RECYCLING PROGRAMS ALWAYS FACE unpredictable commodity prices and unmarketable materials — in addition to any economic woes. Yet in 2003 there also seems to be increasing frustration among manufacturers and haulers. At issue is the wide variety of materials, such as plastics, that are produced, as well as discrepancies in how recyclables are collected.
Still, when Waste Age (WA) recently spoke with a panel of recycling and materials recovery facility (MRF) managers, they remained optimistic, especially as the economy improves and e-waste comes down the pike. As one participant says, “Recycling is intelligent, particularly when you take a long-term view.”
Our roundtable participants include:
Terry Horst, operations manager for the MinnKota Recycling facility in Fargo, N.D.;
John Oranje, operations manager of the Marin Resource Recovery Center, operated by Marin Sanitary Co. (both located in San Rafael, Calif).
Maurice Quillen, general manager of the new Recycle Central facility in San Francisco (operated by San Francisco-based Sanitary Fill Co., a Norcal Waste subsidiary); and
John Yingling, resource recovery manager for the Lycoming County, Pa., MRF.
WA: How is the economy affecting your business?
Yingling: The global economy has had minimal impact on our system in terms of municipal and residential collection, which includes a curbside and drop-off program. The volatility of the OCC (old corrugated cardboard) markets has made income forecasting challenging.
Horst: I am surprised, in light of the poor economy, that domestic pricing for recyclable material is fair. We saw a generation drop in February and March, but it appears to have rebounded during the last two weeks of April. The banking and insurance business sectors have taken a tougher posture with the recycling industry. I see this continuing into 2004. Thus, we are selective in our capital expenditures and how we grow our business.
Quillen: The total volume of materials we collect in San Francisco is down approximately 9 percent from 2001, which we attribute to the recession. No one can predict the future. However, because the city is a tourist destination, we expect a return of visitors and associated business in the next few years.
Oranje: It's not affecting us at all. Due to Proposition 13 [which capped property tax rates], people are doing a lot of remodeling, and we don't see a slow-up in the garbage can.
WA: What advice would you give to haulers?
Yingling: Standardization of collection procedures and materials collected would enhance the operation. I recommend that receiving-mill specifications be provided to generators of MOP (mixed office paper), OCC and newsprint to attempt to receive the best marketable product.
Horst: Recyclers and haulers need to work collectively to understand the obstacles that face each business to get the desired results of low operating expenses and a fair market value. In this mixture is an education process on why mills require [certain] quality sort standards. When all parties understand each other's roles collectively, desired results can be achieved.
Oranje: My recommendation is that the dirtier the load, the less we should pay haulers for the load. You also need to get local jurisdictions to back you and make sure the product has a market.
Quillen: We collect the majority of recyclables we process. Our drivers and office staff work with customers to reinforce guidelines for recycling programs. San Francisco is the first large city in the nation to initiate citywide collection of food scraps for composting. Our single-stream program makes recycling convenient for people to recycle. The citywide recycling rate is 52 percent, an achievement in a city with little yard trimmings.
WA: Will recycling change?
Yingling: Mandates for curbside recycling in selected Pennsylvania municipalities need to be revisited to meet changes in demographics and consumer behavior. More products can be collected and transported via full-service drop-off recycling than by curbside collection, which is manpower-intensive, weather dependent and seasonal, for some products.
Horst: Recycling will continue in the direction that started early last year. We will see continued emphasis on recyclers forming alliances and the concept of single-stream recycling, requiring larger MRFs as hubs and the transportation of material over greater distances becoming the spokes. E-cycling will play a larger role in the next five years among large or specialized MRF operations.
Oranje: We're going to have more recyclables because of e-waste — which used to end up in the landfills.
Quillen: Several major cities, New York for example, are pulling away from recycling. San Francisco has a model program and has set a goal of achieving 75 percent recycling citywide by 2010.
WA: How could manufacturers make it is easier for you to process their products?
Yingling: The computer hardware industry is a prime example of a member of the manufacturing sector that needs to look at product packaging as well as safe and efficient — and cost-effective — recycling of their products.
Horst: Manufacturers should consider the environmental impact of their products. They can consult with end-markets or associations to get a picture of the process required to recycle new products.
Quillen: This country needs to reduce the number of plastics in the market. The plastics and packaging industry has avoided positive action for years. Public officials need to find the political courage now to mandate a reduction.
Oranje: If you want to make glass, make it one color; for plastic bottles, make it one type. Manufacturers make more plastic in one day than you can recycle in a lifetime. In addition, the manufacturers of electronics should have a program where [consumers] can take electronics back for recycling.
WA: Would governmental regulations help recycling?
