Let’s Not Be Too Quick to Condemn Recycling

Let’s be honest. The state of recycling in North America is poor. Commodity prices are down. Expenses are up. It takes a huge capital investment to build new recycling centers. And a lot of people don’t recycle properly.

In response to recycling’s economic woes, municipalities are adjusting their programs, companies have closed some recycling centers and mills are tightening standards dictating the quality of materials.

There are many sayings that are apropos to the current state of affairs for recycling: 

  • If it was easy, everyone would do it.
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
  • If you’re going through hell, keep on going.

Indeed, recycling today is a challenge. Earlier this month, New York Times Magazine published an article entitled “The Reign of Recycling” in which the author advocated a position that recycling was an inefficient activity that was not necessary because there is ample space to dispose of waste. From a business and economic standpoint, the writer brought up some compelling arguments against recycling. Indeed, commodity prices are low and it does cost a lot of money to collect and process recyclable materials. And the sale of material does not nearly cover the cost of collecting, processing and marketing materials. 

But a condemnation of the entire recycling process is shortsighted.

Recycling, like every process, evolves over time. The evolution of cars, for example, has given us automobiles that are safer, cleaner, more fuel efficient and more reliable than those manufactured 25, 50 or 100 years ago. The evolution of cars and transportation involves technology, materials, fuels, engineering, manufacturing and road systems.

Similarly, the evolution of the recycling process has allowed recyclers to become better at processing materials than 20 years ago. We have improved the efficiency within our recycling centers because of better engineering and advancements in technology. Our collection systems have gotten better. Markets have also evolved although many commodity markets are still extremely volatile. And recycling will continue to evolve as the industry adapts to changing conditions.

Over the past year, the profitability of recycling has taken it on the chin. Investors and developers are nervous as they struggle to see a decent return on invested capital.  But rest assured, recycling will continue to be a viable alternative for the management of solid waste.

That’s not to say that recycling will not change … it will. Those of us who have been in the business for a long period of time have experienced market cycles. We’ve seen commodity prices rise and fall. We’ve seen markets for recyclables expand and contract. We’ve seen changes in the way recyclables are collected, transported, processed and marketed.

The evolving ton

Another change that we’ve seen is the change in the waste stream that people place at the curb. Changes in packaging and consumer habits have greatly altered the wastes and recyclables that people discard. Today, many containers and packages are much lighter. For example, aluminum–today, it takes about 34 12-ounce cans to equal one pound of aluminum. In 2007, there were about 30 cans to a pound. And in the 1970s there were about 20 cans in one pound. Over time, manufacturing techniques improved to the point where thinner-walled cans were just as good. Another example: Newspapers used to be thick and full of news and advertisements.  Today, there are fewer people reading and advertising in traditional printed newspapers, and the average newspaper has gotten thinner.

And the composition of materials inside the garbage can and recycling bin has changed. Back in the 1980s, very few curbside recycling programs collected cardboard. Residents didn’t have too many cardboard boxes except for the occasional package that was delivered to their home. Today, cardboard boxes are regularly delivered to homes as consumers shop online and cardboard accounts for a significant share of residential recycling.

Recycling today

Current market conditions are cause for concern, and the recycling industry will adjust accordingly. We are already seeing adjustments as some municipalities are eliminating some low-value commodities, such as glass, from their recycling programs.

Despite the anemic economic realities, there are many good reasons to recycle. First, the design, construction and operations of recycling centers creates jobs. Second, the processing of recyclables allows millions of tons of materials to be re-manufactured into new products. Third, it’s typically less expensive to recycle than it is to dispose of materials, and there are significant energy savings associated with recycling compared to the cost of mining, processing and manufacturing new virgin materials from the earth. And finally, recycling is more sustainable and results in significant savings of greenhouse gas emissions.

The future of recycling 

In the future, we will experience more changes and we will be more efficient than ever before.  This evolution will be impacted by a number of factors including:

  1. Changes in the composition of waste materials that residential and commercial establishments produce. 
  2. Fluctuations in market prices caused by the economic rules of supply and demand.
  3. Advancements in technology that improves efficiency and effectiveness of the sorting process.
  4. The cost of transportation and disposal that is influenced by regulatory costs, energy/fuel expenses, construction and operating expenses.

