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Articles from 2019 In March


The Future of Global Recycling Lives in the Circular Economy

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Recently, the world celebrated Global Recycling Day, our annual reminder that the way we’re living can’t be sustained indefinitely, unless we embrace a new path to national and international resource efficiency.

The theme of Global Recycling Day 2019 was “Recycling into the Future,” with an eye to encouraging countries around the world to look toward the future impact young people and technological advancements can have on our worldwide recycling efforts. China’s decision to ban the import of several categories of recyclable waste, as well as India’s more looming decision to possibly ban plastic imports, means these recycling efforts are needed now more than ever.

The number one complaint I hear on an almost daily basis when it comes to recycling and sustainability is from people who, through no fault of their own, struggle to know what to recycle. Does their city allow mixed recyclables, or must they recycle by category? Must they clean everything they recycle, or can they get away with not fully rinsing out their milk cartons and yogurt pots? And what’s the deal, they ask, with differentiating between hard and soft plastics?

We all want to be good global citizens, we really do. But it often feels that the path to getting there is an uphill struggle.

The Circular Economy

The circular economy looks to prevent depletion of finite natural resources out of the global economy in order to better use the natural resources we’ve already extracted to extend their useful lives. Recycling is the gateway to greater sustainability in the circular economy. It encompasses both upcycling, whereby a material is repurposed into something of higher value or function, such as turning used plastic into fiber for clothing; and downcycling, whereby a material is repurposed into something of lower value, or it is returned to its component parts, such as taking used cardboard and making it into a new cardboard box.

The circular economy compels us to rethink our standard ideas around how consumption works. The typical way consumption is thought of is we take finite natural resources, we use them to create a product, then we throw said product away after we’re done with it. When you add recycling into the mix, this equation starts to sound more forgiving, but it’s still not living up to its full potential.

While learning how your city recycles in order to reduce food contamination and maximize the productive afterlife of anything you place in your green or blue bins is a worthy use of your time, an even better use is to rethink conventional ideas surrounding consumption. Recycling is the foundational process of the circular economy. When we evaluate our purchases with greater scrutiny, or we reward companies that take a sustainable approach to business (and we encourage those that don’t to change their ways), we are rethinking our relationship with our future waste.

The future of the circular economy is bright. With technology innovating in this space at an ever-increasing rate, the way we think about waste and recycling is about to change.

David Rachelson is vice president of sustainability at Rubicon Global, a technology company that powers a digital marketplace, provides a suite of SaaS products for waste, recycling and smart city solutions and collects and analyzes data for businesses and governments worldwide.

Clean Air Activists Target Waste Incinerators in Detroit and Baltimore

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Detroit Renewable Energy (DRE) just announced that it will cease operations at its waste-to-energy (WTE) facility, Detroit Renewable Power. CEO Todd Grzech said the decision was driven by financial and community concerns.

Grzech explained the move underscores DRE’s long-term commitment to Detroit’s environment and economy. The Detroit Thermal underground steam system that serves many downtown buildings now will be fueled solely by lower-cost natural gas.

“Serving our community and being a good neighbor for years to come is our number one priority. The decision ends the odor, noise and other community nuisances and allows Detroit Thermal to focus on investing where it matters,” said Grzech in a statement. “Ceasing operations at the waste-to-energy plant gives us the ability to focus more on Detroit Thermal infrastructure, improving the condition of the underground steam system and the streets.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, the decades-old incinerator has been a source of ire and frustration for many nearby residents who have complained for years about pungent odors and noise from the facility.

DRE noted that customers on Detroit Thermal’s underground steam system will experience no interruption in service as a result of the closure. DRE said it is working with its union, government and corporate partners throughout metro Detroit to secure training and jobs for the plant’s nearly 150 displaced workers.

Shortly after DRE’s announcement was made, the Breathe Free Detroit Campaign issued the following statement:

Those of us in the Breathe Free Detroit Campaign have been working for years for Detroiters’ right to breathe clean air, for just transition for workers and residents once the incinerator closed, and movement toward zero waste. We celebrate the closure of one of the world’s largest incinerators, a facility that has been a bad neighbor for over 30 years, unable to comply with Clean Air Act laws and odor restrictions. This is a great victory for the community and public health.

We will continue to pursue environmental justice with our goals of protections for the workers and residents and working toward serious reducing, reusing and recycling efforts to produce zero waste.

Incinerator operators made substantial profits from the labor of the workers and we are glad to hear that Mayor Mike Duggan supports the corporation’s efforts to find comparable wages and benefits for the laid off workers. We also hope those new jobs don’t harm human health. Also, residents deserve protections not to be priced out or pushed out of one of Detroit’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. We still produce too much waste and city leaders need to take the lead in waste reduction. This is an opportunity for Detroit’s elected leaders to help reduce global warming and move toward environmental justice and a healthier future.

