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10 Steps To Planning A Rural Regional Recycling Strategy

Developing a successful rural recycling program is a challenge. When state legislatures wrote waste reduction and recycling mandates into law and placed responsibility with local governments, few gave special consideration to rural areas.

These communities are striving alongside their urban counterparts to meet recycling and reduction goals of 15 to 70 percent. Rural areas' efforts, however, can be hampered by low population and tax base, limited local government budgets and personnel, low-density housing and limited commercial development.

For some areas, solid waste volumes fluctuate due to seasonal residents or tourists. For many, difficulties accumulating enough processed materials can limit cost-effective marketing options. Rural areas, however, have strengths that can assist them in developing and operating recycling programs. For example, rural residents have a strong sense of community, a history of volunteering and often take a creative and thrifty approach to solid waste management.

Typically, rural waste streams come from residences and small businesses. As a result, they're smaller and contain lighter weight materials than are found in urban waste streams with large amounts of commercial wastes. An extremely successful rural recycling program can extract approximately 9 percent of the residential waste stream if items such as glass, metal containers and newspapers are recovered. Adding corrugated containers and other commercial wastes can boost the diversion rate.

Consider a regional recycling approach to overcome the barriers facing individual rural governments. Benefits include:

* increased volumes of recyclables, which opens marketing opportunities;

* potential for cooperative marketing, which can substantially increase revenues;

* conserved landfill capacity and avoided tipping fees;

* regional economic stimulus from new collection and processing jobs; and

* shared costs for equipment, personnel, processing, transportation, marketing and facility capital and operating costs.

Remember that recycling often is not a money-maker, despite its many benefits. Because markets can be volatile, do not rely on recycling sales revenues to support a regional program. Instead, view recycling costs as part of the entire municipal solid waste (MSW) management strategy. For example, a recycling program should be considered a viable method for reducing overall disposal costs.

Although each program will experience different economies of scale, every successful program will require its participating jurisdictions to share costs.

Consider the following steps as a general framework for developing a regional rural recycling program. Of course, each regional effort will be different and several years may be required to plan and fully implement a successful recycling strategy.

1 Identify Potential Recyclables Conduct a waste stream assessment to determine the current level of recycling and to identify the types and quantities of recyclable materials in the regional waste stream.

Identify potential recyclables by estimating their total weight compared to the total weight of the waste stream. For example, if you find that old corrugated containers (OCC) are 12 percent of the entire waste stream by weight, you may want to consider including OCC in your regional recycling effort.

Disposal facility operators in the region can tell planners the amount and type of materials currently being disposed that could be recovered. This will help to establish the proper recycling contracts, processing centers and collection systems for your region.

Telephone calls, surveys and interviews will help determine current local recycling activities. Contact solid waste service providers, non-profit organizations and local solid waste managers to determine their contribution to the quantities being recycled in the region.

2 Establish A RAC Create a regional recycling advisory committee (RAC) that includes members from the private and public sectors, non-profit organizations and the general public who have recycling experience. During planning and implementation, hold regular meetings to discuss the needs and concerns of the private and public sectors. Committee members can provide information on markets, material specifications, transportation costs and processing. The committee also can develop regional policies and objectives.

3 Determine Regional Markets Assess the availability and level of demand in your region's markets. This will help determine which materials will be recycled.

Begin by contacting state environmental or planning agencies for regional market information. For a fee, planners also can subscribe to databases that list multi-state markets. For instance, Enviro-South Inc. provides a computerbased market listing for all southeastern states. In addition, the Chicago Board of Trade recently launched a national, centralized marketplace for buying and selling recyclable materials. Recycling and solid waste industry associations also are good sources of market information.

Your own research will provide the most accurate and comprehensive market listing. Start with the phone books from the region's counties and municipalities to locate local markets. Local private and non-profit recycling programs also can provide information on their existing markets.

Next, conduct a regional market survey to intermediate processors (those who prepare materials for final manufacturing), final manufacturers (end-users) and other private sector recycling entities. Ask for detailed market information on the types and quantities of materials handled, size of the manufacturing or processing facility, acceptance requirements for long-term contracts and market specifications.

Follow-up letters and phone calls will help establish a good working relationship with survey recipients. Remember, recycling is a business and the companies surveyed will expect confidentiality for some of their responses.

Personal interviews with industry representatives and intermediate processors are the best way to determine each market's short- and long-term potential. The interviews can provide important information on market specifications, preferred transportation methods and market value. Begin arranging long-range plans for material acceptance during these meetings.

Continue developing and updating regional market listings throughout planning and implementation. Your list also should include markets located outside your region. Markets that seem distant today may be necessary in the future as part of a contingency plan.

4 Explore Export Markets Often, exporting recyclables is overlooked by planners. The local U.S. Customs District can direct you to an exporting broker and provide information about the closest port and the types of recyclables that can be shipped.

Mexico and Canada are both accessible markets for recyclable materials. Mexico imports significant quantities of used beverage containers, glass and mixed paper. Canada imports large quantities of aluminum, used cardboard, mixed paper and plastic. Land-locked rural areas should not overlook these opportunities since transportation networks can provide access to these markets.

The International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce maintains information about imports and exports. This database, compiled by each U.S. Customs District, contains detailed listings of exports, the U.S. port of destination, units of measurement and quantity and dollar value for all exported products, including recyclable materials.

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) tracks patterns of foreign purchases of U.S. recyclables. HTSUS data can give clues as to which U.S. Customs Districts are active in exporting certain materials.