The bottom line is this: Recycling has many benefits and commodity pricing will eventually improve along with the demand for recycled goods. How long with that take? We don’t know.  But we can be sure that the recycling will continue to evolve and get better over time. 

Will Flower is general manager with Winters Bros. Waste Systems in Long Island, N.Y.

Eight Facts about the Greenest Zoo in America

The second oldest zoo in country, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was proclaimed the “Greenest Zoo in America” in 2010 and has held that title uncontested ever since.

The southwest Ohio zoo has been committed to the conservation of plants and animals since 1875 and for the past 10 years has continued to lead the way in sustainability by greening its daily operations and reducing its impact on the environment.

“One of the items that we are most proud of as a zoo is the amount of water we have saved,” says Fia Cifuentes, sustainable communities advocate for the zoo, which launched a major reduction effort in 2006. “We were using upwards of 220 million gallons of water per year, which is crazy. We were one of the largest users of water in the city of Cincinnati. Last year in 2014, we used 52 million gallons – that’s incredible.”

Here are eight things to know about this forward-thinking zoo.

Waste Connections to Buy Waste, Recycling Firm with $75 Million in Revenue

Waste Connections Inc. said it has agreed to buy a waste and recycling firm that it didn’t identify but has annual revenue of about $75 million.

The Woodlands, Texas-based Waste Connections said it is acquiring an integrated solid waste collection, recycling, transfer and disposal service provider. The deal is subject to closing conditions, including regulatory approval. The company said in a news release it expects the transaction to close before the year’s end.

"This is a typical Waste Connections transaction: leading collection position in several suburban and rural markets; fully integrated with multiple landfills; and several long-term municipal contracts securing a large portion of the revenue base," said Ron Mittelstaedt, chairman and CEO of Waste Connections.

Waste Connections just released its third quarter results, in which it also disclosed several acquisitions. The company bought Shamrock Disposal, a solid and industrial waste collection and disposal firm in Duluth, Minn., as well as tuck-in acquisitions of collection operations in California, Oregon and Texas. The purchases added about $15 million in annualized revenue, the company said.

With the announcement, Mittelstaedt said that those deals and others that may close before the end of the year could provide 5 percent additional revenue growth in 2016.

Meanwhile, the company recorded small advances in net profits and revenue for its third quarter preliminary results.

10 Things to Know about Waste Management’s Latest Quarterly Results

Waste Management Inc. recorded higher net earnings but lower revenue for its third quarter.

The following are highlights from the Houston-based company’s latest results, for the period ended Sept. 30.

  1. Waste Management’s net earnings jumped 24.1 percent to $335 million, or 74 cents per diluted share, compared with $270 million, or 58 cents per diluted share, in the 2014 third quarter.
  2. Revenue declined 6.7 percent to $3.36 billion from $3.60 billion a year ago, according to a news release.
  3. The third-quarter results were adjusted to exclude about 14 cents per diluted share of after-tax net charges primarily related to the restructuring of several corporate functions and legal reserves. Also excluded were earnings from businesses and assets divested in 2014, amounting to 5 cents per diluted share in the third quarter.
  4. From David Steiner, president and CEO: “Our third quarter results reflect the impact of our continued commitment to core price, disciplined growth and cost controls, all of which are driving improvement in our key operating metrics.”  He said the company improved volumes in the quarter, as well as positive growth from its industrial business.
  5. Average recycling commodity prices dropped 15 percent in the latest quarter compared with the year-ago period. Recycling volumes also declined 6.4 percent. Nevertheless, earnings from recycling operations were flat compared with the 2014 period because of operational improvements.
  6. For the nine-month period, Waste Management’s net income decreased 74.6 percent to $480 million, or $1.05 per diluted share, compared with $708 million, or $1.52 per diluted share, a year earlier.
  7. Revenues dipped 8 percent to $9.72 billion from $10.6 billion for the year-to-date period.
  8. Steiner said the company is confident it can meet analysts’ fourth quarter consensus of 67 cents of adjusted earnings per diluted share, which would allow Waste Management to exceed the upper end of its 2015 guidance per diluted share of $2.55.
  9. The assessment of Zacks Equity Research: Earnings beat Zacks Consensus Estimate by 2 cents. It attributed the increase to cost control measures. Meanwhile, revenue missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $3.41 billion. It attributed the decline to divestitures, lower recycling revenues, lower fuel surcharge revenues and foreign currency fluctuations.
  10. Waste Management's results in the second quarter were similar: Higher net earnings, lower revenue. The company blamed the revenue decline on recycling struggles and less divestiture revenue.

