Down Atkinson Boulevard in Newport News, residents drive all the way to the end of the winding road to reach the front gates of an environmental essentiality. Right in their own backyard — hidden behind trees, hills, buildings and an overpass — is the Recovery Operations Center (ROC) of the City of Newport News.
“The idea [and purpose] of the Recovery Operation Center is to be a convenience center for our residents,” says Daniel A. Baxter, business recycling coordinator for the City of Newport News. Following his retirement from the United States Navy, Baxter has been working for the city for 16 years, and he serves as president of the Virginia Recycling Association.
ROC offers basic recycling services, electronic collection, appliance recycling and occasional hazardous waste collection. Its central focus and goal is overall resource recovery, achieved in several different ways. It also serves as a production center for mulch and compost products available for sale, allowing raw materials (such as leaves) to turn into a valuable product. Visitors can see the process on site; multiple massive piles separate the different stages of preparation.
The Center mainly serves those who live in Newport News, but Baxter clarifies that residents of other cities and counties are welcome to use the compound’s services. This includes condo and apartment dwellers who may not have recycling in their complexes. Baxter estimates this facility is used by about 250 residents each day, and these services are necessary to the Earth’s endurance.
The property that expands beyond the chain-link gates abounds with biodiversity, including various bird species, deer, coyotes and (in Baxter’s words) “horseflies the approximate size of the state of Texas.” They truly embody the idea of “reclaiming the land.” Behind the massive mountain is Stoney Run Park and a lake.
Baxter says that the landfill on Atkinson Boulevard (which was officially shut down 23 years ago) is “about 3/8 of a mile deep and about half a mile long. It’s 25 feet underground and 79 feet from the top, which makes it taller and bigger than Mount Trashmore [in Virginia Beach].” A cap of three feet of clay sits just above the trash heap hidden below the long grass. Keeping the area level remains a “constant maintenance issue,” which Baxter attributes to erosion and “slumping.”
Generating natural gas is a feat of which all landfills are capable. The gas recovery system at the Recovery Operations Center has been retired, meaning that it no longer pulls gas from the landfill to convert into energy, but gas well vents remain sticking out of the hill. When functional, the system previously provided heat to the nearby Mary Passage Middle School and Denbigh Community Center.
When asked how community residents can help make a positive impact upon the programs offered by the Center, Baxter says simply, “Participate.” The Center’s outreach extends into many sections of the community. Students from various universities and schools take trips to the facility and tour the grounds. Rotating opportunities are available throughout the year.
One of the litter programs, “Let’s Can It,” lets interested “cleaner-uppers” sign out litter clean-up kits at the local library, after which they can proceed to clean up any area they choose. Other program opportunities from the ROC include public works academies, Clean the Bay Day, Adopt a Spot and the Great American Clean Up.
“One of the new initiatives we’re looking at is to take glass out of single-stream recycling, because it’s a contamination issue,” Baxter says. The upcoming Purple Bin Program, or Purple Can NN, will aim to address the problem of glass bottles often doomed to sit in landfills. (The Oyster Pointer interview marked the first time these plans were shared outside of this division.)
The Center’s staff includes 15 people. “Everybody here does an excellent job,” Baxter says. He encourages residents to call 311 and leave positive compliments, particularly “if you see someone in the city doing something good.” He describes himself as an advocate for mentorship and finds it effective to engage individuals “where they are.”
Beyond his dedication to working to maintain the health of our only planet, Baxter is married and speaks proudly of his five accomplished grandchildren.
“If you want to change the world, you’ve got to be part of the change,” Baxter says. “The only person you can control is the person in the mirror.”
TO THE POINT:
Recovery Operations Center, City of Newport News
Address: 520 Atkinson Blvd., Newport News, VA 23608
Phone: Office: 757-886-7612