This article on marketing recyclables is the fourth in a year-long series based on the book Approaches to Imple-menting Solid Waste Recycling Facilities.
There is more to recycling than simply collecting the materials for processing. To close recycling's loop, manufacturers must use re- covered materials in new products.
Most recycling directors will agree that the lack of markets for recycled products is a barrier to their programs' success. Brokers or end users of processed materials are critical to recycling since they help to subsidize the overall costs of recycling programs. However, over the past three decades, the recycling movement has waxed and waned with the shifts in supply and demand. Whether it's waste paper, corrugated cardboard, glass containers or scrap metal, the supply and demand of recyclable materials varies tremendously.
Waste Paper Waste paper, a significant portion of the solid waste stream, is bought and sold on the basis of grade and, consequently, prices vary accordingly. Grades of paper range from low grade, such as newspaper and corrugated, to high grade, such as writ- ing, printing and computer paper. Mixing different grades lowers the quality by reducing the remanufacturing value.
Paper and paperboard products are distinguished by their physical properties. Generally, paper products' physical properties depend on the pulping method and the fiber length, which determines strength, stiffness, opacity and printability. As the ratio of long fibers to short fibers increases, so does the strength. However, more strength also means a reduction in surface smoothness, a disadvantage in printing. Conse-quently, packaging materials contain long fibers while printing and writing papers include short fibers.
The United States is the world's largest producer and consumer of paper. Approximately 700 mills in the U.S. produce paper products; 200 of these mills use only waste paper to man-ufacture products and an additional 300 mills use 15 to 25 percent re-cycled material.
Old Newspapers Bought and sold as a commodity, old newspapers (ONP) is a large portion of the residential waste stream. To its end users, ONP is a raw ma-terial and the supplements, magazines and tabloids are considered contaminants. End users also consider whether the material is wet or dry, baled or loose.
Other paper products such as magazines, telephone books, glossy inserts and junk mail present additional problems. During the re-cycling process, ONP is reduced to a pulp by adding warm water and de-inking the chemicals. Next, the pulp is washed and screened to remove rags, glass, plastics and dirt. This process separates the clay coating from the paper. The loss could be 40 percent of the original fiber's weight.
In the re-pulping process, the ad-hesives used in bindings create latex balls, which cannot be removed by screening. This can cause spots on the finished product or may cause the paper to stick together in a roll.
In 1991 and 1992, U.S. mills in-creased ONP capacity by 450,000 tons annually. This increase has had little affect on ONP's market price because of low demand for recycled newsprint in the early 1990s (see graph on page 28). This was due to a weak economy, which produced smaller newspapers and fewer subscribers and advertisers. To increase ONP's use, some states mandated recycled content requirements for paper products.
High Grade Paper High grade paper, or office white paper (OWP), is made of long, high-quality fibers. Its value and recyclability depend on if it's separated by grades based on fiber length and if it's free of all unwanted material. Different cleaning and/or de-inking systems produce different paper products. As a result, what is considered a contaminant at one mill may not be considered a contaminant at another.
OWP's markets include low-quality OWP and high-quality OWP. Low-quality OWP is used to produce pa-perboard products and packaging. These products are often a mixture of high grades as well as other waste paper. Low-quality OWP, which helps maintain the quality of the end product, can be introduced into many existing processing facilities.
High-quality OWP is used for printing and writing paper as well as tissue and market pulp. In the past, high grade paper markets were es-tablished for pre-consumer white and colored ledger although a small amount of post-consumer scrap also was bought and sold. Different types of high grade waste paper range from $30 to $200 per ton.
Voluntary office recycling programs continue to grow even as the value of the OWP plummeted from a weak economy and an oversupply. Companies encourage recycling programs to reduce their collection fees.
Glass Containers Glass containers are produced in brown (amber), green and clear (flint); clear has the most applications and is in greatest demand.
Products such as cookingware and windows are considered contaminants due to their chemical composition or heat-resistant properties.
Manufacturers require collected glass to be separated by color, since the material is used to make glass of the same color. In the U.S., 75 glass container manufacturing plants serve as the primary markets for re-cyclable glass containers. Other secondary markets include road construction; filler aggregate in storm drain and French drain systems; the fiberglass industry; glass beads for reflective paints; and abrasives.
In recent years, glass recycling has increased as a result of litter reduction, energy conservation and natural resources preservation. Although the natural resources used to manufacture glass - sand, limestone and soda ash - are abundant, the long distance between each material supply leads to high transportation costs. Therefore, using recycled glass helps to conserve oil and gas.
Glass container prices are determined by color, quality, and whether it is crushed or whole. Prices are paid depending on the material's proximity to glass manufacturers.
Probably the greatest influence on cullet and bottle prices in the late 80s was the supply of new material from communities with mandatory recycling programs. As more communities implemented recycling programs, a new flood of glass caused prices to decrease.
With cullet prices heading downward in most parts of the country, some communities are considering removing glass containers from their recycling programs. However, the a-voided tipping fees may outweigh the collection and processing costs.
Aluminum Cans The aluminum can, or UBC (used beverage can), continues to dominate the beverage can packaging market with an average share of more than 95 percent. Although most UBCs are baled before being shipped to processors, two of the lar-gest recyclers of aluminum beverage cans receive loose, flattened beverage cans to inspect for contamination. Highly contaminated shipments are returned to the shipper.
Mandatory recycling programs saturated the aluminum market with UBCs. As a result, the aluminum industry, which was operating at near-capacity levels, could not purchase the excess aluminum and market prices dropped.
The aluminum industry has established aluminum buy-back centers and provides UBC processing equipment and transportation to those interested in recycling.
In the past few years, secondary smelters and exporters have begun to purchase UBCs from smaller sources such as small communities and individuals. This has driven UBC's market price from an industry high of 76 cents per pound in early 1989 to the current 25 to 40 cents per pound.
Plastics Plastic resins are made by combining synthetic materials such as oil and natural gas in a polymerizing process. The molecular structure of each resin gives the material unique qualities. Today, an estimated 200 types of resins are used to produce plastic products.
Plastics recycling has been hindered by problems with identifying each resin. However, the Society of Plastics introduced a voluntary coding system which appears on the bottom of many plastic containers in the U.S.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a strong, lightweight form of poly-ester used for soft drink and liquor bottles and other food and non-food containers. Recycled PET is used to make soft drink bottles, other containers, fiberfill in jackets and sleeping bags and carpet fibers.
The two types of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottle grade materials include homo-polymer and co-polymer. With a stiffer molecular structure, the homo-polymer HDPE (blow molded) material is used for dairy, water and juice bottles. The co-polymer HDPE (injection molded) has a more flexible molecular structure and is chemically more resistant to bottle contents such as detergents and household cleaners. These HDPE types are incompatible and cannot be mixed together.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is flexible, chemically-resistant and costs less than the other materials. It is mainly used in flexible bags and piping ma-terials, however it also has been used for food jars and bottles. Poly-vinyl chloride has limited thermal stability and quickly degrades when processed.
Currently, the best plastics markets are for separated plastic compounds. PET soda bottles and HDPE milk, juice and water bottles are the most commonly recycled post-consumer plastics.
Collected plastics require trained workers to manually sort the plastics by material type and color. In fear of PVC contamination, many plastic processing centers hesitate to purchase post-consumer PET from operations that use untrained sorters.
Recycling programs across the nation have produced a glut of reusable PET and HDPE plastics for the plastic resin markets. As a re-sult, prices for recyclable plastics have fallen over the past several years.