WBEZ | waste management http://www.wbez.org/tags/waste-management Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en What really happens to Chicago's blue cart recycling? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-really-happens-chicagos-blue-cart-recycling-112302 <p><p>Sara Bibik waited years for her blue cart. In February 2014, Chicago finished rolling out the curbside or alleyway recycling containers to every small residential building in the city, fulfilling a promise first made seven years earlier.</p><p>&ldquo;We were one of the last wards to get blue bins, so we had Blue Bags for a long time,&rdquo; says Bibik, referring to <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-03/news/0805020335_1_blue-bag-program-blue-bags-cart">the city&rsquo;s previous, unsuccessful recycling program</a>. The city&rsquo;s Blue Bag system was notoriously expensive and ineffective, and after 13 years of trying to launch a citywide recycling campaign, Chicago ditched the program.</p><p>Despite the distrust many had for Chicago&rsquo;s blue bags, Bibik and her family had kept using them.</p><p>&ldquo;You felt like it was working. We still did it,&rdquo; she said. She&rsquo;s glad to have a blue cart now, but fears all her work recycling might be for nothing.</p><p>Like many Chicagoans, Bibik, a dance teacher who lives in the Edison Park neighborhood, remains skeptical about her local government&rsquo;s ability to recycle effectively:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>I want to know if our city&rsquo;s blue bin recycling actually gets recycled.</em></p><p>&ldquo;I hope it&#39;s true,&rdquo; says Bibik, 47. &ldquo;I have two kids, 14 and 11. They do love to recycle and they get angry if they see recycling in the garbage. I&#39;ve trained them well.&rdquo;</p><p>But, she asks, is it all going to the landfill anyway? Is recycling all a sham?</p><p>To answer her question we&rsquo;re going to follow the trash from Chicago alleyways all the way through the elaborate sorting facilities where recycled stuff gets prepped for its second act. We&rsquo;ll find out how much of that stuff gets thrown out by the many hands that handle it along the way. And we&rsquo;ll learn how recycling connects average recyclers like Bibik to bauxite miners on the other side of the planet.</p><p>When it comes to recyclables ending up in the landfill, things are a lot less bleak than Bibik secretly suspects &mdash; recycling in Chicago is not a sham &mdash; but there are reasons to wonder if the city underestimates how much of its &ldquo;recycled&rdquo; products actually end up as garbage.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/thealleywayfinal.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(Flickr/zenia)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Not everything makes it out of the alleyway. If garbagemen open the lid of a blue recycling bin and see trash, they slap an orange sticker on that cart, flagging it for the next garbage truck. The city then sends a letter to the bin&rsquo;s owner.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of people put bags in there, you know, The Jewel[-Osco] bags, Glad bags that are not supposed to be in the recycling,&rdquo; says Ken Baran, a worker for Chicago&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation. Other common recycling mistakes, he says: styrofoam and number six plastic. (<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/recycling1/blue_cart_residentialrecyclingacceptedmaterials.html">DSS posts a guide to accepted recyclables online,</a> and on top of its blue carts.)</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tolandfillorangesticker.png" style="float: right; height: 188px; width: 200px;" title="About 4.5 percent of blue cart users received an orange sticker from the City in 2014. That means all that potentially recyclable material is sent to a landfill. " /></div><p>&ldquo;We have good parts of city and bad parts of the city,&rdquo; says Baran.</p><p>Baran sees clunkier contaminants, too: soccer balls, garden hoses, yard waste. Workers will sometimes remove any obvious items from the top of a blue cart and dump the rest onto the truck to be recycled. Otherwise, they leave the load with an orange sticker.</p><p>Last year 27,199 households got at least one of those stickers, or about 4.5 percent of blue cart users. About 1 percent of blue cart homes continued to mistakenly (or purposefully) recycle garbage, and ended up with three or more stickers by the end of 2014.</p><p>Chicagoans sent off almost 103,845 tons of stuff into their blue carts last year, and about eight times as much into their black garbage bins. That&rsquo;s an all-time high, and about 90,600 tons more than in 2007, the program&rsquo;s launch year.</p><p>When their truck is full, Baran and his colleagues drive to one of the city&rsquo;s transfer stations, preparing Chicago&rsquo;s trash for its potentially global odyssey.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/transferstation.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Seagulls cruise over two house-sized mounds of refuse in an empty warehouse. If it&rsquo;s carrying garbage, Baran&rsquo;s truck will dump its contents into a pile on the east side of the room, or in the western pile if it&rsquo;s carrying recycled material. First he&rsquo;ll have his truck weighed.</p><p>This transfer station is at 34th Street &amp; South Lawndale Avenue, next door to the defunct Crawford coal plant. Chicago owns three such facilities, but they are privately operated. Put another way: The transfer stations are where Chicago&rsquo;s recycling becomes someone else&rsquo;s stuff. The city sells its recyclables to two private companies: Waste Management and Resource Management. (Waste Management buys about twice as much as Resource Management.)</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s not much that occurs in terms of any sort of processing here &mdash; it&#39;s like materials dumped out on the floor and it&rsquo;s hauled out of here to some other location,&rdquo; says Chris Sauve, recycling director for the city&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation.