Virginia Recycling Association

2019 VRA Award Winners

Resourceful, Creative, Sustainable
Winning Ideas at Annual VRA Awards

Erica Carter (Awards Committee Chair), Jeff Blevins (Page County), Teresa Sweeney (VRA President), Helen Lee (City of Alexandria), Margaret Eldridge (VRA Executive Director), Russ Rainer (Goodwill of Central & Coastal Virginia) celebrate the 2019 VRA awards

Charlottesville, VANovember 7, 2019: The Virginia Recycling Association honored several exemplary waste reduction and recycling programs at its annual luncheon meeting on October 30, in Charlottesville.

Awards were given in three categories:

  • Show Me the Way – How do you explain recycling to your customers?
  • Lemonade – How have you made something wonderful from a bad situation?
  • Best in Show – How has your program made a difference in your community?

This year’s award winners were selected from 9 nominations and represented the best of recycling innovation, education, and community engagement from across Virginia.

Best in Show Winner, Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia

Goodwill was paying to have 250,000 pounds of books recycled each month, which was costing them money and seemed wasteful. They knew that there was a better way to process and distribute such a large volume of books and that there was value in the marketplace for these books.

In early 2017, Goodwill established a partnership with Henrico County public schools to supply books to students and families after seeing a news story requesting the donation of new and gently used books to support the school division’s new Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum Challenge in secondary schools.

Henrico County and Goodwill established a weekly opportunity for school personnel to visit the Goodwill headquarters and “dive for books”. School staff sort through thousands of books, selecting those that will be utilized and loved at their schools. Goodwill supplies bins and assistance in loading books into personal vehicles.

These free books are now being enjoyed by students in elementary, middle and high schools; Henrico Book Nooks (free libraries) around the county; and the Department of Family Engagement bus which provides giveaways to neighborhoods and community, civic, and school events.

This free program supplies a reliable source of books to the families in most need and to teachers who have limited budgets for books. As of September 2019, this initiative has placed 148,931 free books into the hands of teachers, librarians, students, and families. This is the best kind of recycling result.

Show Me the Way Award Winner, Recycle Right Alexandra

The City of Alexandria developed an online, interactive game that teaches children ages 7 and up to properly sort their recyclables, yard waste, and trash using City services. Players match discarded household items (paint, food waste, aluminum cans, etc.) with the appropriate City service and build their own digital Alexandria park in the process.

After completing all five levels of the game, players can print out a certificate of achievement. Residents who snapped a picture of themselves with their certificate and shared it on social media were entered into a contest to win items to help them reduce and divert waste (reusable tote bag, reusable water bottle, or a compost caddy).

Implementing this sorting game was also a short-term goal that was identified as part of the City’s newly adopted WasteSmart Strategic Plan.  The sorting game also features analytics in the back end, which provide statistics on the number of game plays, number of completed games, number of certificates printed, and a list of the most misunderstood materials. For example, the City found that one of the most misunderstood material that was incorrectly sorted in the game was loose shredded paper. The analytics showed that 33% of players thought this material could be recycled, when in fact, it should go into the trash bin. This type of data helps the City target specific outreach messages on contamination and how residents can Recycle Right in Alexandria.

Lemonade Winner, Page County

The Page County Solid Waste Department had to take a hard look at its recycling program when recycling markets began to deteriorate in 2018.

The Department had been spending $34,000 per year to deliver the recyclables collected at four County drop off locations to the nearest Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), consuming most of the revenue generated by sales of those recyclables.

In 2018, Department staff decided to change the program from a small recycling program with large transportation costs to a large revenue generator with minimal costs. By purchasing and installing a used baler in their maintenance garage, they were able to eliminate all transportation and delivery costs.

Since Page County started baling their own cardboard, comingled plastic, mixed paper, and aluminum cans, they have increased the amount of materials recycled, reduced costs and increased revenue.

“The Virginia Recycling Association is proud to shine a spotlight on the imaginative and sustainable recycling and waste reduction programs that Virginia organizations have to offer our communities,” said Teresa Sweeny, President of the VRA. “On behalf of our board, I also want to commend our other nominees for their hard work and determination to make recycling easier to understand and accessible to everyone.”

Applications for 2020 VRA Awards will be accepted in beginning in August 2020.
Visit for more information.

Watch an interview with VRA Sponsor Ron DuPerow of Humdinger Equipment.

Watch an interview with Craig Coker of Coker Composting & Consulting, a VRA sponsor and long-time member.

Click here to watch a conversation with Helen Lee, Environmental Program Manager with the City of Alexandria,  about changes they’ve made to improve their glass recycling program.

VRA’s 2019 annual meeting will be held on October 30 in Charlottesville.

The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) is accepting nominations of exemplary recycling programs in the Commonwealth for its 2018 annual awards program.

Awards will be given in three categories:

  • Show Me the Way – how do you explain recycling to your customers?
  • Lemonade – how have you made something wonderful from a bad situation?
  • Best in Show – how has your program made a difference in your community?

