ROANOKE, Va. – This story is part of a series called “Solutionaries,” where we set out to explore innovative ways people are working to fight problems we’re all facing. Inflation, affordable housing, the climate crisis, and much more. You can find hours of stories here.
Our Solutionaries team is finding unique ways people are dealing with trash from cleaning caves that have been used as dumpsters, to taking plastic bags and repurposing them.
‘Recycling Right’ can save taxpayer money and the environment.
“You could be a proud member of this here bucket and it says ‘thank you’ every day. Thanks for keeping Salem clean,” said Mary Dolan, holding up an orange bucket. “My husband calls me a trashy lady.”
The former middle school teacher spends a couple of hours every week picking up trash as a volunteer in Salem.
“I’m a COVID long hauler. My health has been damaged, hopefully not permanently. I had it about a year and a half ago and I’m not confident going back into a classroom right now,” said Dolan.
The recycling she picks up is emptied and goes to the RDS plant in Roanoke, where it’s sorted and processed.
“All localities have to meet a 25% minimum recycling. So you take all your garbage that you haul to the landfill, you divide that by 25% and your locality has to recycle a minimum of 25%,” said Mike Tyler, Salem Director of Streets and General Maintenance.
That’s Virginia law. Salem’s recycling goes way above that minimum.
For the past five years, Salem has been between 32 and almost 40%t for recycling. For all of Virginia in 2020, the recycling rate came to 45%
Tyler says recycling the right things is important.
“Everybody thinks it’s plastic and it’s got a recycling label on it so I can recycle it. And the issue is, is in this region, there’s not a market for from three on up. So we recycle ones and twos and everything other than that needs to go into the trash,” said Tyler. “If we can clean the materials up and get them back into the manufacturing of some products, it’s a win-win.”
The more recycling we can do, the less we put in the landfill.
“Landfill construction is very expensive,” said Dan Miles, Roanoke Valley Resource Authority CEO.
Miles says the 11 acres at Smith Gap Landfill cost $8.5 million to build and that doesn’t include operating expenses. Keeping things out of the landfill means it will last longer.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that they’re also part of the solution to the problem. That they are participants in generating the amount of garbage that comes and fills up the space. And it’s a finite amount of space,” said Miles.
“I think you should care about the community that you live in. It makes it for a better place,” said Dolan.
If your city or county doesn’t recycle certain items through its recycling program, you may be able to find other resources or organizations to recycle them.
Sustainable Roanoke holds recycling events and lists where you can take things like coffee pods, straws and more.
This story is part of a new program at WSLS 10, Solutionaries. Solutions offer hope and that’s the belief of Solutionaries, a show from our parent company, Graham Media Group, focusing on those who are taking on some of our biggest challenges. Each episode focuses on effective responses to problems and offers viewers ways they can join the effort for positive change.
We tackle one topic at a time, highlighting problems many of us are dealing with and the solutions that are out there. The solution could be in our backyard, or something else that’s working across the country.