Single-stream recycling continues to work for haulers; consumers remain unconvinced.
In an effort led by the largest collection and hauling companies in the municipal recycling industry, single-stream collection and processing has grown throughout this decade.
Although the practice has demonstrated its ability to save truck fuel on the collection side, a debate remains as to how much additional cost is being shifted to processing activity at MRFs and screening activity at manufacturing sites.
Ralph Simon, vice president of Southeast fiber supply at SP Newsprint, Atlanta, has learned about single-stream from both the processing and consuming side of the equation, he told attendees of a session at the Southeast Recycling Conference & Trade Show, which took place in mid-March in Orange Beach, Ala.
On the processing side, SP Recycling Corp.—an affiliate company of SP Newsprint—operates 27 recycling facilities, two of which are single-stream MRFs. (Another single-stream plant is scheduled to come online in May.)
SP has accepted the wisdom of single-stream as an answer to consolidating tonnage, says Simon, but it is also anxious to make sure that recyclers who accept such materials engage in best practices to sort them properly.
SP Newsprint’s two mills, one in Georgia and the other in Oregon, have both seen increases in contamination in their inbound fiber supply with the spread of single-stream collection and processing, notes Simon. “SP doesn’t care how it’s collected,” says Simon of the recovered fiber it accepts, but the company does know that it bears the cost of poorly sorted material.
According to Simon, SP Newsprint must dispose of some 1,300 tons per day of sludge at its Dublin, Ga., mill that can consist of a variety of contaminants, including a considerable amount of plastic, aluminum and steel that would have had value to the recyclers who shipped it to SP if they had recovered it properly. “Why are people shipping us valuable aluminum and plastic?” Simon asked conference attendees.
Michael Taylor, a market area vice president with Waste Management Inc., said haulers and processors such as Waste Management are aware that material that is collected poorly affects both the ability of its own MRFs to handle the material as well as the quality of shipments received by end consumers.
He told the attendees that the company is increasingly designing MRFs to be flexible to adapt to regional conditions such as cold and wet weather, peak tourist seasons, the volume of commercial material accepted, and local collection practices.
Waste Management’s current thinking remains in favor of larger plants that offer economies of scale, according to Taylor. He noted that because of robust residential and commercial collection of recyclables, even some of the company’s largest MRFs are “pushing up against their capacities.”
In a rundown of statistics gathered by Governmental Advisory Associates, Westport, Conn., Jerry Powell of Resource Recycling magazine noted that the number of single-stream MRFs in the United States grew from 5 to 73 between 1995 and 2005, and the number of total MRFs rose from 133 in 1995 to 473 in 2005.
The Southeast Recycling Conference & Trade Show, hosted by the Southern Waste Information eXchange Inc., took place March 11-13 in Orange Beach, Ala.