Nominations are accepted until 5:00 pm on September 19th and may be submitted through VRA’s website.
Membership in VRA is not required to participate.

In addition to bragging rights, winners will be recognized at VRA’s annual luncheon meeting on November 5th in Charlottesville and receive a complimentary one-year VRA membership. Each year the Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) recognizes the best waste reduction and recycling programs in the state at an awards ceremony. Nominations are sought from the public and private sectors, business, industry, schools, government and non-government agencies, civic or volunteer organizations and individuals for recognition in various categories.

“The Virginia Recycling Association is thrilled to recognize exemplary recyclers with our 2018 Recycling Awards,” said Margaret Eldridge, VRA Executive Director. “The VRA awards program shines a spotlight on the importance of recycling to Virginia’s economy,environmental protection, and sustainable management of over 12 million tons of waste generated annually in the state.”

About The Virginia Recycling Association
The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) provides leadership in sustainable recycling and resource management in Virginia. VRA is the leading resource of recycling information for our members, the general public, the Virginia General Assembly, local government, business, and industry. For more information visit

Richmond, VA – February 25, 2019 –The annual Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) conference will be held on May 6-8 at the Virginia Crossings Hotel and Conference Center in Glen Allen, VA, near Richmond. The conference theme is “Changing Behavior to Encourage Recycling.” VRA members and non-members are welcomed.

Ms. Kelley Dennings, National Association for Environmental Education, eePro and Founding President of Social Marketing Association of the North America, will lead a training course workshop focused on the theme. Participants will create an outline for an education and outreach campaign using research and tracked with metrics. Other conference sessions tackle innovations in recycling challenging materials, successful ways to reduce contamination, composting updates and waste stream measurements. Attendees will leave this conference with lots of ideas and tactics for their local programs. As well, there will be a number of opportunities for networking and informal education.

Conference registration, hotel reservations, sponsorship and exhibitor information are available at

About The Virginia Recycling Association

The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) provides leadership in sustainable recycling and resource management in Virginia. VRA is the leading resource of recycling information for our members, the general public, the Virginia General Assembly, local government, business, and industry. For more information visit

Richmond, VA – In July 2017, China, the largest international importer of recyclable materials from the United States, notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it would impose a ban on the import of 24 categories of solid waste, including plastic, mixed paper and textiles beginning January 2018. In addition, on March 1, 2018, the Chinese government implemented stricter technical standards for scrap imports, allowing only shipments that meet very strict thresholds for allowable contaminants to be imported.

“Does this mean that recycling, as we know it, is dead? Absolutely not,” said Teresa Sweeney, Chair of the Virginia Recycling Association (VRA). “The VRA sees this as a reality check for product manufacturers to improve their packaging, for the recycling industry to improve their sorting technology, for everyone who works with the public to improve recycling information and for consumers to reduce their waste and recycle responsibly.”

“Recycling is not going away. Space in our landfills is limited and we must continue to reduce the amount of solid waste that is sent there. The average remaining capacity for landfills in Virginia is only 23 years, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.3 The idea of digging a bigger hole to resolve our recycling issues is a non-starter. Consider this: the length of time it takes for an aluminum can to decompose in a landfill is 200 years. A recycled aluminum can be back on the shelf in a little as 60 days.”

“Recycling is a smarter option, in conjunction with actual waste reduction,” adds Sweeney.

“The main problem with recycling is contamination. We must work harder to provide clear direction and make recycling the right thing easier for everyone.” said Sweeney “Many ‘wishful recyclers’ put items into recycling containers for collection that really should be donated, recycled another way or thrown in the trash.”

“The VRA’s advice is to keep it simple. Generally, #1 and #2 plastic bottles, jugs and food containers, along with tin and aluminum cans and cardboard can be placed in recycling containers. However, check with your local jurisdiction for guidelines on what can be recycled where, in your community. Once you know what is being recycled and where to place it, be sure to empty the containers and keep paper products dry. This will help reduce contamination and improve the quality of the recycling materials generated.”

Figures obtained from the Institute of Scrap and Recycling Industries state that Virginia’s recycling industry generates approximately $2 billion in revenue and employs over 8,500 workers. These businesses contribute to the local economy by creating and supporting jobs and services. Recycling creates up to seven times more jobs per ton than landfilling. Recycling also preserves landfill space and natural resources.

“One thing we all have to remember is that recycling is an industry,” said Sweeney. “The current market conditions will force a change or possibly closure of some of these businesses, but there is something Virginians can do.”

“On average, every person in the US generates 4.5 pounds of trash and recycling every day. By recycling more responsibly, you contribute to the preservation of our environment, support local industry and preserve landfill space for future generations.”

Visit to learn more about the Virginia Recycling Association and recycling in Virginia.

About The Virginia Recycling Association

The Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) provides leadership in sustainable recycling and resource management in Virginia. VRA is the leading resource of recycling information for our members, the general public, the Virginia General Assembly, local government, business, and industry. For more information visit