This is the second part of a series that provide answers by industry experts to questions you have about recycling. The questions came out of Waste360’s recent webinar on the cost of recycling. For further discussion on these issues, don’t miss the Waste360 Recycling Summit in Chicago later this year.
Read part one here.
Question: Do you feel that the recycling industry made a mistake by not charging for recycling, creating the notion that recycling is free, and now we're paying the price?
Bill Moore, president, Moore & Associates: Yes, definitely, a strategic error by the industry. The economics of recycling vary by region very dependent on disposal costs. Recycling is just one form of solid waste management that must compete with others and except for very few select materials, has a cost associated with it.
Bruce Walker, solid waste & recycling program manager, city of Portland, Ore.: Many years ago our program in Portland stopped using the term “free” for recycling services. There are costs for providing recycling collection that we include in the rates charged to our residents. While the revenues received from recycling have significantly declined since late 2014, our recycling program remains an important service due to the environmental benefits it provides and high public participation.
Michele Nestor, president, Nestor Resources Inc.: I think we are all complicit for creating that impression. We touted issues like the avoided cost of disposal, resource conservation, the value of the commodities, but we never accompanied those promotional pieces with the reality that we now had two trucks, two drivers, two or more facilities to manage things. I am a proponent of pay-as-you throw (PAYT), but I'll challenge anyone to disagree that in its purest form "pay by the bag/unit/weight" sends the message that disposal costs and recycling is free. Only the hybrid versions of PAYT, where there is a flat fee for all participants for the collection/processing of waste and recycling and variable costs for disposal, highlight that recycling has some cost.
Question: Any thoughts on the future handling of food/organic waste in the single stream process?
Eric Herbert, CEO, Zero Waste Energy LLC: Food waste is currently not a part of the single stream recyclables material mix, and we do not see that changing. Many communities have adopted or expanded their source separated organics collection to include food waste. That material offers an opportunity for separate treatment along with other organics in the waste stream. In the case of mixed waste processing, organics, including food waste and contaminated paper, can be captured early in the process, minimizing contamination to traditional recyclables. Organics can then be treated through dry anaerobic digestion to extract energy via biogas production and composted with traditional and more advanced technical approaches. The energy production can include electrical, thermal and renewable natural gas as a transportation fuel.
Bruce Walker: Much attention has been given to the large amount of food scraps disposed in the U.S., and many municipal programs have started collecting this material for composting. In Portland food scraps were added to residential compost collection of yard debris (plant trimmings and grass clippings) in 2011. Residents are encouraged to place all plate scrapings, leftovers and spoiled food in the cart, including meat, bones, eggs, dairy, bread, pasta, rice, vegetables, fruit, coffee grounds and tea bags. The yard debris and food scraps are delivered to state permitted compost facilities that make soil amendment products.
Question: Why aren't we focusing on the development of the secondary raw material market from recyclables?
Albe Zakes, global vice president, communications, TerraCycle Inc.: Recyclers need to work more closely with the end-users of recycled materials to make sure we are maximizing the number of materials we can sell these end-users. Working closely together with purchasers of recycled materials-especially in plastics-will enable recyclers to make sure we can and are providing formulations that suit our clients’ current and future needs. Knowing the exact formulations and quantities an end-user projects to need can help focus the creation of recycled plastics and other materials to meet those forecasted needs.
Bill Moore: We did have a moderately strong focus on this subject in the 1990s–sort of a pump priming, so to speak. But since then and during the last 15 years, in the paper sector, supply and demand economics have really taken care of it. The corrugated box sector continues to rely heavily on OCC (old corrugated cardboard) and will do so for the future. But in tissue and newsprint, the use of recycled fiber has peaked.