Of course, the Breathe Free Detroit Campaign welcomes the closure of a polluting facility and we look forward to a new chapter in Detroit’s movement toward dealing with the challenges that remain for workers, residents and for all Detroiters. With that said, today is a good day and we thank the community for standing up to corporate interests and winning.

Earlier this month, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh signed into law the Baltimore Clean Air Act, unanimously passed by the City Council in February. The law is expected to force the closure of two large waste incinerators in the city: Wheelabrator Baltimore, a 2,250-ton-per-day trash incinerator; and Curtis Bay Medical Waste Services, the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator, which accepts waste from 20 states and Canada.

The act was developed by the national environmental justice nonprofit Energy Justice Network in conjunction with the Baltimore City Health Department, which will enforce the law. The act mandates real-time monitoring of 20 pollutants at the city’s two waste incinerators by September 2020 and requires that they meet the strongest standards in North America for four major air pollutants: mercury and sulfur dioxides by September 2020 and dioxins and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by January 1, 2022. 

Wheelabrator is the largest stationary source of pollution,” said Dante Swinton, an environmental justice researcher and organizer for Energy Justice Network, in a statement. “At 36 percent of the total, it’s three times worse than the second-largest polluter in the city.”

In February, the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) sent a letter to the Baltimore City Council urging it to reconsider its proposed air quality regulations. NWRA noted that the regulations would require the installation of monitoring equipment that is costly and may not accurately measure the air emissions as required by the rule. NWRA went on to say that the Wheelabrator and Curtis Bay facilities are already regulated by strict state and federal regulations.

Neither Wheelabrator nor Curtis Bay Medical Waste responded to Waste360’s request for comment.

The Baltimore Clean Air Act is the seventh climate- or waste-related policy the City Council has supported over the last two years. The city has passed several resolutions focused on climate change, zero waste and NOx reductions from the Wheelabrator facility. The city also passed a polystyrene ban last year.

The act was championed by Baltimore Councilman Ed Reisinger, whose district includes the two incinerators as well as the city’s public landfill.

EPA Lawsuit Around Landfill Emissions Rule Moving Forward

The legal battle among eight states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a stalled methane emission guidelines rule for municipal solid waste landfills is ongoing. The states that are suing the agency for delaying action on the rule will have their day in a California U.S. district court on April 25, four months after the EPA’s motion to dismiss was denied.

The 2016 Emission Guidelines and Compliance Times for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills rule requires that states devise methane emission reduction plans or follow federal government plans. The states’ plans were to be in place in 2017.

In a summary judgement hearing on April 25, the eight states will ask the U.S. district court for the Northern District of California to immediately order EPA to act on the rule. Specifically, their motion for summary judgement requests that EPA respond to already submitted state plans within 30 days, announce a federal plan within five months, respond to future state submissions within 60 days and submit status reports to the court every 60 days.

Plaintiffs are California, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. They charge the EPA is in violation of the Clean Air Act by lagging on the rule established to manage landfill emissions of volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, carbon dioxide and methane.

“Noxious landfill emissions affect everyone but disproportionately hurt our most vulnerable communities, impacting their health, environment and standard of living,” says Xavier Becerra, California attorney general. “And given the role landfill emissions play in exacerbating climate change, EPA’s ongoing efforts to delay implementation of these regulations is unacceptable. We look forward to holding the EPA accountable for its failure to perform its mandatory duties under the Clean Air Act and for its unwillingness to protect public health.”

New Mexico submitted an implementation plan in May 2017. EPA’s failure to act on it by the November 2017 deadline has created regulatory uncertainty as the state’s plan is not federally enforceable, according to Cholla Khoury, director of Environmental and Consumer Protections in New Mexico, Office of the Attorney General for the state.

“More significantly, New Mexico is a water-scarce state that is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change … In addition, New Mexico is the home of the infamous methane ‘hot spot’ detected by satellites. Although this phenomenon is attributed primarily to oil and gas development, it demonstrates that substantial reductions of this potent greenhouse gas are needed wherever they can be achieved," says Khoury.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2006 levels by 2030 to mitigate climate change.

In Maryland’s declaration, which was part of the motion for summary judgement, George S. Aburn, Jr. of the Maryland Department of the Environment stated, “… unless the impacts of climate change are effectively reduced, Maryland faces severe consequences.”

Aburn went on to say a working group of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) estimates indicate that sea level could be as much as 2.1 feet higher in 2050 along Maryland’s shorelines than it was in 2000.

“The MCCC recommends that it would be prudent to plan for such an occurrence,” he says.

In particular, the state has expressed concerns over the impact of climate change from emissions on the Chesapeake Bay, which generates about $1 trillion annually in revenue.

