Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recycling Tip #2.5

No Plastic Grocery Bags... Please.

You know how your vacuum cleaner feels about the random shoelace or blouse string you may encounter? That about sums up how our single stream equipment feels about plastic grocery bags. PLEASE recycle your grocery bags! Please DO NOT place them in your standard recycling bin. While out shopping let your used bags ride along and drop them in the retailers bin (typically as you enter the store). Don't know where to find a collection center for bags?? Visit www.abagslife.com

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Recycling Industry

If you pay attention to the news I am sure that you have heard about the concerns associated with the current recycling markets. Company officials and representatives from a number of the large, nationally owned, waste management corporations have gone on the record stating that times are tough and profits are thin. If you are like me you may not have heard many of these interviews (they just don't play that type of news on Disney channel). I have a vested interest (as we all do) in the state of recycling markets so in this case I've actually made it a point to pay attention. There are lots of discussions of how the recycling markets got into the troubling state that they are presently in and although there is no single reason there is one huge contributor.

I've always hated the "I told you so" types so I'm going to tread lightly... okay, I may still sort of allude to "I told you so". If you scroll back in our historical posts you'll find us sharing our thoughts on the impending trend of single stream collection & processing (this goes a few years back). Being a company with a with a sole focus on recycling the highest quantity of the best possible quality material to be used as a future raw feedstock we value your recyclables.Others may look in the bin and see trash but we see the potential; the products they will become.

Thankfully it seems that the general public is educating themselves more and more and has come to understand that just because you are buying something with a recycled content doesn't mean that you have to give up quality. So many great companies are making wonderful products that are not only good for the consumer but also our environment. As the trend and demand grows companies try to incorporate green practices and eco raw materials more consistently. The downside to this is that at just about that time the single stream "trend" had become the standard. Nearly all curbside and municipal collection had decided that single stream was the easier, best choice for their community. Just as companies began to see the upside the working with a recycled feedstock the quality they started to receive dropped off. Once "trace" contaminants surfaced in higher percentages and new contaminants once unnoticed now clog screens and create production downtime. End users who had charted a path with goals of reaching higher recycled content needed to pull back the reins and slow down the percentage they could use without creating issues with their products. Many end users were left scratching their heads wondering what had changed.

In general recycling is a dirty business; glass bottles break, small amounts of liquid (even when "empty") will leak onto to paper, rain & inclement weather get bins and materials inside wet (and sometimes slimy).  With everyone's zest to recycle more some have decided to ignore the labels on the bins and just throw items in that they "know" can be recycled. They have watched the news or saw a face book feed that spoke of someone making a new product out of an item so they think that at a materials recovery facility they will know what to do with it (plus they don't have time to run to a separate collection site). The solution to some is to mix all the yucky stuff together to make it easier but we've found it just makes it a yuckier mix... for all those who have to try and sort it or reuse it. There may not be a straight path back to dual stream but at the very least we can  do our best to keep the materials that we are recycling clean and contaminate free. Following bin and recycling program instructions are instrumental to a successful program. Just because the items can be recycled doesn't mean the facility that you are taking it to is equipped to handle them. Please do your part and recycle, but do so with care!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Why ya gotta be so mean?


 I am by no means the shining light of positivity. I would LOVE to be known for that characteristic but that isn't my reality. In fact, I've needed to defend by comments many times by explaining that "I'm not pessimistic, I'm really just realistic". That being said, I have recently found myself feeling so frustrated by comments that I have heard or overheard people make recently. 

When there is positive, happy news about responsible environmental choices made by companies or citizens (that created a real impact in our environment) instead of people rejoicing and providing their well wishes they do the opposite, they criticise. Whether pointing out the areas that could benefit from additional changes, why the results aren't as great as written, how they would do things different, or why the company as a whole is awful; none of it is productive. We need to understand that things will not always be perfect and that additional steps might need to be made to make things better but can't we encourage and celebrate the little successes? 

As it has been said, "every great journey starts with the first steps", and we need to celebrate when the steps are leading down the right pathway. The critics only push people to avoid the path all together. Regardless of their motivation if they are doing the right thing we say thank you, good work, and please keep it up. Today we celebrate our achievements, tomorrow we encourage for new successes. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Earth Day, Week, Month... Year.