Yingling: Regulations and mandates are only effective to promote recycling if [the government has] the assets to support the program, the understanding of the general public and someone other than the recycler to enforce the laws.
Horst: I would opt for less regulation. Mandatory programs take no consideration of supply and demand economics. They are skewed toward capturing the optimum amount available without considering the marketability of materials.
Quillen: Regulation should be limited, targeted, practical and effective. The results need to be less waste and a disappearance of nonrecyclable material. We need to reduce costs for manufacturers that reduce packaging or use materials that are easily recyclable.
Oranje: There should be mandatory recycling programs for manufacturers. Make manufacturers responsible for taking their recyclable products back.
WA: What are the benefits of single-stream recycling?
Horst: Single-stream recycling is here to stay. Too many key players in this sector have put time and resources into the concept, and they want to be successful. Productivity per square foot and manpower hours will be maximized in these facilities, but at the expense of increased transportation costs. I see glass cullet a contamination problem in single-stream. The only way to avoid contamination is to keep [glass] out completely.
Quillen: San Francisco has rolled out one of the largest single-stream recycling programs in the nation. The program makes recycling easy and convenient for residents and businesses. Recycling increases in every neighborhood where we provide the new recycling carts … We like to say, “life's a mess and we sort it out.”
Oranje: Single-stream is, in some cases, a step backwards in terms of contamination. You can keep glass and containers separate from newspaper — that's dual-stream. But I'm a little leery of single-stream. It's a cheaper way to collect, but I haven't seen the [quality of the] product coming in where I would put all my eggs in that basket.
WA: Are prices evolving?
Yingling: In terms of long- and short-term commodity prices, anyone who has the “pixie dust” or magic business binoculars, please share the insight. Our program plans to continue to collect OCC, newsprint, magazines, MOP, bimetal and aluminum cans, plastics No. 1 and 2, and clear and colored glass for at least the next two to three years.
Horst: I do not see prices increasing much throughout 2003. The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in Asia will keep commodity markets moderate to flat. We can expect better pricing in 2004, but this will be dependent on manufacturing picking up domestically and end-markets finding a stable production capacity.
Oranje: As long as we can ship our paper to China, prices will remain high. Steel looks like it is going up a little bit, too.
Quillen: Recycling markets are volatile. No one can predict the future. The way to improve the markets for recycled materials is to improve the quality of baled recyclables. Separation systems give us flexibility to produce finished bales to meet manufacturers' specs. High-quality bales provide manufacturers an alternative to using virgin source materials.
WA: Is recycling a luxury or necessity?
Yingling: Necessity — to conserve resources, support industrial operations that depend on reclaimed or recycled materials, and preserve landfill space.
Horst: Necessity. The economics of jobs created, life extension of our landfills and impact on our natural resources will continue to be strong issues.
Quillen: Neither. Recycling is intelligent, particularly when you take a long-term view. Waste paper, glass bottles and aluminum cans are resources. When we recycle, we reduce our consumption of natural resources and use less energy.
Oranje: Landfills are eventually going to fill up, so the future seems very clear. It's up to us and our kids.
WA: Do you “buy recycled?”
Yingling: I have a bias to “buy recycled.” Many items contain a percentage of recycled materials that the consumer may not notice — including cans, cars, tissue paper, boxes and the list goes on without a large green label saying, “Caution: Contains recycled material.”
Horst: I try to buy recycled products, but I am more attentive to the packaging. I also try to buy “made in the USA.”
Quillen: Recycle Central buys recycled products such as carpet, paper, paint, dirt, crushed cement, crushed brick, compost and soil amendment. We lean toward purchases with post-consumer content versus virgin product. To make recycling work, you need to purchase consumer goods made from recycled or reclaimed products.
Oranje: I, my wife and my kids don't touch anything that's not recyclable. We're in the business, so I make sure we do it. I'll always bend down to pick up that can.
Kim A. O'Connell is a contributing editor based in Arlington, Va.
RECYCLE CENTRAL AT-A-GLANCE
Service Area: San Francisco-specific operation.
Sources of Waste: 80 percent of all material is delivered by Norcal trucks; 20 percent is delivered by independent contractors
Refuse Processed: The facility is in shakedown mode so this question is not as relevant to Recycle Central's operation as it would be for a more seasoned operation. Single-stream curbside is at 380 tons per day at 80 percent of capacity. Mixed commercial is at 120 tons per day at 20 percent of capacity. Source-separated tonnage is approximately 300 tons per day.
Local Tipping Fees: $77.56 per ton charge at the transfer station.