Using Microturbines to Turn Waste Gas into Energy

The Capstone Turbine Corp. based in Chatworth, Calif., the first U.S. company to market commercially viable microturbine energy products, which are gaining popularity across the globe.

Waste360 recently sat down with Darren Jamison, president and chief executive officer of the Capstone Turbine Corp., to discuss its microturbine energy technology.

Waste360: Tell me about how the microturbines burn waste gas to create power and heat.

Darren Jamison: Capstone microturbines are small combustion turbines approximately the size of a refrigerator. They are comprised of a compressor, combustor, turbine, alternator, recuperator—a device that captures waste heat to improve the efficiency of the compressor stage—and generator.

Fuel enters the combustion chamber; the turbine can run on natural gas, propane, biogas, diesel, biodiesel or kerosene—really almost anything with a BTU content that burns. The hot combustion gases expand and spin a turbine, which is connected to the shaft of an electrical generator. The exhaust transfers heat to incoming air via the recuperator.

Air passes through a compressor and is warmed by the exhaust gases before entering the combustion chamber, pre-heating the combustion process and increasing simple cycle efficiency to 33 percent.

Waste360: How many wastewater treatment plants, farm digesters, and landfills in North America use Capstone’s system?

Darren Jamison: Because Capstone does not sell directly but sells though a global distribution network—and because we sell into six different vertical markets—getting the exact number of units sold into wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), farm digesters and landfills in North America is difficult. Capstone has sold in excess of 8,500 units worldwide, so I would estimate the number in the biogas space in North America to be in the several hundred-range.

If you look on our website you will find video case studies of Sheboygan WWTP and York WWTP, along with several landfill sites like Sauk County in Wisconsin. One of our largest WWTP plant installations in the world is located in Brazil and our largest concentration landfill units are in France.

We are doing farm digesters across Latin America, Europe, Australia and most recently on a pig farm in South Africa. In addition, our distributors have recently installed biogas units at several breweries across Europe and two in North America breweries and food processors are finding unique ways to generate biogas from the organic material left over from the brewing or food processing.

Waste360: How does each application differ?

Darren Jamison:

  • Wastewater treatment: Capstone microturbines can operate on low-BTU methane gas and other waste gas fuels created from the treatment of domestic wastewater (for example, methane produced by anaerobic digesters that break down waste into biogas at a wastewater treatment plant). They also can operate on methane generated from cow, pig or chicken manure or agricultural waste or palm oil effluent. The system can generate electricity; reduce energy costs and lower carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, exhaust heat can easily and efficiently be recovered and used onsite in several ways, e.g. to maintain digesters’ temperature, process heat, sterilization or providing heat to buildings.
  • Farm digesters: Methane biogas produced by animals or agricultural waste on farms is transformed by Capstone microturbines into renewable energyreducing costs, lowering emissions and providing onsite power. It also addresses environmental odor and groundwater issues and allows farms to reap benefits of onsite renewable power. It offers a cost-effective, highly reliable and environmentally friendly approach to the traditional treatment of farm animal and agricultural waste.
  • Landfills: Capstone microturbines can use waste methane gas from decomposing trash to generate electricity that can be used onsite or sold to the grid. The microturbines are extremely flexible to variations in methane content and the landfill can avoid needlessly flaring the gas and contributing to global warming.

Waste360: How much energy can the system create?

Darren Jamison: Capstone microturbines provide scalable solutions from 30 kW to 30 MW. They are simple to install lightweight, portable and require very little maintenance.

