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Earth Day: Reducing Home Energy Costs and Recycling Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Earth Day: Reducing Home Energy Costs and Recycling

Earth Day is coming up and you can find out how to celebrate year-round on Thursday, April 19 at 10 a.m. in an online chat with Environmental Coordinator Kambiz Agazi and Recycling Manager Pamela Gratton. Ask about saving money and energy in the home, what and where you can recycle and other environment-focused questions.

Pamela Gratton : Welcome to the Earth Day live chat.  We are here to talk about recycling and energy savings.  My name is Pamela Gratton, Fairfax County Recycling Manager, and I am here with Kambiz Agazi, Environmental and Energy Coordinator with Fairfax County.

anna p : Any good volunteer project for earth day that are good for kids? Mine are 5 and 8.

Pamela Gratton : There are good opportunities for children to volunteer at the county's Earth Day/Arbor Day event on April 28th at the Fairfax County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax , VA

Visit the Clean Fairfax website for volunteer information

Anonymous User : Is the largest amount of heat and air conditioning lost through the attic? What is the best method of putting insolation in the attic to help save on energy costs? What products work best and what insolation level? If this is not the highest energy consuming place in the home where is and what can be done to mitigate the loss? I am looking for big bang for the bucks spent.

Kambiz Agazi : First, let me say this all depends on the age and build quality of the home, but in general, there is no area of the home that is ignored more than the attic. Yet, there is also no place in the home that could benefit more from energy improvements. Inadequate levels of insulation can account for as much as 40% of heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer (ref. Department of Energy) due to conduction, convection, and radiation. Because of older and now outdated building codes, many homes built in Northern Virginia before 1980 do not have adequate levels of insulation to meet today's minimum standard (R38).

Adding additional insulation to your home will save you money by saving energy and make your home more comfortable and healthy. The minimum amount of insulation for the attic based on today's code is R-38; however, both the DOE and EPA recommend a minimum insulation value of R-49 plus a layer of Radiant Barrier. You should consult with a licensed professional contractor regarding insulation types and options available as individual homes should be evaluated based on specific circumstances.

For more energy-saving tips, visit the Fairfax County Environment website at

Janine : When will Fairfax County be able to recycle hardcover books? My residential trash collector (American) will take hardback books along with other stream recycling items. But Fairfax County recycling will not. The library must throw out discarded hardback books in the dumpster.

Pamela Gratton :

All recyclables collected in Fairfax County (and neighboring areas) are sent to a privately-owned recyclables processing facility.  At the processing facility, all recyclables that are collected together are separated into individual types of materials and then sold to companies that will use the separated recyclables to manufacture new products.  Recent improvements in recyclables processing equipment will now allow for hardback books to be collected for recycling. If your trash collector is providing single-stream collection of recyclables, you may put hardback books in the recycling container.

Fairfax County encourages residents to donate books for reuse rather than recycling them.  The Fairfax County Library system will accept popular title books in good condition through their Friends of the Library program (see link below).

Residents can also donate books to a non-profit organization and several are listed on the county’s website at:

Another option is to donate books to Reading Tree, a non-profit with the mission of delivering books to disadvantaged children.  They have collection boxes throughout Fairfax County and their website is provided below.

Gwen : Urban agriculture, as an environmental initiative that is meant to reduce waste associated with our food system, is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas across the county. What is happening in Fairfax County regarding urban agriculture? Do you think the county will change the rules limiting backyard poultry to property owners with 2 acres or more?

Kambiz Agazi : This question can be best answered by the Department of Planning and Zoning Administration Division. They can be reached by calling 703-324-1314 (TTY 711) or emailing

Anonymous User : What Earth Day activities are going on in Fairfax?

Kambiz Agazi : There are a variety of activities going on in the county this year, including plant swaps, community cleanups and the annual Earth Day/Arbor Day celebration at the Government Center. For more events, visit the county's Earth Day webpage at

E : I'm inside town of Herndon and we have single stream recycling, but even when I look at the flyer/handout as to what is 'accepted', I still find myself with questions as to what can & cannot be recycled. Examples of things that I've been unsure of recently include: waxed cardboard food packaging from the freezer (sausages come in these); unmarked plastic bags - thicker ones from frozen foods, thinner ones from produce; ziploc bags, unmarked midweight plastic when it's attached to cardboard boxes (think stuff in the target toy aisle - barbie packaging, doll packaging with cardboard backs and plastic "windows"), twist ties (if they're just paper and aluminum, are they recyclable), non-zipper "old school" food storage bags, plastic wrap from food - if it's 'reasonably clean'; lids on plastic drink bottles/gatorade botles, pizza boxes, pizza boxes with some cheese "oil" residue? (is styrofoam still a 'no')? if you know the answer, thanks in advance Emma

