the Postal Service ever contacted her about the missing mail.

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