Renewing Sustaining Member
New Supporting Members
Renewing Supporting Member
Membership is key to NERC's regional and national commitment to sustainable materials management. We are delighted to welcome renewing Sustaining Member Schaefer Systems, and our newest Supporting Members Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), and the Southern Waste Information eXchange (SWIX), and renewing Supporting Member Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD), Vermont.
Thank you to all our Advisory Members. To see a complete listing of NERC's Members and Supporters, as well as the benefits of membership, visit the NERC Advisory Membership web page.
The broad spectrum of interests represented by NERC's Advisory Members, Individual Supporters, and Board Members and their willingness to participate significantly contribute to the unique and important role that NERC plays in recycling in the region.
For more information, contact Lynn Rubinstein, Executive Director.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Republic Services is the second-largest recycling and waste management company in the United States, with 14 million customers and revenues of over $10 billion in 2017. The company operates 195 landfills, 204 transfer stations, 343 hauling facilities, and 90 recycling centers.
In 2017, Republic Services increased its commitment to sustainable materials management with its acquisition of ReCommunity. The acquisition added 26 recycling centers, collecting approximately 1.6 million tons of recycled commodities across 14 states, to Republic’s recycling operations. Overall, Republic’s recycling centers process over six million tons of recyclables annually.
“With its expansion in the Northeast, Republic made a commitment to remaining involved with recycling organizations and policies, and decided to become a member of NERC,” said Frank Chimera, Senior Manager. “We are looking forward to the opportunity for regional conversations and collaboration that NERC offers.”
In the company’s 2017 Sustainability Report, CEO Don Slager described a 2014 initiative by the company to strengthen its sustainability platform:
“I am pleased to report we have achieved all of our time-bound goals,” Slager wrote in his introduction to the report. Republic’s safety performance, for example, is 41% better than the waste management industry average, the report states.
Also in his introduction, Slager does not shrink from addressing the challenges currently faced by the recycling model in the US. “The recycling model — as Americans have known it for years — simply isn’t working,” he wrote. “But, we believe a recycling reset represents opportunity — unprecedented opportunity to build a successful, sustainable recycling model suited for the 21st century.”
“At Republic, we understand that we play a critical role in helping more than 14 million customers lessen their environmental impact,” Slager continued.
Given the growing nationwide emphasis on the responsible collection of food scraps and other organics, it is not surprising to learn of Republic’s involvement. The company collects and diverts 500,000 tons of organics per year. The company’s Pacific Region Compost facility was recognized with SWANA’s Excellence Award in Composting Systems, and received the Oregon Recycling Association’s Recycler of the Year Award.
Republic’s sustainability efforts have earned the company recognition from major international organizations. It was ranked among leading companies by CDP for its progress in reducing the impacts of climate change. It is the only recycling and waste management company currently included in Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies. Republic was one of only eight North American companies to receive a Gold Class Award in RobecoSAM’s 2018 Gold Class Sustainability Yearbook. And it is the only waste management company currently listed on both the World and North America indices of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.
Additionally, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2018 Corporate Equality Index gave Republic a 100% rating as “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality”. The company has also been included among Ethisphere’s list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.
We hope you’ve already made your decision to join us at NERC’s Conference—The Future of MRFs—and just need to wrap things up at work and pack your bags. If that’s not the case and you need a gentle push to jumpstart your plans, we’ve provided the following checklist for you:
If you can think of anything else you need, call NERC staff and we’ll be glad to help you.
Conference contact: Mary Ann Remolador, Assistant Director, NERC.
NERC has scheduled its Spring Workshop in Wilmington, Delaware on March 21. Mark your calendar to hold the date! More details about the workshop will be announced in future issues of the Email Bulletin.
If you’d like to discuss the Spring Workshop, please contact Mary Ann Remolador.
George MacDonald of Maine recently received a 2018 Lifetime Environmental Achievement Award from EPA Region 1 for his work to protect the New England environment.
George McDonald of Belgrade was recognized for his many years of service to the health and environment of the state.
