Friday, July 15, 2016

No mixed feelings here.

This article in Waste Advantage Magazine discusses the idea of single bin collection (not to be confused with single stream collection). Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably they are vastly different (pay attention to context) and ask for clarification.

Single bins collection means that all materials that are leaving your home or business (garbage & recycling) will go in the same single bin. These mixed up, highly contaminated materials will go to what is known as a dirty MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) and the staff will be tasked with first sorting out food waste, dirty diapers, feminine products, coffee grinds, and lots of other highly unappealing items from the "recycling". After they've raked out whatever garbage they can they will attempt to salvage  "clean" recyclable items. Sorters will try to sort the paper, bottles, cans, & glass that remain so it might be clean enough to be reused.

It's been said that single bin collection is a great idea because:

1. It will increase recycling participation ... it's so easy anyone can do it.

2. It eliminates recycling "confusion".

3. It saves money on transportation & other program costs.

What do we say?

We say that single bin collection in an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea! We heard the same type of claims made about single stream recycling. We were all told what a great impact it would have on recycling participation and program costs. We were told that it would be groundbreaking for the recycling industry. It was... unfortunately not in a positive way. As nearly every facility has transitioned to single stream recycling collection (demanded by the public) recyclers are struggling to efficiently sort highly contaminated products. End users are fighting their own struggle of how to effectively use material that although sorted still bares the battle scars of being all mixed up. Plastic processors combat removing tiny glass pieces, paper mills need to overcome small metal pieces, glass, and plastic.The intermingling of these materials can never quite be undone. These recycled raw materials have been less valuable and it happened at a time when fuel prices were low. The financial benefit of choosing recycled content ingredients for the manufacturing process was minimal (as it also became less consistent in quality).

Residential rates (the percentage of "recyclable material" that enters the facility which is contaminated and must leave as trash) has soared. Our own facility which maintained a residual rate of under 2.5% for all our years in operation (that's over 70 years) experienced a climb to over 6%.
Recyclers across the board are fighting to survive and residents, townships, businesses, and institutions across the board are feeling the trickle down effects. When it costs a recycling facility significantly more to sort and process the material there is only so much they can absorb before they are required to either pass the cost along or fail to be a successful business.  The troubling part is that the odds of turning back the clock and collecting material like we used to (paper with paper, commingle containers together) is nearly impossible once a community begins mixing it all together. The good news is that with a bit more effort on the end of the person placing the material in the bin we can salvage recycling and begin to again make a clean, desireable product. It'll take education and a little desire to make things better. So with all this being said,  you may be wondering why in the world did the industry decide that single stream recycling was a good idea?

Well, because some of the larger waste companies and others in industry had made some claims:

1. It will increase recycling participation ... it's so easy anyone can do it.

2. It eliminates recycling "confusion".

3. It saves money on transportation & other program costs.

Do you see the irony?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Recycling Tip#4 - Please follow instructions!

We know that you've been hearing, seeing, and learning about the amazing amount of things that can be recycled into something new. It's such a waste to throw these recyclable items into a landfill when they could be used as a raw material. The idea of recycling excites us, that is what we do!

The downside to learning the capabilities of recycling is only hearing a portion of the story. While MANY, MANY items are recyclable (claims have been made recently that about 80% of all waste) it must be recycled correctly. Cigarette butts may be reuse able, juice pouches have been a raw material, Grocery bags can be made into decking boards, electronic scrap may become new components but if these items are received at our Hamburg, PA facility they will likely end up the same place they would've it you threw them away. Even worse than my last statement... there is a very good chance that a few cans, bottles, and jars may also be thrown away with them because they became contaminated.

We know this recycling thing can be super complicated. There is no one ruling body and since everyone has slightly different equipment, end users, licenses, processes, and technology the lists of what is and is not recyclable varies (sometimes greatly). The only solid thing that we can build the foundation of recycling on is knowledge. You may not know what the next town over can accept but know what your local site does. Know what is allowed in your bin and most importantly what is not. Getting the material in the bin (although essential) is only the very first step. More material in the recycling bin does not necessarily mean more material recycled... unless you are following the bin labels and program guidelines.