PEERS data, which is privately published and used by ports across the nation, is another resource that may be useful as you are locating foreign ports. For instance, a nearby port authority could use this data to tell you which country is importing the most cardboard. Information on who to contact for shipping requirements also is available.

5 Recruit Recycling Industries Rural areas may not have local manufacturers that accept recyclables. Recruiting industries can benefit your region's solid waste management efforts - not to mention the economy.

First, identify industries accepting recyclable materials, such as glass, aluminum, steel, newspaper, cardboard and tires, and determine each industry's specific location requirements. These may include:

* raw materials required and the amount of recyclable material needed for the manufacturing process;

* quantity and type of fuel source;

* number of employees required;

* amount of land and start-up capital required for facility construction;

* environmental controls;

* preferred method of transport and maximum travel distances as well as the distance to the end-product market area; and

* export potential.

Use this information to develop a profile of each recycling industry. State and regional economic development agencies and solid waste managers can use the profiles to determine the feasibility of recruiting certain industries to your region.

States such as New York, Wisconsin, Oregon, Maryland and Pennsylvania fund research of recycling industry processes and recruitment needs. This research has been used to develop recycling enterprise zones and other incentives to attract recycling processors and end-users.

6 Target Specific Recyclables Regional waste reduction objectives, quantities of recyclables in your waste stream and market availability all influence which materials will finally be targeted for recycling.

Because waste reduction is measured by decreases in tonnage, try to target the heaviest materials. These include ONP, OCC, other paper grades and some bulky items (white goods and metals).

When targeting recyclable materials, also consider ease of collection and processing as well as the degree of cooperation anticipated from your region's businesses and residents.

Keep in mind that the market value of targeted recyclables is not always of primary concern. Some regions will be more concerned with locating consistent markets for their targeted recyclables.

7 Consider Coop Marketing Often, individual rural governments are not in a position to negotiate optimal market terms due to small volumes of materials. Cooperative marketing allows rural regions to offer larger volumes to potential end-markets. This strategy helps them to achieve higher market value, to obtain better transportation rates and to increase the types of materials accepted by the manufacturer. For example, some end-users will provide free transportation to their factory if a region can supply consistent quantities.

Market cooperatives can wear many hats and provide a wide range of services (see bar graph on pages 64). In general, they act as a region's broker to secure end-user markets, maintain all recycling records and arrange for cost-effective transportation to end-users. Market coops also help local governments share costs for public education, technical assistance, equipment purchases and legal assistance.

Ultimately, direct sale and transport to end-users yields higher revenues than selling through intermediate brokers. Load consolidation also can save costs by limiting the need for storage space.

Cooperative marketing requires centralized management. The cooperative's daily administration can be undertaken by staff from a "lead" city or county, a solid waste authority or a non-profit organization. State or federal grants typically provide funds for establishing market coops. Membership fees, technical assistance consulting charges and revenue from the sale of recyclables also are used to fund cooperatives.

8 Investigate Collection And Processing Many options are available for collecting and processing recyclable materials. Residential options include curbside or mailbox-side collection and permanent or mobile drop-off centers. Commercial options include richload collection, transfer stations and private contract collection.

Analyze all available options and make decisions based on the region's size, the quantity and type of materials and market availability. Often, regional recyclables collection involves a hybrid of local and regional approaches using both the public and private sectors.

Regional processing of recyclables ranges from low-tech, labor-intensive materials recovery facilities (MRF) to high-tech, automated MRFs. Mobile MRFs, portable sorting machines that can handle small amounts of recyclable materials, are another option. Regional processing also can involve both the public and private sectors.

9 Involve The Public Public participation is imperative for a successful regional recycling effort (see "Don't Wait To Educate Residents About MSW Plans," World Wastes, August 1995). Public education and involvement must be pursued locally and regionally. In addition, sharing regional costs gives communities access to a larger variety of informational aids.

A regional public education and involvement committee is an excellent way to coordinate activities and information. Above all, tailor the public education methods and messages to your specific audience.

10 Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate Develop a monitoring system to track the progress of each jurisdiction toward the recycling program goals. The system also should track the amounts of recyclable materials collected and processed.

Monitoring and evaluation can help determine any necessary adjustments or expansions. It also can assist with long-term decisions about the program's future. These might include substituting targeted recyclable materials, adding new materials or switching from a voluntary to a mandatory recycling program.

Rural areas may present unique alternatives for using some recyclables. For example, old newspaper (ONP) and mixed paper can be used as a straw substitute for animal bedding. In fact, wastepaper outperforms straw in absorbing animal wastes and could be less expensive, according to pilot projects in Wisconsin. Wastepaper also can be used for cellulose-type building insulation and as a bulking material for hydroseeding.

Potential uses for mixed glass include glassphalt (a mix of glass and asphalt for road paving), landfill cover, fiberglass, glasscrete (a mix of glass and concrete), sandblasting, backfill, road bed material, erosion control, septic fields and as a sand supplement or substitute.

Mixed plastics can be shredded and applied with dirt on unpaved automobile parking areas. This has been accomplished successfully in Jekyll Island, Ga. The shredded plastic can also be used as septic field drainage material if approved by the local health department.

Like raw materials, recyclables must meet certain market standards or specifications. These include processing, grading, delivery requirements and the allowable amount of contaminants. Intermediate and end-user markets have different specifications.

Before targeting materials to market, contact intermediate processors and manufacturers for their latest specifications. If the materials do not meet processor or end-user specifications, they will be rejected or will lose market value.