2013 Paper Recycling Conference: Public Awareness Will Only Benefit the Industry

Nat Egosi, Sean Duffy and Tom Outerbridge discuss the importance of educating the public about recycling.

October 17, 2013
Recycling Today Staff
Municipal / IC&I

Nat Egosi, president of RRT Design and Construction, Melville, N.Y., said every material recovery facility (MRF) his company builds is equipped with an education center because public awareness is that important. Egosi was one of three panelists at the “Making MRFs Work” session during the 2013 Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Marriot Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile. Sean Duffy, president and CEO of ReCommunity, Charlotte, N.C. and Tom Outerbridge, general manager at Sims Metal Management (SMM), New York City, agreed with Egosi that education could result in a higher-quality end product.

“It all goes back to education,” said Duffy. “They learn the do's and don’ts. If there is an educated public, they’re going to do the right thing. If we educate on the front end, we could end up with that quality product.”

Duffy said ReCommunity’s website features an interactive MRF, one way his company is educating the public.

Outerbridge said although curbside recycling became mandatory in New York City in 1989, the city has not seen large recycling numbers. “It’s because of other obstacles in trying to get New Yorkers’ attention.” 

One of those obstacles, Outerbridge explained, is structural problems in older buildings, such as allowing residents to throw trash and recyclables down a chute in the building. Outerbridge said 90 percent of the city’s infrastructure predates modern recycling while 70 percent of the 8.2 million residents live in multi-unit housing. 

And while SMM now has a 20-year contract with the city, New York City had, for many years, maintained short-term contracts, which meant “no new investments,” he said. In New York City, SMM now processes 240,000 tons of metal glass and plastics per year, and 160,000 tons of paper per year at two MRFs, one glass plant and one paper plant.

Another challenge, Outerbridge pointed out, is that one-third of New Yorkers are foreign-born, speaking 170 different languages, and so ensuring every resident understands the city’s recycling guidelines is difficult.

All of these challenges of an uneducated public, Duffy said, lead to too many nonrecyclables mixed in with recyclables and bales that are not clean. Efforts such as China’s Operation Green Fence, he said, “have caused us to put more effort and time” into producing clean bales. 

Egosi said MRF operators need to produce bales that don’t fall apart because “this is embarrassing for the industry. Measures are being taken to do away with this activity,” he said.

The industry also is moving away from storing materials outdoor, Egosi added.

“Outdoor storage will go away. No one is going to put up with this. We’re not going to store materials outside…there are strong odor issues and environmental issues,” he said.

The 2013 Paper Recycling Conference & Trade Show will pick up again Friday, Oct. 18, with the session “Trade Patterns,” which will address world supply demand trends for recovered paper and plastic scrap.

The conference will return to Chicago in 2014 with a slight name change to the Paper and Plastics Recycling Conference. The Marriott Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile will again host the event Oct. 8-10.