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Recycling – “Zero-Waste” & Single Stream Methods: Turning Waste to Revenue

November 9, 2009

Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None


Recycling once available off Monroe Street at the City of Sandusky Greenhouse.

By LESLIE KAUFMAN of The New York TImes & Disseminated by The Erie Wire
Published: October 19, 2009

At Yellowstone National Park, the clear soda cups and white utensils are not your typical cafe-counter garbage. Made of plant-based plastics, they dissolve magically when heated for more than a few minutes.

At Ecco, a popular restaurant in Atlanta, waiters no longer scrape food scraps into the trash bin. Uneaten morsels are dumped into five-gallon pails and taken to a compost heap out back.

And at eight of its North American plants, Honda is recycling so diligently that the factories have gotten rid of their trash Dumpsters altogether.

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

The movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere.

“Nobody wants a landfill sited anywhere near them, including in rural areas,” said Jon D. Johnston, a materials management branch chief for the Environmental Protection Agency who is helping to lead the zero-waste movement in the Southeast. “We’ve come to this realization that landfill is valuable and we can’t bury things that don’t need to be buried.”

Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash, dumping 4.6 pounds per person per day, according to the E.P.A.’s most recent figures. More than half of that ends up in landfills or is incinerated.

But places like the island resort community of Nantucket offer a glimpse of the future. Running out of landfill space and worried about the cost of shipping trash 30 miles to the mainland, it moved to a strict trash policy more than a decade ago, said Jeffrey Willett, director of public works on the island.

The town, with the blessing of residents concerned about tax increases, mandates the recycling not only of commonly reprocessed items like aluminum, glass and paper but also of tires, batteries and household appliances.

Jim Lentowski, executive director of the nonprofit Nantucket Conservation Foundation and a year-round resident since 1971, said that sorting trash and delivering it to the local recycling and disposal complex had become a matter of course for most residents.

The complex also has a garagelike structure where residents can drop off books and clothing and other reusable items for others to take home.

The 100-car parking lot at the landfill is a lively meeting place for locals, Mr. Lentowski added. “Saturday morning during election season, politicians hang out there and hand out campaign buttons,” he said. “If you want to get a pulse on the community, that is a great spot to go.”

Mr. Willett said that while the amount of trash that island residents carted to the dump had remained steady, the proportion going into the landfill had plummeted to 8 percent.

By contrast, Massachusetts residents as a whole send an average of 66 percent of their trash to a landfill or incinerator. Although Mr. Willett has lectured about the Nantucket model around the country, most communities still lack the infrastructure to set a zero-waste target.

Aside from the difficulty of persuading residents and businesses to divide their trash, many towns and municipalities have been unwilling to make the significant capital investments in machines like composters that can process food and yard waste. Yet attitudes are shifting, and cities like San Francisco and Seattle are at the forefront of the changeover. Both of those cities have adopted plans for a shift to zero-waste practices and are collecting organic waste curbside in residential areas for composting.

Food waste, which the E.P.A. says accounts for about 13 percent of total trash nationally — and much more when recyclables are factored out of the total — is viewed as the next big frontier.

When apple cores, stale bread and last week’s leftovers go to landfills, they do not return the nutrients they pulled from the soil while growing. What is more, when sealed in landfills without oxygen, organic materials release methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, as they decompose. If composted, however, the food can be broken down and returned to the earth as a nonchemical fertilizer with no methane by-product.

Green Foodservice Alliance, a division of the Georgia Restaurant Association, has been adding restaurants throughout Atlanta and its suburbs to its so-called zero-waste zones. And companies are springing up to meet the growth in demand from restaurants for recycling and compost haulers.

Steve Simon, a partner in Fifth Group, a company that owns Ecco and four other restaurants in the Atlanta area, said that the hardest part of participating in the alliance’s zero-waste-zone program was not training his staff but finding reliable haulers.

“There are now two in town, and neither is a year old, so it is a very tentative situation,” Mr. Simon said.

Still, he said he had little doubt that the hauling sector would grow and that all five of the restaurants would eventually be waste-free.

Packaging is also quickly evolving as part of the zero-waste movement. Bioplastics like the forks at Yellowstone, made from plant materials like cornstarch that mimic plastic, are used to manufacture a growing number of items that are compostable.

Steve Mojo, executive director of the Biodegradable Products Institute, a nonprofit organization that certifies such products, said that the number of companies making compostable products for food service providers had doubled since 2006 and that many had moved on to items like shopping bags and food packaging.

The transition to zero waste, however, has its pitfalls.