We love Earth Day. 

It reminds those who care but sometimes forget that they need to keep our environment and planet healthy and safe for the generations that will follow in our footsteps (those who currently don't have the power or voice to protect it themselves). 

It motivates those who care but sometimes get caught up in their own lives and forget the true impact their personal decisions have on everyones future. 

It celebrates the careful selections that each person makes when they focus on what their choices mean to others and our Earth. 

It teaches children that of all the "stuff" that they possess some are absolutely irreplaceable. 

We have only one planet for all our futures. 




Friday, April 3, 2015

Soakin' up the sun


Around here (in PA) it finally feels like Spring is here! It's been a long winter but now it's time to soak up the sun... well after the April showers pass that it. Wishing everyone a happy Spring and a blessed Easter.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Single Stream Processing Results... a little over a year in.

We are biased. There is no way around it, our company founders and current board members have been in the recycling industry pretty much their entire lives. They have some pretty solid feelings on single stream but as I've suggested, many times now, the people had spoken and we needed to make the change. The change that communities, companies, and residents alike were all requesting are demanding. We reluctantly purchased the equipment, increased the staff, and had our sales team reach out to the haulers and local businesses... we successfully process single stream materials. It's been more than a full year now and we have some additional insight, which I don't think shocked any of us.

1. Increased volume does not equal increased recycling. This is another topic I've covered on this blog before, so many townships or companies advertise that since beginning single stream collection they have witnessed a significant increase in the recycling participation. The only problem is that many times they forget to publish (or most times even look into) their residual or waste rate. Out of the additional tons of material that are collected for recycling what percentage ends up downgraded to garbage, ultimately finding it's way to a landfill (and potentially taking a little recyclable material with it)?

2.The less that people need think about their recycling typically results in less thought about what they are placing in their recycling bin. Everyone's lives seem to be more complicated than they desire. In an attempt to make things more simple people try to multi-task, which sometimes works very well... other times... not so much. Full containers, food waste, or grease soaked pizza boxes just cannot be recycled in a standard recycling stream. Even great materials recovery facilities (MRF's) have limitations and just because something is recyclable does not mean that it is collected or processed in your area. On the other hand, some items that we receive make it pretty clear that no thought was given at all when the items were tossed in the blue bin; diapers, pet waste, tires, and mattresses are some pretty clear recycling bin violations.

3. It's all about how it's packed. Bags, bags, bags... I place my recycling in bags because throwing it loose in our recycling bin creates a gross, stinky bin (and yes, I rinse my recyclables). An even larger reason for using bags is that we do not have curbside collection where I live (we are rural). I need to transport our household recycling to our local collection center. For us, our size vehicle, and the large amount of material we recycle it is essential that we place our recycling in bags (but boy do I know what a pain bags are). Whenever possible skip the bags. The bags that get broken during transport get wrapped around the sorting screens and require frequent cleanings (which means more time and labor). The bags that survive need to be opened by hand (which slows the entire process) and are typically thrown away (none of these options are great). If you can skip the bags, please do.

4. Broken glass doesn't make good toilet paper and shredded paper doesn't make good plastic pellet. Once you mix some things together there is just no separating them (at least completely). Weather does play a GIANT role in this one but once paper or plastic gets wet and glass breaks no amount of sorting gets all the glass out of the paper or plastic. These unwanted passengers are going along for the ride and creating challenges along the recycling pathway. These unwanted hitchhikers make the reuse of items more challenging and have left end users looking for ways to combat their presence.

5. Weather can be brutal. Here in Pennsylvania, we don't live in a dry, constant climate and that creates some hurdles for single stream processing. In spring and summer we hit rainy spells and the material gets wet (wet material clogs our screens and allows contaminants to cling). In fall and winter we run into freezing, snow, and ice which leads to frozen and wet material (that clogs our screens and allows contaminants to cling). Even material that is sorted perfectly (which is an awesome exception) can be challenging to process when weather decides to step in and play a role. The ideal situation would be that all recyclables stay covered and dry but unfortunately, we know that is not always an option.

