Recyclers Running on Renewable Energy
In Virginia’s Piedmont Region, a few miles east of Charlottesville, fleets of trucks loaded to the brim roar around the corner toward van der Linde Recycling and Container Rentals. They are received on a loop by a large crew in fluorescent colors, steel-toed boots, and respirator masks. Enormous amounts of metal, plastic, rock, and the remains of other construction projects across the state are ready to be sorted and repurposed. This is the work of heroes.
At the entrance, bulldozers churn mountains of leftover wood that will become mulch and topsoil. Nearby, workers disassemble one of the worst materials diverted from landfills— mattresses—diligently by hand. Balers inside compress foam and textiles, each on the way to specialized partners. The operation is busy, complex, and highly organized. The people here take pride in what they do for the community and the environment.
Founded in 2008, the company has worked to recover more than 1.4 million tons of material otherwise destined to be buried in a Virginia landfill. CEO Andrea Johnson said, “Our mission is to serve and care for our people, community, and the environment through the recovery and recycling of discarded material. We work daily to keep good material out of landfills where it takes up space.”
The work is critically important. According to the National Institutes of Health, recycling helps the environment in countless ways. Up to 94% of the natural resources used by Americans are non-renewable. Non-renewable, natural resource use has increased from 59% in 1900 and 88% in 1945. But it does not have to be this way. Paper recycling is a great example of reducing new resource usage: “By not recycling paper, 80% more wood will need to be harvested to meet growing paper consumption demands. However, through active paper recycling, only 20% more wood will need to be harvested.” Up to 90 percent of the material taken in by van der Linde Recycling is diverted from landfills. Because Virginia is second in the nation in receiving waste, the company’s leadership carries significance both within the industry and beyond.
That same leadership, together with integrity and resourcefulness, led to the decision to run on renewable energy. Atop the state-of-the art facility, over 750 new solar panels now gather nearly all the electricity needed to run the operation. In addition to covering its own footprint, the 360.96kW system harvests surplus energy that is distributed back into the power grid for surrounding community needs. CEO Andrea Johnson said,
“Installing solar intrigued us because it is in line with our core values. Virginia is a beautiful place, and we need to make sure it stays that way. There is a great need for recycling and clean energy locally and globally. We are proud to be a supplier of clean energy. Virginia has lots of rooftops that are perfect for solar production. We hope to inspire others to not only recycle but consider clean energy sources as well.”
Such a large project required the collaboration and determination of several partners including Tiger Solar and Virginia Community Capital. Reflecting on opportunities at large across the Commonwealth and beyond, Tiger Solar related that, “Waste and recycling companies are uniquely poised to reap the rewards of solar panel installation, particularly due to large roof space and high energy usage.” Furthermore, experts predict that the recently passed U.S. Inflation Reduction Act will create a renewable energy boom.
Current statewide objectives issued by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality outline that, “By 2050, 100 percent of Virginia’s electricity will be produced by carbon-free sources, such as wind, solar, and nuclear.” On a national scale, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that renewable energy outputs are up 18 percent compared to this time last year and have grown 58 percent since 2019. Research indicates that wind, solar, and hydroelectricity will generate 22 percent of U.S. electricity by the end of 2022.
Virginia Community Capital’s Senior Vice President for Clean Energy Lending, Bill Greenleaf, said, “We are proud to partner with van der Linde Recycling and others on projects that support environmental stewardship across the Commonwealth.”