Josephine Miller, an environmental official for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., which bans the use of polystyrene foam containers, said that some citizens had unwittingly put the plant-based alternatives into cans for recycling, where they had melted and had gummed up the works. Yellowstone and some institutions have asked manufacturers to mark some biodegradable items with a brown or green stripe.

Yet even with these clearer design cues, customers will have to be taught to think about the destination of every throwaway if the zero-waste philosophy is to prevail, environmental officials say.

“Technology exists, but a lot of education still needs to be done,” said Mr. Johnston of the E.P.A.

He expects private companies and businesses to move faster than private citizens because momentum can be driven by one person at the top.

“It will take a lot longer to get average Americans to compost,” Mr. Johnston said. “Reaching down to my household and yours is the greatest challenge.”

Council OKs Recycling


Recycling once available off Monroe Street at the City of Sandusky Greenhouse.

By Dave Askins

Published: November 7, 2009 by The Ann Arbor Chronicle & Disseminated by The Erie Wire

Single-Stream Recycling

After hearing a presentation at a recent work session about single-stream recycling, the council considered a resolution that approved $3.25 million for an upgrade to the city’s material recovery facility (MRF) and  $102,950 in consulting fees for Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) to implement single-stream recycling. The program would provide residents with a single cart to replace the two totes currently used for curbside collection – one for paper goods and the other for containers. It also includes an incentive program that rewards people for putting out their recycling cart for pickup. [Previous Chronicle coverage: “Work Session: Trains, Trash, and Taxes“]

Public comment on single-stream recycling

Kevin Bolon: A Ph.D student at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, Bolon spoke against the move to single-stream recycling. He reported that he’d spoken with representatives of Westland, a community where single-stream recycling had been implemented, and had not been impressed with the technical capabilities. Ultimately, they have people who do the sorting, with the aid of magnets and electrical currents, he said. He expressed concern that the quality of the recycled goods would suffer and affect the price that the MRF could get for them, citing as an example that office paper from UM could be spoiled and degraded in value.

Bolon expressed skepticism that the barrier to Ann Arborites diverting more of their waste stream away from the landfill was really the need to put their recyclables into two different containers. He questioned whether the ability to implement a reward system was dependent on a single-stream approach. He suggested that a reward system could function based on alternating weekly pickups for containers and paper.

Council deliberations on single-stream recycling

During council deliberations, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked the city’s solid waste coordinator, Tom McMurtrie how confident he was that recycling rates would increase in a single-stream system. McMurtie said that moving to a single-stream system would be accompanied by the ability to process more kinds of materials – almost all types of plastics, with the exception of #3 tubs. What would really boost the recycling numbers, however, was the incentive program, McMurtrie said.

Jim Frey of RSS told the council that average annual weights were now around 400 pounds per household and that in 25 other communities where systems were in place that are similar to the one Ann Arbor was seeking to implement, the per-household figure ranged between 700-1,200 pounds. Hohnke noted that Ann Arbor had a “proud tradition” of being ahead of the curve in the area of recycling, so he asked if the 25 comparable communities included any that had a long tradition of recycling like Ann Arbor. Frey’s answer: Yes. Ann Arbor’s recycling rate was great, he said, but it could be higher.

Hohnke then asked if it was possible to achieve the increased recycling rates without investing in infrastructure upgrades at the MRF: Why can’t we just mix the streams and process the material with the current MRF capabilities? Answer: The anticipated increased volume, together with the mixed stream material, would require better automated sorting equipment. Frey also noted that no other communities are trying to implement a rewards program with a two-tote system.

Hohnke then declared his support for the program, saying it was a small step forward. He contended that it would make lives easier because it wouldn’t be necessary to separate the materials at the household level.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) reported over 100 emails on the topic from constituents with only about 5 of those against it. Those opposing the initiative, she said, were concerned about the degradation of paper quality that could result in diminished sale value of the paper. McMurtrie addressed Smith’s concern by saying that technology has evolved significantly in the last 10-15 years, which allowed the achievement of a 5% residual rate.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked about a concern that #7 plastics aren’t actually worth very much, and wasn’t it better to discourage the creation of them. She wanted to know what would happen to the new kind of  plastics that would now be accepted. McMurtrie explained that it was, of course, always their wish to reduce the amount of waste, but they needed to deal with it once it’s there. Frey reported that there is an emerging market for the material and that it was actually worth more per ton than paper.

Briere asked McMurtrie to address complaints about the carts: (i) storage space is a problem, with some households now expected to make room for a garbage cart, a yard waste cart, and a recycling cart; and (ii) they’re too heavy and unwieldy for some people to manage. McMurtrie said he recognized that there could be space constraints.