George MacDonald, who recently retired from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, has had a remarkable 40-year career in environmental protection, sustainability, recycling, and solid waste management. A resident of Maine, MacDonald’s career included 10 years with the federal Soil Conservation Service, working with agricultural producers to conserve and improve soil and water resources, as well as time as municipal solid waste director and deputy public works director. MacDonald also directed the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, managed solid waste programs at the State Planning Office, and managed special projects in the office of the DEP commissioner. From 2012 until his recent retirement, he served as director of DEP’s Division of Sustainability.
MacDonald’s knowledge and insights regarding waste management, recycling and sustainability made him a “go to” person on these issues in Maine and the region. He was instrumental in the creation of the Northeast Recycling Council and the Maine Compost School, then worked with both organizations for years. He served on the Council’s board for 21 years and he joined the faculty of the Compost School in 1999, where he remains committed to its programs. His activities at the Compost School have helped more than 800 students from across the United States and from 45 countries.
During his career, MacDonald has been involved in both technical and policy related to a wide range of waste, materials management and sustainability issues. His leadership and significant contributions have resulted in a healthier environment and in sustainable materials management practices. He has left his mark on Maine's materials management landscape and on composting throughout the region and made an outstanding contribution to protect New England, and particularly Maine's environment. He has been an inspiration to individuals and companies regionwide, not only for his dedication, but also as a leader in advancing materials management.
A multi-year study commissioned by Materials Recovery for the Future (MRFF), a collaboration of leading brands, industry associations, and recyclers in the packaging recovery value chain including JP Mascaro & Sons, conducted equipment testing with five equipment manufacturers and multiple MRFs. The testing focused on tuning optical sorters to recognize and better sort flexibles from the fiber materials, as well as observe and estimate what portion of the flexible plastic packaging introduced to the infeed of the MRF could potentially be captured to a new flexible packaging product bale.
Initial research confirmed the hypothesis that flexible plastic packaging flows to the fiber lines with 88% of the test flexible plastic packaging material measured in the test MRF fiber lines. Optical sorters were able to extract a relatively clean stream of flexibles from the fiber, however the screens and optical sorters would get overwhelmed and a large quantity of paper was ejected with the flexible packaging. Air flow control over the acceleration conveyor and design of the collection hood were identified as areas of further testing to successfully sort flexible packaging from paper.
This research has led to a real-world pilot with J.P. Mascaro & Sons at the TotalRecycle MRF in Birdsboro, PA. Testing is scheduled to being in February 2019 of an upgraded MRF system design that will automatically sort materials to specific quality levels and purity – cleaning up paper bales while establishing a new, stable supply of flexible packaging feedstock for use in manufacturing recycled content projects.
NERC is hosting the Adding New Materials to Curbside Recycling: MRF Pilot Program for Films, Bags, and Pouches webinar on November 14th, 2018 at 2:00 pm ET. The webinar will feature researchers Susan Graff and Chris King from RRS, the consulting firm conducting the research program, presenting key findings from their MRF automated sorting research, and MRF owner J.P. Mascaro Sr. sharing his perspective on the importance of the pilot.
Register for the webinar here.
Starting this month, NERC will be embarking on an exciting new project—Implementing Rural Community Composting in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. The project is funded through the US Department of Agriculture, Rural Utility Services, Solid Waste Management Grant Program.
Community composting is growing in popularity around the country. Most prominent in urban areas, community composting is also taking hold in rural, small town areas. Community composting takes place on a scale between backyard and industrial options. The strategy lets residents put sustainability into practice on a local level, by not only serving to divert food scraps from disposal, but also providing training in food waste composting. While small, community compost sites often serve as outdoor education centers for teaching community and home composting. And, these operations can be an important component of rural and small town diversion efforts.
Through the project, we will:
A team of compost experts has been assembled to work with NERC on developing the training resources, including: Natasha Duarte, Director, Composting Association of Vermont; Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator, Vermont Community Gardens Network; Dawn Pettinelli, Assistant Extension Educator, Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture, University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab; Jean Bonhotal, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute (CWMI), Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; and, Beret Halverson, State Coordinator, UVM Extension Master Gardener & Master Composter Program.
For more information on the project or community composting, contact Athena Lee Bradley.
