Radiating Opportunity

Features - MRF Series

Moving toward a processing model that involves a network of single-stream MRFs is one strategy to increase diversion in Tennessee


The Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC) recently assisted the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in a characterization of the state’s current recycling economy, material flow and potential opportunities that could increase local government collection of key recyclable materials. The resulting report, “Characterization of Tennessee’s Recycling Economy,” is summarized in this article. SERDC is currently working with TDEC on strategic and implementation concepts.

Disposal Rates For Recyclables

Tennessee’s state disposal and recycling data, together with waste composition data from multiple states and municipalities across the country, were used to develop a data set on a county-by-county basis for Tennessee. The goal for the information gathered was to determine the total tonnage disposed for five focus materials—paper, plastic, aluminum, steel and glass—in the residential waste stream for each county in Tennessee.

Total waste disposal in Tennessee in 2011 was approximately 7.2 million tons. Residential disposal is taken as a percentage of total waste disposed in the state. Using estimates from county annual solid waste reports and other data, SERDC determined that statewide disposal from the residential sector was approximately 3.3 million tons; this represents about 46 percent of total disposal. The focus materials in the disposed residential waste stream totaled slightly more than 1.1 million tons.

Processing Infrastructure
Tennessee has a dependable network of privately owned and operated material recovery facilities (MRFs) and baling operations. MRFs are especially well-developed in the five major population centers across Tennessee. This presents a great opportunity for the residential sector to drive growth in the recycling economy through increased diversion throughout this network. By deploying a hub-and-spoke approach to supplying these large MRFs, many of the more rural areas of the state have access to large volume, lower cost processing.

With access to this infrastructure, communities can more realistically look to roll carts and single-stream collection as a core to their recycling services. Local governments can focus their investment on collection and education; and, through partnerships, private sector firms or larger municipalities can invest in the processing infrastructure needed to generate commodity grade products.

Local Recycling End Markets

Industries in Tennessee help drive the regional recycling economy. Material flows from communities to recycling facilities and then to various end users. Strong markets exist across the state for plastic, paper, aluminum and steel. Previously SERDC has identified that Tennessee is home to more than 29 manufacturers who rely on recycled content feedstock. (Visit www.RecyclingToday.com/rt0813-mrf-series.aspx for an illustration.)

SERDC provided three end-user profiles to showcase the volume, type and value of the material consumed and required by various industries in Tennessee. This includes everything from the production of aluminum cans and cardboard boxes to raw materials for the auto industry. One sample profile can be seen on page 86.

Value of Focus Material in Disposed Waste Stream
The disposal data produced by SERDC is used with recycling market commodity prices to develop an estimate of the value for the focus materials currently disposed in the residential waste stream. The five focus materials represent items most commonly targeted for recovery from the residential waste stream. The pricing data was calculated using dollar-per-pound averages for 2012 and totaled about $180.3 million for all the focus material lost to disposal. (Pricing data were accessed through Recycling Data Management Announced Recovered Material Prices, 2012.) State Rep. Judd Matheny, whose district includes VICAM, featured on page 86, which uses more PET (polyethylene terephthalate) than is collected in the state, said, “Adding $180 million in recovered material is like bringing in a new factory with 1,000 jobs.”

The market value calculation is designed to illustrate part of the economic impact associated with the recovery of these materials. As these commodities move up the value chain, their market price grows as value is added, and the multiplier varies depending on the material. This is the margin that creates the recycling economy and provides the backbone for a green supply chain in the manufacturing of goods.


Community Profiles
Focus materials in the residential waste stream are generated in communities across Tennessee. From urban centers like Nashville and Memphis to suburban and rural communities like East Ridge and Lewisburg, each of these communities plays a role in the recovery of material that drives the recycling economy. The infrastructure available in each community may vary, but the integration of all these players is what pushes the flow of recovered material. This creates recycling, which drives the supply chain and feeds industries across Tennessee and the Southeast.

SERDC has developed six community profiles representing a diverse collection of municipal and county recycling programs. These profiles are not meant to showcase “model” programs; instead, they highlight options to divert more material, grow the recycling economy in Tennessee and discuss various methods of residential recovery. See the table on page 88 for a profile of East Ridge, a suburban community with curbside recycling service.

Local Access to Recycling Markets

MRF access near population centers will create the infrastructure to grow diversion and push material into the recycling economy. Local communities have varied programs collecting a range of different materials, and integration across Tennessee will help to broaden the list of materials collected, drive more diversion and create the critical mass to grow the recycling economy.

Mapping a 50-mile driving radius from the middle of each population center provides an overview of the area that could be serviced from these locations through a network of regional MRFs. Moving toward a processing model that involves a network of single-stream MRFs is one strategy to drive more diversion.

The map available at www.RecyclingToday.com/rt0813-mrf-series.aspx illustrates the impact of MRF development in five population centers across Tennessee.

Access is a driver that can affect diversion. Access married with education, outreach and incentive programs around recycling will affect diversion for the longer term. Long-term diversion performance will drive economic development around materials management, and increased recycling directly leads to economic development from new jobs and capital investments.

Value will be generated as material moves from generation to collection, processing and end markets. The value added at each step along the way is what will drive the recycling economy. Increasing the volume of recovered materials also will create a larger economic impact of material diversion. Jobs are created as access drives diversion, investment and value. The higher the material moves along the value chain, the greater the impact on job creation.

Tennessee has demand for focus material that far exceeds what is collected in the state. The manufacturers in the state currently have to look to other states and beyond for material to use as feedstock in their manufacturing. Through an improved hub-and-spoke system, continued education and better diversion, Tennessee can provide more of its own feedstock, converting money lost to tipping fees into revenue.

A copy of the full “Characterization of Tennessee’s Recycling Economy” report from SERDC can be found at the organization’s website, www.serdc.org.

Will Sagar, will.sagar@serdc.org, is executive director of the Southeast Recycling Development Council, Brevard, N.C., and Matt Todd, mtodd@recycle.com, is a project consultant with Resource Recycling Systems, Ann Arbor, Mich.