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Hampton Roads leaders will ramp up recycling education with new EPA grant

Bales of recycled material at RDS of Virginia in Portsmouth.
Photo by Katherine Hafner
Bales of recycled material at RDS of Virginia in Portsmouth.

A regional campaign called “Start Smart, Recycle Right” received nearly $2 million from the federal government.

A regional coalition that educates residents about recycling is set to get an influx in funding for local education and outreach.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded nearly $2 million to AskHRGreen.org, an arm of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, for its “Start Smart, Recycle Right” campaign.

The money comes through a part of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law meant to expand recycling education and infrastructure.

“Our region, like so many others, needs a culture shift in recycling behavior,” Katie Cullipher, the initiative’s team leader, said in a statement. “With this funding, we’ll work on streamlining messaging and making the information more accessible to all residents of Hampton Roads.”

The regional commission represents 17 cities and counties – many of which have slightly different rules on what is OK to recycle.

That can be confusing for residents, especially many who “live in one city, work in another and play in a third,” said Wayne Jones, a Suffolk public works employee and member of the regional recycling committee.

“Locality-specific messaging leads to confusion and contamination of the recycling stream,” he said.

“Wishful recycling” – when non-recyclables muddy up the recycling stream – is one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

For example, Virginia Beach recycling coordinator Kristi Rines previously told WHRO the city’s seen items like strollers, stuffed animals and kiddie pools end up in blue bins.

Over the next three years, AskHRGreen plans to use the grant to “employ a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to improve recycling.”

That will include neighborhood-level audits of recycling habits, targeted education, advertising campaigns and distributing recycling cart stickers with details of what items are acceptable.

In general, a rule of thumb for Hampton Roads is to only recycle paper, bottles and cans. You can look up your locality’s rules on AskHRGreen’s website.

Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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