NERC staff Athena Lee Bradley co-authored an article with Natasha Duarte, director of the Composting Association of Vermont for the September edition of Resource Recycling.
The article, Looking Farther Afield, discusses food scrap diversion efforts in small towns and rural jurisdictions in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.
As presented in the article, effective strategic planning, dedication on the part of local stakeholders, and a focus on resident education and involvement has helped make food scrap diversion successful in a number of rural and small town communities.
Brattleboro, Vermont (population 12,000) initiated a pilot curbside food scraps collection program in 2013.The pilot went town-wide in 2014 with free curbside food scrap collection offered to all 5,300 households (including multi-family properties with up to four units). With the adoption of state-mandated pay-as-you-throw trash disposal in July 2015, collection of food scraps more than doubled to 9.5 tons per week. By switching to every-other-week trash collection in 2016, Brattleboro’s food scrap diversion grew to 10.3 tons per week. By 2018, the town was diverting 64 percent of its waste stream through recycling and organics diversion.
The Windham Solid Waste Management District compost facility (located in Brattleboro) now processes 605 tons per year of food waste (and soiled paper) from the Brattleboro curbside collection, along with 627 tons per year of commercial and institutional food waste. Tonnages have increased significantly over the past two years, particularly on the commercial side. The facility is a cash-positive operation. This win-win situation saves the Town of Brattleboro approximately $35,000 a year in reduced tip fees (landfill-tipping charges locally are $105 per ton).
Lamoille Soil, operated by Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District (LRSWMD), is a regional organics collection program and local composting facility. The district serves 12 member communities in central Vermont, ranging in population from 236 to 5,139. Food scraps are accepted at all six LRSWMD transfer station drop-offs and transferred to Lamoille Soil. Residents are charged $1 for every 5 gallons of food scraps. Private haulers collecting food scraps from commercial establishments are also encouraged to tip at the facility.
Screened compost is available for purchase at the district’s drop-off sites at a cost of $5 for a 5-gallon pail, or in bulk for $50 per cubic yard at the facility. LRSWMD is also working with member towns to use the Lamoille Soil compost in municipal projects. Currently, the district covers operation costs, and the operation is anticipated to become cost-neutral by 2020.
The Ludlow Area Community Garden, also in Vermont, began its community food scrap composting operation in 2017. The garden’s “compost team” members were already composting garden waste, but they wanted to incorporate food scraps from the homes of people who were members of the garden. Members also sought to establish a demonstration site for providing outreach and education about composting. Wanting to make food scrap composting as appealing and accessible as possible, their system showcases different types of bins and tumblers.
Around 90 percent of member gardeners participated in the first year, and compost outreach was extended through the organizing team’s connections with two Windsor County youth shelters. In the spring, the garden compost site resumed full swing. All bins and tumblers were emptied and a sizeable volume of rich, ready-to-use compost was collected. The garden resumed collecting food scraps and filling their bins and tumblers.
Another case study from Vermont shows how food scrap diversion can be established at multi-family complexes. Supported by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Services grant, Cassandra Hemenway, outreach manager of Central the Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD), helped establish a pair of neighborhood food scrap composting sites. They are located at Quarry Hill, a low-income housing complex with 36 units in Barre and Franklin Street Home Owners Association, a condominium complex with 10 units in Montpelier.
At both complexes, food scraps are composted in a tumbler. After three to four weeks, materials are moved to a three-bin system lined with one-quarter-inch hardware cloth. This approach, used at other community compost sites in Vermont, makes food scrap composting more palatable to those with concerns about vector control and odors.
The state of Maine is well known for hosting the Maine Compost School, the longest running compost training school in the country. The state tends to shun regulatory mandates, but through grants, training and technical assistance, the state has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to organics diversion and value-added compost products.
Mark King, Environmental Specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, provided technical assistance to Skowhegan (population 8,302) when the town started adding food scraps to its yard trimmings compost operation in 2014. The program continues to expand, with about 50 households and a regional charter school participating.