6. The recycling program is only as good as its participants. Recycling coming out of two homes (even if both are single stream) can vary greatly depending on who is monitoring the bin and its contents. My mom used to run all the recyclables through our dish washer.. we certainly do not need that level of cleanliness (and in order for water preservation I don't really recommend it) but rinsing your bottles or jars clean does help and eliminates peanut butter or chocolate syrup from sticking to once clean paper. Again, follow the instructions of what is and is not accepted by the local collection center; although recyclable the facility your material goes to might not be able to effectively process the material and instead throws it out.

7. Our "product" quality has paid the price. Our facility and staff has always prided ourselves in providing the highest quality recyclables or raw material for end users. We continue to strive for the highest quality material possible but since processing single stream our material has undergone a real, measurable downgrade. Newspaper and office paper  (grades that we used to frequently produce) rarely exists and much of what we now sell to end users is a slightly dirtier combination of the two; mixed paper (a lower grade paper product). It is still being recycled (so that's all good but the end users/products are more limited).

Please remember, having goals of a waste free house are commendable, and achievable if done correctly. Before beginning to throw new items into the recycling bin, be armed with the knowledge of what your location collection center accepts.  Even if the desire of a household is to recycle every possible item (YAY!), placing items in the bin that the recycling facility cannot handle doesn't mean it'll be recycled. If it is not accepted, collected, or processed at your collection site it will likely be thrown away (no matter what the bottom of the bottle says). Which means despite our best intentions, if local collection or drop off instructions are not followed, it will still end up in the landfill and take other items (that could potentially be recycled) with it. Plastic grocery bags, produce bags, toilet paper plastic wrap, and other like items can be recycled (easily) BUT this recycling needs to happen by taking them to the proper collection site (abagslife.com) which you can find online in your area. It is very important to know what your local collection center is able to take and process. No matter how frustrating, if they cannot handle the item, it is not a good idea to place it in your bin. Do some research,  find out what your local collection center takes, and research where you can take the other items that they do not. If you cannot locate a local center that will take these "other" items consider eliminating them from your shopping list.

So, those are our thoughts.. what are yours?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Don't give up.

I pride myself in trying to make environmentally friendly choices and decisions. I try to avoid things that are used once and tossed. I was determined that as my son started 1st grade and was packing his lunches and snacks daily that we were not going to use the traditional throw away sandwich bags. I bought a bunch of reusable snack bags with cool designs that he could be proud to show off. 

We had a bit of a tough start to the school year and it wasn't made any easier by complaints that his sandwich was a mushy mess by the time the lunch bell rang. Darnit.. my well thought out plan didn't work quite as I anticipated. So, determined to keep at it I put a standard sandwich bag on the outside and the reusable inside and began the war with my son.. complete with begging, pleading, idol threats and  "DO NOT THROW ME AWAY" signs. Then.. as I was doing some shopping I stumbled upon these bags.. and I must say.. YAY, they work!! 



These baggies remind me more of the throw away bag but much more durable. You can wash them out and the insides don't get stained by mustard, jelly, or other lunch staples. The bottoms are gusseted so they can hold more and they seal snugly to keep the sandwich dry and the snacks fresh (chips would get stale in an hour in the cloth ones we had with a plastic liner). Plus, they are a fraction of the cost of others on the market and I've gotten comments on how cute they are.

I do love these baggies and (for us) they've been a heaven sent but on a bigger picture, I'm not necessary speaking just about these bags in particular but more about the idea of them. Don't give up.. if you make a "green goal" to rid your life of a throw away item but after taking the plunge it just doesn't quite work as you had hoped don't give up.. reevaluate and try again. We need to remember that big changes start with one step and each step has a large impact.

Recycling Tip #3 - Labeled for Success

PAPER RECYCLING ONLY. 

"What am I supposed to throw in here?".. the last question that you want someone asking when they are trying to rid themselves of waste.

Ah.. people are looking at me.. quick, chuck it in the closest bin

To avoid the confusion and increase participation be sure that you clearly label each and every bin. Make sure that everyone knows what goes in the bin (garbage, recycling) and what type of each if applicable (paper only, plastic only, compost, etc.) as well as what does not (please keep out garbage, food waste, plastic, etc). Recycling bins and waste bins should be put in areas that are easily accessible and in the common route of travel. If we make recycling just as easy as tossing the material in the garbage more people will do it.