Waste360: How much waste can the system process?

Darren Jamison: Because Capstone microturbines can be set up in tandem at any given facility; they can process any amount of waste gases during a given period of time. The microturbine array can be expanded or tapered as methane production changes over time.

Waste360: What makes Capstone’s system different or unique from other anaerobic digesting systems?

Darren Jamison: Unlike reciprocating engines, Capstone microturbines can operate on biogas with methane content as low as 30 percent. And because of their streamlined design, the microturbines require much less maintenance than other systems. Microturbines have one moving part and require very little maintenance compared to a reciprocating engine that is a concert of moving parts and requires regular scheduled and unscheduled maintenance.

Waste360: What are the benefits of the system?

Darren Jamison: Capstone microturbines offer a wide range of benefits. The patented air bearing technology means no lubricants or coolants are needed. The fact that there is only one moving part means minimal maintenance is required. The system operates on a wide range of fuels and is an ultra-low emission product that provides highly reliable and flexible onsite energy generation. And thanks to advanced combustion controls, they produce one-tenth of the emissions of reciprocating engines with no exhaust after-treatment. 

Need to Know

EPA: Remedy to St. Louis Area Landfill Fire to Come in 2015

A plan to make sure an underground St. Louis-area landfill fire doesn’t reach a cache of Cold War-era nuclear waste buried nearby will come before the end of 2015, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator said Monday.

Mark Hague, acting chief of the EPA region that includes Missouri, said the agency is working with the state of Missouri on the plan for keeping the smoldering embers beneath the Bridgeton Landfill from moving at least 1,000 feet to the nuclear waste at the West Lake Landfill, a federally funded Superfund site since 1990.

Hague said the permanent fix would be decided by “solid science, good engineering data” and not outside pressure. He declined to estimate when a solution would be in place, but he noted that options could include installing an in-ground fire break or suppression barrier, or injecting inert gases that snuff the smoldering.

Continue reading here

Need to Know

Unanticipated Costs Lead to Bristol, Va. Landfill $32M Debt

A plan more than 20 years ago to save the City of Bristol, Virginia money has resulted in a $32 million dollar debt. But city leaders say the landfill is slowly starting to turn around.

Mayor Archie Hubbard said it really comes down to a lack of experience on the city's part. He wasn't in office when the landfill opened, but he believes the city had hoped it would save money to dispose its own garbage.

Then unforeseen costs of getting permits and staying up to state and federal standards resulted in a $22 million dollar debt from the start.

Continue reading at WCYB.com

Need to Know

Judge Imposes Fines Related to Waimanalo Gulch Landfill Spill

A federal judge has imposed fines for Waste Management of Hawaii and two of its employees stemming from the 2011 landfill spill at the Waimanalo Gulch in West Oahu.

The company received a $400,000 criminal fine and was ordered to pay $200,000 more in restitution.

Joseph Whelan and Justin Lottig were ordered to pay $25,000 each in fines as well. 

Continue reading at KITV.com

Need to Know

Macon-Bibb Inert Landfill to Close by February

Mostly bricks, blocks, and dirt make up the Macon-Bibb inert landfill. It's a type of landfill that only takes in construction and yard waste materials.

According to the county's solid waste director, it's set to close in less than 4 months.

As far as the reason why, Kevin Barkley, the county's solid waste director says, "We did not meet the minimum requirements going forward for new inert landfills, so we have to shut this one down."

Barkley says after new state rules for inert landfills were created, it was determined this one didn't make the cut.

Continue reading here

Need to Know

Halifax Mulls Tax Breaks for Businesses Donating Food Destined for Landfill

The city of Halifax is considering throwing its support behind a national initiative to offer federal tax breaks to businesses that donate food they might otherwise throw out.

Nick Jennery, the executive director for Feed Nova Scotia, supports the idea from the National Zero Waste Council. Feed Nova Scotia provides donated fresh and non-perishable food to 146 food banks across the province.

Jennery said much of the food they receive is past expiry, but still safe to eat. He said Feed Nova Scotia carefully inspects every item before it gets shipped out.

Continue reading at the CBC