The Skowhegan Solid Waste Management Facility staff conducts extensive networking and educational outreach. Regular school visits help promote composting and recycling efforts to the next generation. Skowhegan officials, recognizing the facility’s benefits, fully support the operation. The facility processes food scraps and organics for less than the $66 per ton landfill tipping fee, amounting to about $15,000 per year in savings for the town. The operation produces more than 1,200 yards of finished screened compost
The Franklin County Solid Waste Management District (FCSWMD) in Massachusetts consists of 21 member towns in the less-populated western part of the state. The towns’ populations range from 378 to 8,455. Twenty-five public schools in Franklin County, including seven high schools, have comprehensive cafeteria and kitchen food scrap composting programs. Additionally, eight other schools in the county collect food waste for animal feed at local farms. Only two schools in the county remain without diversion programs.
Amy Donovan, program director of FCSWMD, starts each school off with a food waste composting presentation. She also provides technical assistance in implementing food scrap collection in each school cafeteria, as well as troubleshooting as needed. Eight Franklin County transfer stations accept food scraps and soiled paper from residents at no cost. The district also lends its special event signage and recycling and compost bins to over 40 special events each year.
For more information about the case studies described in the article, contact Athena Lee Bradley.
NERC's fiscal year 2018 is now available on the NERC website. For more information, contact Lynn Rubinstein, NERC Executive Director.
Connecticut’s public awareness and education initiative conducted in partnership with CT DEEP, the RecycleCT Foundation and CT MRFs has recently won a number of awards.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized by my peers,” said Rob Klee, CT DEEP commissioner.
Klee accepted a State Program Innovation Award from ECOS at their fall meeting. ECOS is a nonprofit association of state and territorial environmental agency leaders and each fall recognizes innovative state initiatives. A short video promoting the What's IN, What's OUT campaign was shared at the ECOS meeting.
This spring, Decker Creative, the marketing firm working with RecycleCT and CT DEEP, received two awards from AD Club CT associated with the What's IN, What's OUT campaign.
For more information on What’s IN, What’s OUT or RecycleCT, contact Sherill Baldwin.
The Maryland Department of the Environment, Bowie State University (BSU) and EPA Region 3 are collaborating on a Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit and Eighth Annual Food Day Symposium. The free, one-day event will be held on October 24th at BSU. The Summit will bring together attendees from the following sectors for presentations, information-sharing, and networking in the area of food recovery:
The theme of the Summit is Bridging Food Recovery Gaps to Meet Food Waste Reduction Goals. The summit will explore the magnitude of of ambitious government and corporate food recovery goals and what will be needed to achieve them. Presentations will address gaps in food recovery infrastructure and innovative ways to bridge them; how to scale effective solutions to make meaningful progress toward goals; and strategies for food recovery across different sectors and within rural and urban areas.
For additional information and to register, please visit: https://www.bowiestate.edu/academics-research/colleges/college-arts-sciences/departments/natural-sciences/food-day/.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has posted the 2018 Grant Application for the Recycling Business Development Grant (RBDG) program. This program is intended to help Massachusetts recycling processors and manufacturers create sustainable markets for eligible materials, and to add value to municipal and business recycling efforts. Selected applicants will receive grant awards of between $50,000 and $400,000.
Any business funded by the RBDG program must have a location in Massachusetts where the proposed recycling or recycling-related activity such as aggregation, processing, reclaiming or reuse will occur. All grants made under the RBDG program should provide a measurable economic benefit to Massachusetts. Applicants must be a company or corporation (for-profit or non-profit) properly licensed to do business in the Commonwealth. Applicants also must have been in substantial compliance with federal and state environmental laws for the past three years. A minimum financial match of 25 percent is required.
Only projects related to the list of eligible materials will be funded. Projects to increase recycling of other materials will not be considered. Eligible materials for this grant cycle are:
For more information and to obtain a copy of the application, please visit the MassDEP Recycling Business Development Grants web page. Applications must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 5, 2018 If you have questions or need additional information, please contact Joshua Cook at 617-292-5619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) recently launched “Put It In The Bin”—a partner-friendly social media initiative focused on educating consumers and others about the value of always putting recyclables in the bin. This nine-week campaign is comprised of a series of colorful and attractive images and suggested posts that IBWA members and campaign partners can use on their social media channels to promote the value of recycling empty PET plastic drink containers.