Equipment: Processing system installed by Enterprise Co. Balers are Enterprise units; conveyors are predominately manufactured by Hustler, and two sets of BHS disk screens to sort newspaper, cans and bottles.
Employees: 115 total employees — 9 maintenance, 20 general administration, 20 equipment operators, 6 drivers and 60 sorters.
Most Interesting: Near the top of the list is the leather bound ship medical log from the S.S. China, a sidewheel steamer that carried cargo and passengers between Canton, Yokohama and San Francisco in the 1860s and '70s. This book logged all of the passengers' ailments and complaints from a distinctly Victorian point of view. One man with a hernia was given laudanum, turned upside down and bounced on his head until things popped back into place. The logbook was donated to the National Maritime Museum in San Francisco.
MARIN RRC AT-A-GLANCE
Service Area: Marin County and outlying areas.
Sources of Waste: Approximately 25 percent from residential customers, and 25 percent from landscapers and small builders. The remaining 50 percent is commercial and industrial waste.
Refuse Processed: Anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 tons per day with a maximum capacity of 2,640 tons per day.
Local Tipping Fees: $59 per ton for construction and demolition (C&D) debris; $29 per yard for yard waste.
Equipment: 2 vibratory conveyors by Action Equipment Co.; 1 American Baler 8043; 1 Lindemann Bigro 105; 1 gyratory screen from Bmem Partnership; magnets from Eries; 3 screens from Millpower Inc.; Powerscreen dirt screen; Jeffries Hammermill, slightly modified; KWS belt conveyors throughout plant; and Machinex belt conveyors.
Employees: 6 weigh masters; 1 manager; 2 rotator forklift operators; 1 forklift operator; 4 Caterpillar operators; 2 floor supervisors; 1 baler operator; 2 hog operators; 30 sorters inside the building. The metal processing area has 20 employees; the dirt processing area has 8 employees; and we have 10 mechanics.
Most Interesting: Guns, ammunition, unborn fetus, marijuana, cash — anything you can imagine.
LYCOMING, PA., AT-A-GLANCE
Service Area: Six-county region including Lycoming, Snyder, Union, Northumberland, Montour and Columbia counties in Pennsylvania. The region also is served by other public and private recycling firms.
Sources of Waste: Lycoming County Resource Management Services — Recycling Division (LCRMS) operates curbside and roll-off trucks to conduct recycling operations (12 curbside collection programs and 23 drop-off points). LCRMS also receives residential, commercial, and industrial materials from municipal and private haulers from the six-county surrounding region. Lycoming County-collected and -processed materials currently account for an estimated 70 percent of the facility's materials.
Refuse Processed: Approximately 40 tons per day of recyclables at the MRF, which has a estimated capacity of 25 to 30 tons per day. (This is a temporary facility that will be replaced with a new facility in October 2003).
Local Tipping Fees: N/A for recyclable materials.
Equipment: 1 Marathon baler; 1 Economy horizontal baler; 1 Dense-a-Can 3000 can densifier; 1 Aluminum Can densifier; 1 Homemade Plastics sorting conveyor and 8-station sorting platform; and 1 locally fabricated glass sorting conveyor system.
Employees: 16 full-time employees: 1 manager; 1 administrative assistant; 1 assistant manager who oversees day-to-day operations; 4 processing staff; 7 drivers; 1 tub grinder operator; and 1 site maintenance foreman. Lycoming County also uses 10 to 14 prison inmates per day to assist with the collection and processing of materials.
Most Interesting: Everything from a flock of plastic duck decoys (Lycoming accepts plastic bottles and jars) to swimming pools and engine blocks (in the steel cans container).
Service Area: North Dakota, northwest and west-central Minnesota.
Sources of Waste: Private haulers, commercial and industrial represent approximately 60 percent of marketable commodities; city, county and residential represent the balance.
Refuse processed: More than 22,000 tons of recyclable commodities in 2002. Capacity is 32,000 tons of recyclable commodities annually.
Local tipping fees: Regional landfill fees run from $25 per ton to $30 per ton. Recycling tip fees run from $20 per ton to $30 per ton.
Equipment: 1 40-foot Dover sort table; 1 Selco Harris twin ram Baler, fed by two 60-foot conveyors by Lovegreen Manufacturing and Rapat Manufacturing; 1 Custom Glass Crusher by Midland Recycling; 2 aluminum can processors; 2 Densi-Can aluminum processing equipment; 1 Ameri Shred AMS-3000 paper shredder; 2 Excel Manufacturing EX-62 balers; and countless small conveyors for used beverage can processing.
Employees: 29 full time staff and 2 part-time staff in areas of administration and marketing, production and transportation.
Most Interesting: Buffalo hides in the cardboard.