Like many recycling companies across the country, those based in Ohio are being challenged to continuously improve their sustainability practices through recycling and recycling education.
At the end of 2019, officials from the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO), Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Rumpke Waste & Recycling participated in a Summit on Sustainability, hosted by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, to discuss the state of recycling in Ohio.
SWACO’s Director of Innovation and Programs Kyle O’Keefe moderated the panel. He discussed how the U.S. can leverage international policy changes to create new lines of business for recycling-reliant companies.
During the summit, Brent Heist, a packaging expert for P&G, one the largest consumer goods companies in the world, discussed the company’s recycling efforts.
“Looking across the industry, we recognized that a robust supply of good quality recycled polypropylene was missing. P&G and other manufacturers of consumer goods would use recycled polypropylene, creating a strong demand for the material, if a steady supply was available,” Heist said in a statement released after the summit.
Waste360 recently sat down with Steve Sargent, director of recycling for Rumpke Waste & Recycling based in Cincinnati, to discuss his company’s role in the state of recycling in Ohio.
Waste360: What is the state of recycling in Ohio?
Steve Sargent: In Ohio, recyclers are being challenged like recyclers throughout the rest of the country. In response, there’s great collaboration among Rumpke Waste & Recycling, the Ohio EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], solid waste districts, community leaders and both residential and commercial customers.
Larger corporations like P&G, Kroger, Owens Illinois, Pratt Industries and many other Ohio companies are focused on finding and implementing the best recycling practices. Communities are teaming with solid waste districts to deliver consistent messages to recycling participants and to find more ways to promote recycling the right way.
For example, at the end of the summer and throughout early fall, Columbus, Cincinnati, Centerville and Fairfield, Ohio, teamed up with the Ohio EPA, their respective solid waste districts and Rumpke to launch the Recycling Partnership audit program. The program, which is based on educating residents about recycling, resulted in an 8 to 10 percent drop in recycling contamination rates in most locations.
Waste360: What makes Ohio communities different than those in other states when it comes to recycling?
Steve Sargent: Rumpke Waste & Recycling offers opportunities to customize recycling programs throughout the state. We have large processing centers in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, and we have great proximity to end users.
Ninety-eight percent of the recycling that Rumpke processes stays right in the Midwest. We have a stable network of end users. Plus, Rumpke is the only hauler in the country to operate a glass processing facility in Dayton, Ohio. Glass makes up 15 percent of the recycling stream by weight, so Rumpke’s glass recycling program is another great asset to the state of Ohio. Materials generated from the glass plant stay right here in Ohio and in the Midwest.
Waste360: Why have many Ohio communities seen a recent increase in the cost for recycling programs?
Steve Sargent: Unfortunately, the market slump continues today. The sale of materials simply does not cover the cost of processing. To meet purity standards, we’ve had to add employees, add equipment and slow down productivity. These costs coupled with lower volumes and lower selling prices drive up recycling costs.
Not only has the recycling industry been challenged with the reduction in market demand due to China’s National Sword initiative, but now the industry is experiencing a record 10-year low in the market value of recyclables.
Inconsistent messaging and growing contamination in the recycling stream also pose challenges.
Waste360: What are other challenges Ohio is facing when it comes to recycling?
Steve Sargent: While we are getting much better with messaging, the list of acceptable items still varies slightly by region and recycler, which can lead to confusion.
Strong purity standards demanded by end users make the financial outlook for recycling challenging, and sometimes it forces the elimination of the service in some areas.
Lastly, it simply costs more to recycle today than it did when the markets were strong. Some communities, businesses and residents can’t pay or justify the extra costs.
Waste360: How has Rumpke responded to those challenges?
Steve Sargent: We continue to secure long-term contracts with end users. We also remain transparent with our customers. Our team has worked diligently to ensure customers understand the challenges and expenses related to recycling.
We continue to educate the general public about the consequences, such as the costs and dangers, relating to incorrect recycling. We have hired more workers for quality control, we have slowed down processing and we have upgraded our equipment to improve process efficiency and to increase material purity.
Waste360: How has Rumpke been able to keep recycling unaffected by changes in the global market?
Steve Sargent: Strong internal controls to ensure quality, which has helped us build positive and collaborative relationships with end users. We have also secured a network of regional, domestic end users who take approximately 98 percent of the material Rumpke processes for recycling.
Waste360: What is Rumpke’s commitment to recycling in Ohio?
Steve Sargent: Rumpke has been committed to recycling since the 1930s, when our company founders pulled rags, metals and glass out of collected materials for reuse and recycling. That commitment to elevating waste to the highest potential is still alive and well as the third generation of the Rumpke family leads our company.
As recycling evolves, Rumpke is poised to evolve right along with it. We’re in the business of offering complete solid waste solutions, and the benefits of recycling cannot be overlooked despite current challenges in the marketplace.