“Human development and pollution have degraded the natural resilience of the ecosystems of the bay and its watershed, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme events. Climate change will likely exacerbate this problem,” notes Aburn.

In an earlier statement, the eight states pointed out that EPA originally asserted that pollution reductions that would result from the landfill emission rules would improve air quality and reduce potential for public health effects from landfill gas emissions. But “instead of working to support and ensure compliance … EPA has worked to undermine them,” the states contended.

The EPA argues the lawsuit should be put on hold as it plans to enforce the rule in 2023.

Need to Know

EU Votes to Ban 10 Types of Single-use Plastics by 2021

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The European Parliament on March 27 voted in favor of banning 10 different types of single-use plastic items by 2021. Banned items will comprise the 10 most found items on European Union (EU) beaches, including plates, straws, balloon sticks, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.  

According to a Global News report, EU countries can choose their own methods of reducing the use of other single-use plastics such as takeout containers and cups for beverages. They will also have to collect and recycle at least 90 percent of beverage bottles by 2029. In addition, tobacco companies will be required to cover the costs for public collection of cigarette butts.

Global News has more details:

Single-use plastic items such as straws, forks and knives as well as cotton buds will be banned in the European Union by 2021 following a vote by EU lawmakers on Wednesday as the bloc pushes manufacturers to step up their recycling efforts.

Growing concerns about plastic pollution in oceans and stories of dead whales with plastic in their stomachs, together with China’s decision to stop processing waste have prompted the EU to take more drastic steps to tackle the issue.

Marine litter has come under the spotlight because 85 percent of it is plastic.

Read the full article here.

Need to Know

Ohio County Officials Consider Outsourcing Recycling

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Ashland County, Ohio, officials are considering potential changes to the county’s recycling center. The county is seeking proposals for two possible options, according to an Ashland Source report.

One option would be to outsource all recycling operations of the Ashland County Recycling Center, including collection and processing, to an outside company, the report notes. The second option would outsource some, but not all, of the services currently offered.

County commissioners have hired GT Environmental to help assess options and distribute request for proposals from recycling companies.

Ashland Source has more information:

County commissioners took another step Thursday in their consideration of possible changes to the Ashland County Recycling Center.

The commissioners have hired GT Environmental at a cost of $4.950 to assist the county in further assessing options and putting out a request for proposals from recycling companies. 

These services are in addition to the consulting work GT Environmental recently conducted for the county to produce a feasibility study at a cost of $14,800.

Read the full article here.

Need to Know

Hampden, Maine, Fiberight Facility Takes in First Recycling Batch

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The long-awaited Fiberight plant in Hampden, Maine, took in its first batch of recycling on March 26. The facility is on track to begin accepting municipal waste on April 15 from 115 Maine communities and will ramp up full-scale operations by July 1.

Construction of Fiberight’s new $69 million, 144,000-square-foot waste-to-energy facility began in October 2016. In April 2017, Fiberight was granted a $45 million, tax-exempt bond from the Finance Authority of Maine to help construct and operate the facility, which will convert trash from more than 115 communities into biogas.

The facility was slated to open in April 2018, but due to a number of winter storms, the construction for the facility took much longer to complete. During that time, tens of thousands of tons of waste, including some recyclables and organics, had been sent to either Juniper Ridge Landfill in Alton or the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock at a cost of $70 per ton.

According to a Central Maine report, Fiberight officials and the Municipal Review Committee board “remain tight-lipped about which communities the facility will accept waste from first.”

Central Maine has more information:

The Fiberight advanced waste processing facility took in its long-awaited first batch of recycling on Tuesday.

Once the plant is completed, its state-of-the-art machinery will pick out cardboard, plastics and metals from unsorted garbage and recycling, then convert soluble food waste into biogas and other waste into marketable cellulose. The $69 million Hampden facility is on track to begin accepting municipal waste April 15 and ramp up to full-scale commercial operations by July 1, according to Fiberight CEO Craig Stuart-Paul.

“The MRFF (materials recovery facility, which separates recyclables) is now fully energized, the baler is fully functional and we’re going through each of the systems,” Stuart-Paul said Wednesday afternoon at a Municipal Review Committee board meeting in Brewer. “The last contractor is on track to be out by the end of April. There are still a few cats we’re herding, but the ramp-up for May and June is still on schedule.”

Read the full article here.

Need to Know

Waste Industry Veterans Deliver New Technology Solutions

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Texas-based WASTELINQ, whose waste industry experts design innovative technology solutions to meet the needs of waste industry customers and service providers, just announced the first quarter launch of its Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.

The technology startup, founded by experts with more than 70 years of combined experience managing waste brokerages and treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs), has created platforms that help waste generators and waste service providers capture the financial, operational and environmental value of superior waste management strategy and practice.

