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What’s Next: Rebirth of the Ritchie County Recycling Center

An elderly man in Ritchie County cried when he heard the news at church about Ritchie County Recycling Center (‘the center’) burning down. Shocked Ritchie County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) board members and employees had learned the news at 5 a.m., Dec. 27, 2020, while the fire was raging. All the local fire departments and emergency services worked heroically for more than eight hours, but there was no way to save the main building.

“Long-time board members like myself, as well as life-long residential recyclers, businesses, schools, libraries and more, have been with this for nearly 30 years. It’s going be hard to pick up the pieces and move on” said SWA chairperson Tracey Westfall.

Within two weeks of the fire, demolition was quick and effective, removing the building remains, melted bales of recyclables and equipment. Soon the lot was spotless and nicely raked … but very empty. What’s next?

“The empty lot signaled the time for forward motion” said board member/center liaison Jane Hearne. “I had been personally stuck focusing on the tragedy. But folks were calling with support, reassurance and ideas. It was a good thing that my four fellow board members were on it. The center wasn’t going to re-build itself!”

Although the loss of the main structure, equipment and utilities halted the intake, processing and outflow of materials, the storage buildings, two trucks and trailers were saved. All was not lost. Decades of experience, county commission support, state support, vendors still in place and thousands of tons of waste (255 tons last fiscal year) diverted over time, were not lost. At the state level, public recycling endeavors are guided by the WV Solid Waste Management Board. Along with the WV Department of Environmental Protection, it provides vital solid waste grant funds, information and help in times of crisis. And, above all, the community of dedicated recyclers remains!

Before the fire this community had recently matured. On public days recyclers socialized and shared tips about low-effort sorting at home. There was often conversation about society’s waste in general. People asked the employees about the marketing, and because of recent negative news stories from around the world, were asking if their recyclables really get recycled. At this center, the answer was “YES.” Before the fire the center accepted and found outlets for 23 different types of recyclables, not all of which were profitable. But nothing was ever landfilled because of its low price. Many recyclers came from surrounding counties because of this policy.

Like operations nation-wide, the center had recently tightened its belt and gradually recovered from the international recycling crises and trade wars. Prices, thankfully, are gradually climbing again, while the re-manufacturing industries, more than ever, require clean, standardized, non-contaminated material.

A tangible piece of the support network has been nearby municipal and county SWAs. Ritchie and Pleasants counties often compare notes, and, since the fire, the Pleasants County SWA and center employees have been more than generous with support, advice and physical help. Its efficient operation with larger equipment makes it a role model for counties of this size.

Till the center is re-built, City of Parkersburg Recycling is accepting cardboard from Ritchie County, already baled by two grocery stores. Also, after the fire, avid Ritchie County recyclers began calling board members to ask where to recycle now; many said they cannot just throw away their items. So, many Ritchie Countians are making use of Parkersburg’s handy 24/7 drop-off location at 100 24th Street, available to recyclers outside Wood County.

What’s Next for Ritchie County Recycling Center is in the works! The decision was made to stay on the same piece of property (owned by the county commission), energy was directed toward working out the building budget and design bugs sooner rather than later. Sam Rogers, SWA Treasurer/Ritchie County Commissioner, started with a concept drawing and endless tweaks. Then the SWA and the Commission engaged Pickering Associates for engineering, survey and blueprint work. The project’s Pickering architect has been creative and resilient. When the final plan is drafted, the construction bid process begins, then a contract will be awarded. Ritchie Countians will see action on the lot! Re-birth will be made physical, while under girded by the endless dedication of citizens with long-range vision.

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