The images, designed by IBWA supplier member Lighthouse Marketing, specifically target millennials—the group research shows to be less inclined to recycle than their baby boomer and Generation X counterparts. The images were designed for Instagram, which is the social media platform used most by this generation. Although designed for Instagram, the images are also suitable for use on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
The campaign centers around six themes: (1) littering, (2) when a recycling bin is not handy, (3) why people should recycle, (4) the afterlife of rPET, (5) how PET is recycled, and (6) the fact that bottled water containers are 100 percent recyclable – even the cap. Each week during the campaign, IBWA members and campaign partners receive an email with that week’s image and sample posts for use on their own social media channels.
All the campaign collaterals are also provided online at www.putitinthebin.org, which enables IBWA members and partners to access and use the materials on their organization's social media channels at their convenience. Participating organizations can use suggested posts as they are by cutting and pasting or take inspiration and writing their own.
IBWA's Put It In The Bin campaign is on a mission to increase recycling rates by bringing together like-minded partners who can harness the power of social media to educate consumers about the value of always putting recyclables in the bin.
To date, campaign partners include the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), National Association for PET Container Resources, the National Association of Convenience Stores, Keep America Beautiful, and the Florida Recycling Partnership. IBWA continues to look for more partners to help promote our pro-recycling messages that will be featured on PutItInTheBin.org.
To join this no-cost partner initiative, email: email@example.com.
With the decline in recycling markets as a result to China, Vietnam and Malaysia shutting their doors to accepting recyclables from the US, we now have an oversupply of mixed paper, mixed 3-7 and mixed rigid plastics. The outlook for the recovery of the recycling markets for these materials does not look good in the foreseeable future.
To help solve these diminishing markets, waste conversion technologies are being looked at with great interest and may soon come to the rescue with solving the problem.
What are Waste Conversion Technologies?
Technologies that convert municipal and other waste streams into fuels and chemical commodities, termed conversion technologies, are rapidly gaining interest here in the US again.
Back in 2008 when energy prices were high, these waste-to-fuels technologies were being looked at. This time around the interest is being generated due to a lack of markets for our recovered materials.
Here is a synopsis of the three leading technologies that are coming to the forefront:
Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures in an inert atmosphere (without oxygen).
The conversion of plastics to fuels is leading the way with pyrolysis. The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics-to-Fuel & Petrochemistry Alliance was formed to help foster the conversion of plastics to fuels and chemicals.
According to ACC, companies are transforming used, non-recycled plastics into fuel and petroleum-based products. These plastics-to-fuel technologies, which complement ongoing recycling efforts, are being embraced as a way to recover clean energy from plastics that cannot be economically recycled. Growing interest and investments in plastics-to-fuel technologies can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and generate fuel and other useful products to help power America’s transportation system and local economies.
Gasification is a process that converts organic - or fossil fuel-based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures (>700 °C), without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam. The resulting gas mixture is called syngas (from synthesis gas) or producer gas and is itself a fuel.
Gasification is nothing new. It has been around for a long time. Ever hear of a Gas Light or Gas Lamp District. Back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s most metropolitan areas were powered by the gasification of coal to produce fuel for the street lights. This technology has come a long way since then and offers tremendous opportunities with regard to municipal solid waste.
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the bacterial breakdown of biodegradable organic material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas, which is combusted to generate electricity and heat, or can be processed into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels.
According to the American Biogas Council, the U.S. has over 2,200 sites producing biogas in all 50 states: 250 anaerobic digesters on farms, 1,269 water resource recovery facilities using an anaerobic digester (~860 currently use the biogas they produce), 66 stand-alone systems that digest food waste, and 652 landfill gas projects. For comparison, Europe has over 10,000 operating digesters and some communities are essentially fossil fuel free because of them. AD is by far the most successful of the waste conversion technologies and will continue to grow in popularity and use.
Bright Future for Waste Conversion Ahead:
With the resurgence of interest in waste conversion technologies the future looks bright for energy and chemical creation from waste resources we currently have no markets for.
