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Mixed Waste Processing Sparks Passionate Opinions

Mixed Waste Processing Sparks Passionate Opinions

Mixed waste processing is getting increasing attention as another means of recycling and increasing diversion rates.

It involves no generator separation of waste, with all waste processed at what’s been called a “dirty” material recovery facility (MRF). Recyclables are then pulled out at the MRF.

The process will be the subject of a vigorous discussion/debate between the three speakers headlining the Waste360 Recycling Summit’s Mixed Waste Processing Panel.

The impressive lineup includes: Eric Herbert, CEO of Zero Waste Energy LLC, JD Lindeberg, president of Resource Recycling Systems, and Kyle Mowitz, CEO and co-founder of Infinitus Energy.

Yep, sparks may fly.

Waste360 talked with each presenter to get a sneak peek on what topics they plan to cover during their minutes at the mic.

Waste360: You spoke on mixed waste processing at Waste Expo, what can we expect to hear from you during this session at the Summit?

Eric Herbert: I take a much more pragmatic, engineer-operator perspective on the mixed waste processing. It’s an approach. It has applications and it has its advantages. It’s really just a question of what are the objectives from a community standpoint and from a waste stream standpoint. Each community can kind of look at it on its own merits.

Waste360: Do you believe in an all-or-nothing approach to mixed waste processing?

Eric Herbert: Not at all. It’s definitely a case-by-case basis. In communities with very high demand for recycling, zero waste goals and high diversion levels – it’s just not possible to get there with customer-separated recycling programs, especially when you talk about multi-family and commercial waste streams. It’s never happened yet. You have to then talk about mixed waste and processing all or at least the vast majority of waste in order to get to those levels.

If the objective truly is to recover useful commodities and energy components, then you really are going to be doing mixed waste processing and that can go hand-in-hand and operate very effectively with single stream recycling at the residential and commercial establishments. It doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario.

It’s a good debate because at the end of the day, the system that produces the best results against all of the objectives and aligns with how the rate payer want his/her waste handled will win out.

Waste360: You say things might get a bit heated on stage, why?

JD Lindeberg: We all believe there is a problem and the problem is we’re not recycling enough. I think every person on that stage is going to stand up and say our recycling rates suck. We’re all looking for different way to improve that and we all have different ideas of how to go about it. Those differences will be explored, and they will be explored by real people in the field, wrestling with real problems.

They are going to be the ones who say “We’re modern. We’re cool. We’re hip.” I’m going to be the conservative stick in the mud.

Waste360: So you’re skeptical about the promise of mixed waste processing?

JD Lindeberg: Technologically speaking, mixed waste processing can work in specific circumstances. In my view, you could use it in say California, after single stream recycling has been done and you take all of the waste that hasn’t gone through single-stream recycling that you have in the trash can and you try to get another 5 percent of recovery out of that. In order for us to actually accomplish 70 percent recovery, which I would say is technically infeasible without really impressive injection of money and effort, the way to do that would be to implement mixed waste processing after you’ve got all the recyclables and organics out. What that allows you to do is to take the high-quality recyclables out without contaminating them with organic materials.

Waste360: As a venture capitalist investing in mixed waste facilities, you have a financial stake this technology taking off. What is the capability right now and what problems can it solve in the waste stream?

Kyle Mowitz: Mixed waste processing is really providing the consumer with an easier way to recycle and drive up recovery rates and recycling rates in the overall waste stream.

Our concept is really a three-pronged approach so what I really see right now and in the next five years, is handling the mechanical separation of the high value materials – paper, cardboard, metals and plastics – and creating compressed natural gas for the heavy fleets like the waste vehicles or semitrailer trucks from the organic waste and the anaerobic digestion.

And we also see taking the low value polymers and fibers out of the waste stream and creating a high value fuel, not a refuse fuel but an engineered fuel and we think it is really going to drive value, recovery rates and it’s going to drive acceptance in the market.

Waste360: How do you answer skeptics who say this type of processing is never going to work?

Kyle Mowitz: Until you put your money in, like I have, and until you operate a facility for well over a year, what this comes down to is that you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

When I started this people told me that I would never sell my materials from a “dirty MRF” because it was too contaminated. The very successful part of this is I sell every single one of our products at the top of the market if not with quality bonuses.

I learned to invest when I very young guy, the way I was taught to invest is exactly where we’re at are today. We’re in the pessimistic stage right now and there are a lot of people like JD who say it won’t work. I think we’re about to turn into the skeptical stage in the next two years as we build a couple more of these facilities – which we will do – and then I think you get into the optimistic stage when it works. That’s when all the big guys come in and when people start getting euphoric which means they are building these all over the place. That’s when I’ll sell and get out. I see it that way. Am I right? Time will tell that.

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