Pamela Gratton :

Plastics recycling can be confusing but basically, the number inside of the recycling symbol identifies what kind of plastic it is, i.e., its chemical formula.  So when plastics are collected for recycling, they all have to be processed where they are separated back into their individual type of plastic.  This must be done in order for the recycled plastic to meet the quality requirements and specifications of the company that purchases the recycled plastic so that it can be turned into new product. 

Most of the recycled plastics processing is done by hand, that is, it is manually sorted.  And because there are so many different types of plastics (including blends of plastics), the vast majority of plastics processing (separation) is done manually  based on the shape of the container.  We know that clear plastic bottles with necks are made from plastic no. 1.  We know that colored plastic bottles and milk jugs are made from plastic no. 2 .  Both of these containers are easy to identify by sight.  Now that wide-mouth containers are widely used, there are companies that want to by this type of plastic (usually plastic no. 5) so you can recycle wide mouth containers.  They are also easy to identify by sight so they can be separated from other recyclables at the processing facility.

With respect to plastic bags and plastic film (including Barbie containers), there are many issues associated with these types of plastics.  While they can be recycled, they are very difficult to collect.  If bags are not bundled, they can easily become a source of litter.  But the real problem occurs when the plastics go the recyclables processing facility.  They can very easily get wrapped around the many moving conveyor belts and other turning equipment in the processing facility.  It is widely documented that plastic bags and film have been responsible for taking down the equipment in several recycling processing facilities resulting in lost productivity and repair costs.  Therefore, the recycling processor has told the managers of recycling programs in all of northern VA that it will no longer accept plastic bags for recycling.  While we realize that we cannot prevent residents from placing recyclables in plastic bags, the recycling processors cannot and will not process plastic film in their facilities.  Local grocery stores have been willing to collect the bags.   They send the bags directly to  manufacturers without the need for the bags/film to be processed at a recycling processing facility.

For additional details on plastics recycling, please visit the the Association of Post-Consumer Plastic Recyclers.

Styrofoam is very difficult to recycle because there are limited markets (that is, no one wants to buy it), there are no manufacturers within a reasonable distance to the county that can use the material and because it is so lightweight, it is very expensive to transport.  It is important to note here that Fairfax County does not landfill its waste.  For the past 22 years, Fairfax County has combusted waste for power generation at its waste-to-energy facility in Lorton, VA.  The plastics that are not recycled in the traditional sense are recycled into energy at the waste-to-energy facility where we generate about 80 megawatts of power.

With respect to paper recycling, we always suggest “clean paper that tears”.   Most coatings on paper boxes can be removed with advanced pulping technologies at paper mills.  With respect to  pizza boxes with grease, we still suggest that these be disposed of with the trash.  Gable-top containers like milk and juice containers are no longer coated with wax which interferes with the paper recycling process; the coating now is actually plastic and these containers can be recycled, rinse and leave the lid on.

With respect to items that are made of two different types of materials, i.e., twist ties, they should be disposed of since there is no feasible technique to separate them.

The recycling processors are now requesting that lids on bottles be kept on because of the new processing technologies.  The first thing that happens at a recycling processing facility is that the materials move over a shaking screen.  This is intended to remove the broken glass.  But the holes in the screens are big enough to allow the caps from bottles and jugs to fall through the holes and therefore contaminate the glass.  The plastic that the cap is made from is a different plastic than the plastic the bottle is made from.  But, again due to advances in technology, the bottles are ground up and sent to tank of water where their different densities makes one float while the other sinks.  And then the plastics can be separated so that they can be sold to a manufacturer that can make new product from that type of plastic. 

Sorry for the detailed explanation, but we think it is important for residents to understand why some items can be recycled while other can’t.

Kambiz Agazi : Thanks for joining us today. Don't forget to stop by Fairfax County's 2012 Earth Day/Arbor Day Celebration on Saturday, April 28, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center. Document shredding, community cleanup, Urban Forestry workshops and tree walks, Arbor Day tree planting, wildlife shows, plus exhibits, games and fun! For event schedule and more information visit