The above mentioned technologies as well as other thermal and non-thermal technologies will be discussed next year at the Waste Conversion Technology Conference & Trade Show which will take place on June 2-4, 2019 at The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey. For more info visit: https://wasteconversionconference.com.
Want to assess the strength of your existing recycling efforts? The Recycling Partnership’s newest online tool shows how your program stacks up. Answer 11 questions about your residential recycling program and they’ll score it in three distinct categories: Recovery, Contamination, and GHG Savings.
The Assessment Tool will then point you to the best set of The Recycling Partnership’s free online tools to boost your program. How cool is that?
There has been much interest among paper industry stakeholders about how China’s recovered paper import policy might affect the recovered fiber supply chain.
The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the tradeoffs of changes in paper recovery and recovered fiber utilization choices. MIT developed a white paper to examine the potential effects of the China import policy throughout the recovered paper supply chain, applying assumptions and methodology drawn from their research. AF&PA feels this was valuable information and wants to share it with external stakeholders.
The MIT report quantifies the recovered fiber (primarily mixed paper) likely to be affected by the China import policy, estimates how much of this material could be consumed by the U.S. paper manufacturers, and summarizes approaches to address the “gap” between current and previous exports of recovered paper to China. MIT used 2016 data as the basis of the study, as this represented a “reasonable” time period that was recent but not yet affected by the policy. The MIT report takes a snapshot in time, with assumptions and recommendations based on the state of play in 2016 and 2017.
Key Findings of the MIT White Paper
Paper Industry and Marketplace Progress
The paper industry, its markets for end products and fiber supply are extremely dynamic. Many changes in the recovered paper supply chain have occurred since China first imposed its policy. Market forces and industry responses are adapting to address the “gap” created by the China export policy implementation:
If you would like to get a copy of the MIT white paper, please contact AF&PA’s Brian Hawkinson.
of general interest
Election Day is little more than two months away. While waste and recycling haven’t been big issues in this election, I expect to see more than the normal number of recycling bills filed next year.
Politicians read the paper and watch TV. They have seen the stories of problems besetting their local recycling programs, and they have heard from constituents who want them to do “something” about it. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t know of any politicians who got elected running against recycling. So, this month, let’s look at how they should go about “fixing” recycling.
The first thing is that it does not matter for recycling whether or not we have a “blue wave” in November. I lobbied on recycling and waste issues at the federal, state and local level for almost three decades. I quickly learned that they are not partisan issues. Instead, legislation is driven by politicians from both sides of the aisle who support recycling and want to see it succeed.
Florida and California are good examples of this. Both states have 75 percent recycling goals, the highest in the country. The laws in the two states are different in the details, but they both aspire to recycle as much as possible. California’s law was passed by a strongly Democratic legislature, Florida’s by an equally strong Republican legislature.
The two laws share an obvious fault. They both set very challenging recycling/diversion goals. Unfortunately, the feasibility of these goals was not examined as thoroughly as it should have been before the laws were passed.
Goals are important. They give us a path forward, something to shoot for. But the most successful goals challenge us without creating an impossible-to-achieve standard. I’ve noted in previous columns that while state recycling goals vary widely, they can all be divided by the number five. Maybe it’s time to set these goals on something closer to rocket science. Next year, state and local officials should take a serious look at what can realistically be achieved before setting new recycling goals. They need to ask themselves: How will the goals be met? What recyclables are targeted, where are they generated, where are existing programs failing and what markets exist for these new, raw materials?
They need to beware of silver bullets. All too often, someone claims they have the answer to recycling’s woes. It can be something as simple as a particular type of collection bin, or a policy option, or a machine that will separate out everything for recycling. The only problem is that neither the perfect collection device or processing technology or policy exists. Some may work well in some localities for some products, but recycling needs realism, not magic.
This leads to the most important point that legislators must consider: Recycling is ultimately about human behavior, not policy or laws. Too many recycling advocates believe that all we need to do is pass a law and recycling will automatically happen in the right way. Yet, we Americans are not the most law-abiding people in the world. How many of us, after all, speed when we drive or fail to come to a complete stop at every stop sign? We like convenience. We like to do our own thing. Garbage is easy because you put it all in one bin. Recycling is hard because you have to think about what to put where. We are trying to recycle so many different things in so many different places that it’s hard to keep them straight. No wonder contamination has become a bigger problem.