"We know our solutions work because they're the same solutions we used to build an industry-leading waste brokerage,” said Chief Financial Officer Ken Odom in a statement. “Although we're new to the software market, our software has been tested and refined over the course of nearly 15 years of intensive operations."

WASTELINQ's founders said they found value in sticking to their roots as waste service providers, noting that they are “using technology to share the deep knowledge of best-in-class waste operations that was the core of their service business.”

WASTELINQ's announcement includes two products. WASTELINQ Generator allows waste generators to develop and maintain waste management plans and efficient operations by providing capabilities like waste characterization and profiling, inventory and shipping management, document archiving and reporting. WASTELINQ Enterprise is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tool designed specifically for TSDFs, brokers, transporters and consultants. In addition to the features needed to manage waste on behalf of a generator, Enterprise includes tools for managing customer data, order management and logistics and accounting.

Both products, which had a soft launch to about 100 users in fourth quarter 2018, will be on display at the TCEQ's Environmental Trade Fair and Conference in Austin on May 14 and 15. Odom said the company looks forward to returning to the TCEQ show in a new capacity, and he thinks waste management professionals will be impressed.

"We've been in their shoes, doing these jobs, so we know the day-to-day frustrations. We saw a need and a way to make things better, and that's what these two software packages do," he said.

Need to Know

BIC Commissioner Brownell Addresses Concerns Ahead of Resignation

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Daniel Brownell, commissioner for the New York City Business Integrity Commission (BIC), is scheduled to step down from his post this week.

Brownell’s resignation comes after months of coverage and complaints from lawmakers that the BIC has been too lax in its oversight of the city’s private trash collection industry. Brownell was appointed to lead the BIC by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. In a statement made earlier this month, de Blasio called Brownell’s resignation voluntary and said that he played “a big role in crafting legislation to protect the most vulnerable workers in the trade waste industry.”

Waste Dive recently sat down with Brownell and spoke about his tenure, safety regulations and ongoing local corruption concerns.

Waste Dive has more information:

The person in charge of regulating New York's commercial waste industry is heading out at the end of this week, leaving behind nearly five years of increasing pressure in the local market.

Dan Brownell was appointed commissioner of the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) in May 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio. During his tenure, the agency has been credited with reviving a dormant Trade Waste Advisory Board, hosting multiple "safety symposium" events, working on a free trade waste safety manual and overseeing an investigation that ultimately led to the demise of the now notorious company Sanitation Salvage.

On the occasion of Brownell's departure (said to be voluntary), some in the local industry have applauded his time as commissioner, pointing to his willingness to collaborate and heightened attention around worker safety. Others that have been more critical in the past, such as labor groups, have had little to say on the matter. In first reporting it, ProPublica wrote that Brownell was leaving after "months of embarrassing news coverage," questioning his agency's speed in addressing labor issues. A New York City Council committee investigation into the agency remains ongoing.

Read the full Q&A here.

Book: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Waste Monitoring Technology

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Grant to Help Second Harvest Accelerate Food Rescue in Canada

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Canada's largest food-rescue organization Second Harvest is undertaking the first national study of food programs offered by public sector and community service organizations via a $1.8 million grant from the Walmart Foundation.

Second Harvest CEO Lori Nikkel made the announcement in Montréal at Americana, a three-day international environmental forum. Nikkel was joined by Cyrille Ballereau, vice president of regional operations for Walmart Canada.

Second Harvest again will partner with Value Chain Management International, a leader in food industry research, to map food programs across Canada. Their recent research collaboration, “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste,” reported that 11 million metric tonnes of potentially rescuable food is lost or wasted across the food chain each year. This new study will determine the location and capacity of current food programs, as well as identify gaps in existing food-rescue networks.

The funding from the Walmart Foundation will be used to accelerate food recovery in varying community sizes, using FoodRescue.ca, Second Harvest's online platform for donating food. FoodRescue.ca is a matchmaking tool that connects a wide range of charities, nonprofit organizations and schools with all types of food donors, including multinational manufacturers and retailers, chain and independent restaurants, food processors and farms.

"It has been incredible to see the social and environmental benefits that FoodRescue.ca brings to communities," said Nikkel in a statement. "Our nonprofit partners tell us that access to good food has positive impacts for the people they assist and also helps their operating budgets go further, so they can do more with their programs. Plus, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced when healthy food is rescued instead of going to landfill. That's a win for all of us."

"We remain committed to being part of the solution on the important issue of food waste in Canada," said Eileen Hyde, director of strategic initiatives for The Walmart Foundation, in a statement. "Today's announcement will build upon our efforts to help accelerate momentum on improving food recovery in Canada."

In addition, Second Harvest will use some of this new funding to enhance FoodRescue.ca with a transportation module that will allow volunteers and community support groups to pick up donated food and deliver to people in need. This feature is designed to help get nutritious food to those who need it while reducing the impact food waste has on the environment.