Mayor John Hieftje got confirmation from McMurtrie that the blue automated carts that had been rolled out a few years ago for trash collection had, in fact, reduced costs. An apparent increase in cost was due to the increased capital expense incurred on initial investment in the program.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked how the proposed system would affect personnel. Answer: At the MRF, the increased volume would be handled through improvements in automated equipment, so that more material would be processed with about the same number of people. On the collection side, he said, there would be savings in the form of the elimination of one route out of seven.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked for clarification on the rewards program. McMurtrie compared it to a frequent-flyer program – people got points for putting out their carts and credit for the weight collected on the whole route. In other communities, the average annual reward was worth around $240, with a maximum of a little over $500.

The new carts will be available in June/July 2010. The old totes can be recycled.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the contracts necessary to implement a single-stream recycling program.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Aesychlus permalink
    November 21, 2009 4:52 pm

    I am increasing my knowledge of zero waste and recycling. Through work and non-profit affiliation I have become quite active. I have two questions that I hope you can help me with.

    1) Who is taking the lead in refining the single stream approach? I believe that co-mingled loads should be the primary method for disposal and the focus should be developing the processes to recover them at the receiving point. I don’t know a lot about MRF’s but it seems like only a few primary items are recovered and then contamination is still to big an issue to deal with.

    2)Why don’t I ever hear about the revenue generated by the recycled materials? Doesn’t this produce enough revenue, especially metals and glass, to offset collection and sorting costs?The materials that are being recovered are recyclable in addition to the trash haul fees that the average consumer pays.

    Thank you in advance because these two questions have been heavy on my mind for quite some time.

  2. Lisa permalink
    November 24, 2009 3:53 pm

    1) Who is taking the lead in refining the single stream approach? I believe that co-mingled loads should be the primary method for disposal and the focus should be developing the processes to recover them at the receiving point. I don’t know a lot about MRF’s but it seems like only a few primary items are recovered and then contamination is still to big an issue to deal with.

    In the private sector: Allied Waste (formerly BFI, and now Republic) and Rumpke are the large scale waste haulers/recyclers in Ohio. Their MRF’s are single stream. Rumpke has a great video on their web page here is the link: of how their operation works.

    In the public sector, some solid waste districts ( operate MRF’s and some MRDD’s (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) operate MRF’s. Wood County, Hancock County, and Wyandot County are all great examples of solid waste district MRFs. Christie Lane Industries (Huron County’s MRDD) does a great job on a small scale for MRDDs.

    There are also what is called a Dirty MRF which takes recycling a step further and sorts through trash. Public Sector Dirty MRF: Medina County Solid Waste District Private Sector Dirty MRF: Fultz and Son Inc. (Clyde Ohio).

    As far as contamination goes yes that does happen I know that the Allied Waste Facility in Oberlin has less than 10% contamination rate. That is something that will be different at every MRF and they handle differently. Rumpke in Columbus has figured out how to use crushed glass that often contaminates other MRFs and sells it to be turned into insulation. Recycling Facilities also have EPA guidelines in which a certain percentage of the material that comes in the front-end has to be recycled on the back-end. This also may be different per facility.

    2)Why don’t I ever hear about the revenue generated by the recycled materials? Doesn’t this produce enough revenue, especially metals and glass, to offset collection and sorting costs? The materials that are being recovered are recyclable in addition to the trash haul fees that the average consumer pays.

    2008 was a great year and a lot of recyclers and owners of MRFs were making $120 per ton of cardboard, but just like the stock market their values rise and fall. December of 2008, I believe that cardboard dropped to $40 per ton. If they are large scale they have the ability to hold the material until the markets rise. Unfortunately small scale MRFs will try to break even, or most likely take a loss. I think in the future landfills will be obsolete and all materials will carry value, but that’s my opinion. Landfill Engineers often joke about the first half of their lives will be spent building landfills and the second half will be spent mining them for valuable resources.

    Thank you in advance because these two questions have been heavy on my mind for quite some time.

    Your welcome. Please feel free to contact me at the information below if you have any other questions.


    Lisa Beursken, District Coordinator

    Erie County Solid Waste Management District

    Erie County Department of Environmental Services

    554 River Road, P. O. Box 469

    Huron, OH 44839

    419.433.7303, ext. 250
    419.433.6214 fax

  3. January 20, 2010 11:59 pm

    Climate change may look at as one of the greatest threats that we are facing today. It can be a result of human negative activity. It is important nowadays to have a full knowledge on how to conserve and recycle everything in order to save our planet.

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