Municipal recycling programs and the processing plants that serve them can both benefit from a larger flow of material—but their interests may diverge when deciding what belongs within that incoming stream.
At a session titled “Meeting Municipal Expectations” at the 2010 Paper Recycling Conference, two material recovery facility (MRF) plant operators and a municipal recycling program supervisor shared their experiences in seeking cooperation on collection program design.
Daniel Lantz of Metro Waste Paper Recovery, Toronto, oversees operations at several MRFs that process materials collected in large Canadian cities. He told attendees that his company has been put in the position of trying to separate and sort an increasingly wide range of materials in MRFs not designed or equipped to handle some of them. “Programs in Ontario are handling a minimum of 15 materials; most programs in Ontario are handling well over 20 materials, including materials you don’t even want to think about handling—but we handle them anyhow,” he stated.
Lantz expressed skepticism about the rush to single-stream collection and noted its effects on material quality. “There are tremendous difficulties on the fiber side,” he remarked. “There’s no such thing as a true No. 8 news grade anymore. I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know.”
He continued, “The funny thing is, when you talk to municipalities and ask, ‘Why is it you want to move to single stream?,’ the number one answer I get from all municipalities I talk to is that it’s too hard for the public to understand how to separate the containers from the fiber. I used to work as a consultant for 18 years and I’ve been studying single-stream for more than 10 now. When we rolled out these programs quite successfully 22 or 23 years ago, we got the public to separate into seven compartments—and some of the programs I worked on in the United States had 11 compartments—and we got the public to do it. But now all of a sudden they can’t figure out what a container looks like compared to a piece of paper?”
Steve Sargent of Rumpke Recycling, based in Cincinnati, said “Single-stream in our market has had the greatest impact on increasing collection—but it also brings challenges.”
As in Ontario, Rumpke said program coordinators in Ohio also have requested additional materials be added to collection plans. “But new materials just can’t be added after a MRF is already designed,” Sargent commented.
He said three key questions need to be answered when considering adding a new material: 1) Is there an established market with multiple consumers?; 2) Can the MRF process and sort this material?; and 3) Does the new item negatively impact the net processing cost?
The conversations with municipalities don’t have to be tense, Sargent added. “We have to be mutually agreeable [and] not put up barriers.”
William Kappel, the director of public works in Wauwatosa, Wis. (pop. 46,000), spelled out the recycling program history in that city and its experience with single-stream collection.
The program’s greatest challenge came with a fire in 2006 at the MRF operated by Waste Management Inc. that had been processing Wauwatosa’s “blue bag” recyclables.
The program was ready to ramp back up just as it also introduced a new collection method—96-gallon carts that could be collected by trucks with mechanical arms.
The Wauwatosa program went from collecting 200 tons per month on average in 2007 to 470 tons per month on average in 2008. Concluded Kappel, “It has definitely been a successful partnership for us with Waste Management.”
The 2010 Paper Recycling Conference was held June 13-15 at the Chicago Marriott Magnificent Mile in that city’s downtown.