Recycling materials like glass and mixed plastics can be challenging, but then there are the items that are even more difficult to process.
How do you deal with bulky, hard-to-dismantle mattresses? Or textiles that must stay dry and clean to retain any value? Or the spectrum of electronics rapidly becoming obsolete, each with characteristics that require a specific management plan?
A WasteExpo session, “Hard to Recycle Items” on Monday, May 8 at 9:00 AM, will address these issues. Panelists Jason Linnell, National Center for Electronics and Jackie King, Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association, will discuss tough commodities and how their industries address the issues unique to each of them. Chaz Miller, director of policy and advocacy with the National Waste & Recycling Association, will moderate.
Dealing with E-Waste
Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are among the greatest headaches for electronics recyclers. They’re heavy and costly to transport, and these led-containing components must be handled very carefully.
Banned from landfill in some regions, CRTs have stockpiled, with limited markets for their glass and led. Getting CRTs to the few identified overseas markets is challenging. Even when domestic smelters will take them, transporting them is still expensive, Linnell says.
But collections infrastructure is ramping up in some regions.
“For instance, Oregon and Washington … have seen double-digit percentage declines in what they receive, mainly because they have had programs in place for years,” Linnell says.
Meanwhile a newer generation product is rapidly becoming obsolete and presenting new problems: tablets. Tablets are thin and their internal components are packed tightly. Sometimes glue is used on the outside, making them hard to disassemble.
“Additionally, other lighter weight devices are coming into the system like flat panel TVs,” Linnell adds. “So we see the number of units remaining stable or increasing, but pounds decreasing. This trend will rise. And it will make a difference because industry has focused on getting maximum weight, as it charges by weight. Now recyclers will have to reconsider operations and pricing.”
Collecting and recycling textiles presents its own challenges for the solid waste industry.
“You must keep them dry and clean. It’s not something you put out weekly. So it’s hard to collect in mass to make it operationally efficient,” says Jackie King, executive director of Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART).
These are among reasons that, while 95 percent of textiles can be reused or recycled, only 15 percent gets recovered and used. Over, 26 billion pounds end up landfilled annually.
Some charities and institutions partner with textiles companies who collect and resell items as clothing or wiping rags or make them into other products. These companies often pick them up, and some help communities develop textile recycling plans.
Less common are curbside recycling programs, as there are infrastructure and logistics barriers. But textile recycling companies are partnering with municipalities to put out collection bins at convenient drop off sites or to place tractor trailers at accessible locations like landfills or shopping centers.
There is another interesting partnership model evolving between some textile companies and apparel retailers. King thinks it will “become the next thing as manufacturers have become concerned about what happens to their products at the end of life.”
For years, the mattress industry has brainstormed ways their product’s componentry can be used at the end of life. All the efforts hit a wall because the cost of dismantling and transporting them exceeded resulting revenues.
“They are bulky, hard to move and hard to break down. And the wood and the fiber used as padding are hard to recycle,” says Ryan Trainer, president of the Mattress Recycling Council and of the International Sleep Products Association. But they have components with value, especially metals.
Some municipalities pay recyclers to take used units, which typically covers their cost.
And now three states have programs, through the Mattress Recycling Council, to help bridge the gap between recyclers’ costs and revenues. Since the first program launched, 18 months ago, over one million mattresses have been recycled.
“What’s encouraging is, now that there’s a secure revenue stream, recyclers are getting more creative in how they get materials broken down and into markets,” says Trainer.