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Recycling issues arise for STEPS

With the halt of recycling and secure document shredding operations from STEPS Inc. in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, two of the company’s largest customers are now faced with recyclables having nowhere to go.

Sharon Harrup

According to STEPS President and CEO Sharon Harrup, the STEPS recycling center will not reopen until the pandemic has passed.

STEPS currently employs 13 individuals with disabilities in its recycling and document shredding operation. Those employees have been furloughed.

“All the employees with disabilities depend on our van or public transportation to get to/from work, and we could not meet the social distancing requirement on any transportation option,” Harrup said. “And honestly, not knowing how long the virus truly does live on products, it was simply not worth the risk of our employees’ health.”

Harrup said when the decision was made to close the recycling operation that STEPS notified their largest customers, which included the Town of Farmville, Prince Edward County and Hampden-Sydney College.

According to Harrup, the Town of Farmville offers curbside recycling to its citizens, and they have a cardboard separation ordinance for town businesses. Hampden Sydney College collects and delivers its products to STEPS.

“Without students on campus, their volume has dropped drastically,” Harrup said. “We are so appreciative that the Town of Farmville and Hampden Sydney College understand this plight.”

Farmville Town Manager Scott Davis said the town does not have sufficient space to store all of the recycling material that it collects. So currently, they have to take it to the landfill.

According to Davis, he is currently evaluating emergency procurement for a location to accept recycling from the town until STEPS can open.

Davis also stressed that he did not want residents to stop recycling during this time.

To date, the town averages between 16 to 17 tons of recycling a month or 200 to 210 tons per year. This includes cardboard, paper, plastics, aluminum and glass.

Prince Edward County collects recyclables at their staffed convenience sites located throughout the county.

According to Harrup, there is concern being expressed by residents that the bins are full and how that will affect STEPS and its employees.

“We have provided the county our vendor listing, but I am fearful that should the county citizens press the issue to continue recycling during this unprecedented time, we may never see the county return to our operation,” Harrup said. “The loss of the county’s volume and processing fees may well jeopardize our entire operation.”

According to Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett, the county has been holding the recyclables until they were able to make different arrangements.

“Prince Edward County is committed to providing an opportunity for our citizens to recycle during these unprecedented times,” Bartlett said. 

He said that last week county staff met with the owner of Elite Recycling and mutually developed a short-term arrangement. 

“During the next three months, both the county and Elite will monitor the continuing feasibility of this relationship to both parties,” Bartlett said. “This arrangement will allow our citizens the ability to continue recycling plastic, cardboard and paper.”

According to Bartlett, STEPS did not provide recycling services for metal or tires and there was never a disruption relating to those items.

Even though the STEPS recycling center is closed, Harrup said she and the company are committed to offering employment opportunities for citizens with disabilities and feel that the recycling center is beneficial to everyone.

“Through our recycling and secure document destruction businesses, we bring value not only to our environment by saving space in the landfill, but also through the jobs it creates for employees with disabilities,” Harrup said. “This is truly an unprecedented time in the world, and we ask for the public’s understanding while we ensure the safety and health of our employees with disabilities.”