As our elected officials struggle with recycling legislation next year, I hope they will make a serious attempt to go beyond the media stories about recycling’s problems. They should investigate what went wrong with markets, what’s in the waste and recycling stream, where it is generated, how these materials and products have changed and the impacts of those changes. They should look closely at the limits to the ability of laws and policies to change human behavior.
If they learned anything from the latest market downturn, they will need to examine ways to improve recycling markets by creating a better business environment for those end markets. They should make siting and permitting manufacturing facilities that use recyclables easier without easing up on any environmental protections. We can’t escape market fluctuations, but we can increase domestic market capacity.
Between now and November, talk to candidates for local and state offices about recycling. Let them know what you think needs to be done. But be sure whatever you advocate can be accomplished based on science and evidence, not wishful thinking.
Chaz Miller is a longtime veteran of the waste and recycling industry and an Ex Officio member of the NERC Board of Directors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the hot topics currently discussed in sustainable materials management circles is food waste diversion. Even a cursory appraisal of composting’s qualities reveals its numerous benefits. It is estimated that as much as 40% of trash landfilled in the US consists of food waste. Additionally, landfilled organic waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas whose short-term impacts are more pronounced than those of carbon dioxide.
On the positive side of the ledger, removing food waste from landfills significantly reduces the volume of waste sent to landfills while reducing some of the impacts of climate change. In addition, composting all that food waste presents a number of desirable benefits, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
A lengthy article published earlier in 2018 in The New York Times notes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “is preparing a special report on climate change and land use, to be finalized in 2019, that will consider in greater detail the potential of sequestering carbon in soil”.
Our definitions for this month’s edition of the NERC Bulletin seeks to explain the general practice of composting, from the backyards of private homes to community gardens to commercial operations.
Home (or backyard) composting is what its name suggests: the composting of food scraps at home, most often for application in a residential garden. In a how-to primer on backyard composting, EPA states, “The billions of living organisms in healthy soil transform dead plants into vital nutrients for new plant growth. Since healthy plants come from healthy soil, one of the best ways you can build healthy soil in your garden and lawn is by using compost.”
Furthermore, while moderately priced equipment can help make the process more efficient and better control factors such as odors, it is not necessary to make the purchase if a pile is going to consist of brush and lawn cuttings. However, EPA advises, “When you want to incorporate food waste, it’s time to use a bin to prevent rodents.”
In a January 2018 article co-authored by NERC’s Athena Lee Bradley and published in Resource Recycling, community composting is described as taking “place on a scale that is larger than home composting but smaller than what is typically considered commercial or industrial composting”. The article goes on to quote the New York City Community Compost Roundtable: “The first goal for community composting is that organic material flows the shortest possible distance in a cycle internal to a community, from the sources to a compost site and then, in a new form as mature compost, to greening projects in that same community. The second goal is to maximize participation of community members, both to help sustain the operation but also to foster individuals’ education about and commitment to sustainable practices.”
So community composting can best be described as a collective exercise in realizing the benefits of the composting process. Furthermore, as the Resource Recycling article points out, many rural communities lack larger commercial composting operations, making community composting the best vehicle for growing the practice beyond the backyard.
According to a 2016 article published on the Medium website, “Commercial or industrial composting is large-scale composting which is designed to handle a very high volume of organic waste, as opposed to private or home composting, which handles organic waste from one household or facility. The compost produced by a commercial composting facility can be sold to farms and nurseries, applied to municipal landscaping, or sold to individuals, depending on how the facility is organized.”
“The compost produced at a commercial facility can be very high-grade,” the article continues, “especially if the staff are conscientious about handling and sorting their compost.”
Benefits of large-scale commercial composting operations include an enhanced ability to convert food waste in a comparatively short period of time. In addition, with the growing presence of compostable food serviceware, the higher temperatures attainable at commercial operations are better suited to break down the products.
A good primer on the science of composting can be found here: The Science Behind Composting.