</p><p>At this point, almost everything from Chicago&rsquo;s blue bins is still destined for recycling, except for whatever&rsquo;s left in the alley with orange contamination stickers. Almost two-thirds of Chicago&rsquo;s blue cart recycling is paper, however, and if it&rsquo;s soaked with enough rainwater the whole load has to be landfilled. Sauve says this is so rare that they don&rsquo;t keep numbers on it.</p><p>Under five-year contracts that go through 2018, Waste Management and Resource Management agree to buy Chicago&rsquo;s goods at a price that the city adjusts every quarter based on global commodity markets. To account for the costs associated with buying the city&rsquo;s trash, such as hauling and dealing with contamination, Waste Management and Resource Management get to buy at a slight discount, in a sense &mdash; in fact, Resource Management essentially gets paid to take the city&rsquo;s glass.</p><p>Since all the recycling is mixed together in what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;single-stream&rdquo; program, the city multiplies the quarterly price of each commodity by its proportion in Chicago&rsquo;s waste stream, based on <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/zero_waste/2009_chicago_wastecharacterizationstudyandwastediversionstudyres.html">the city&#39;s 2009 waste characterization study</a>. As mentioned, paper and cardboard make up 68 percent of the average ton of blue cart material by weight. Glass is about 11 percent, plastic 4 percent, and metal 3.2 percent.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/sortingcenter.png" style="height: 345px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div><p>After they send trucks to scoop up recyclables from the giant piles at transfer stations, Waste Management and Resource Management send them through an elaborate industrial process to separate out the goods by material.</p><p>I visit one of these sorting facilities, operated by Waste Management, on the far Southeast Side of the city. It&rsquo;s just on the other side of highway from Beaubien Forest Preserve. There I meet Mike Tunney, Waste Management&rsquo;s area director of recycling. Between this and their other Chicago-area facility, Waste Management processes approximately 24,000 tons of recycling every month (only about 5,000 tons comes from the blue cart program).</p><p>About 600 hundred tons of recycled material pile up here each working day, Tunney says &mdash; a fact that&rsquo;s evident from the ceiling-high mountains of trash and heavy truck traffic. To get it ready for its customers, Waste Management sends the mixed-up waste through a labyrinth of conveyor belts, high-tech machines, and actual people who &ldquo;manually recover&rdquo; certain items as they roll by with the rest of the trash.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tolandfill2.png" style="float: right;" title="Between 18 to 20 percent of material that arrives at Waste Management's sorting facilities is not recyclable. That includes items caked with too much food waste, as well as wet paper and strange items such as garden hoses and basketballs." /></div></div></div><p>&ldquo;In the first step of the process ... we have employees in front of a mechanical screens pulling out these large bulk items so that they don&#39;t get caught in the screens,&rdquo; Tunney says. &ldquo;Swimming pools, tarps, or kids&#39; toys, miscellaneous metals.&rdquo;</p><p>Humans also sift through paper goods on conveyor belts in the facility&rsquo;s &ldquo;fiber sorting room,&rdquo; and perform quality control at several other points. But most of the work is automated. Giant blowers waft paper over a sieve for heavier materials like metal. A row of spinning wheels bounces plastic containers along &mdash; as long as plastic bags and food waste haven&rsquo;t gummed up the gears.</p><p>Sorting through trash is surprisingly high-tech. Several types of electromagnetic filters &mdash; fiber magnets, eddy currents &mdash; recover more valuables. There&rsquo;s even an optical sorter that discerns different types of plastic using a laser.</p><p>But what about the stuff that doesn&rsquo;t make it past this step? Tunney says 18 to 20 percent of what goes into their facility doesn&rsquo;t make it out because they can&rsquo;t recycle it. It&rsquo;s &ldquo;contamination&rdquo; like we see with the orange stickers in the alley. A few examples are laid out on the factory floor: a basketball, a garden hose, even a Listerine bottle full of hypodermic needles. I see dozens of plastic bags stretched and wrapped around gears in a dormant machine &mdash;&nbsp;garbage, and a costly hassle for Waste Management. Paper that&rsquo;s too wet won&rsquo;t make the cut, and neither will anything too caked with food waste. The needles go to biohazard disposal. The rest? It all ends up in a landfill.</p><p><a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/zero_waste/2009_chicago_wastecharacterizationstudyandwastediversionstudyres.html">The 2009 waste characterization study</a> is also where the city gets its estimate of contamination in the waste stream, or how much of the blue cart material Waste Management and Resource Management will have to eventually throw out because it can&rsquo;t be recycled. According to the city, that number is 13.8 percent, or about 14,330 tons in 2014.</p><p>Resource Management and Waste Management say that number, which was based on 2007 data, is actually much higher now. Greg Maxwell, senior vice president at Resource Management, said it can be as high as 30 percent. Waste Management&rsquo;s Mike Tunney quoted their contamination rate at 18 to 20 percent. If those numbers are correct, the city&rsquo;s Department of Streets &amp; Sanitation could be underestimating the amount of &ldquo;recycled&rdquo; blue cart material that ultimately ends up in a landfill by 4,361 to 16,822 tons.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/globaljourney.png" style="height: 347px; width: 620px;" title="(WBEZ/Chris Bentley)" /></div></div><div class="image-insert-image "><p>Where do the bales of bundled recyclables go? All over the world. A lot of paper and plastic goes overseas, often to China. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304444604577337702024537204">By number of cargo containers, the leading U.S. export to China is scrap</a>. (Actually in recent years <a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-02-18/chinas-green-fence-cleaning-americas-dirty-recycling">China has turned away barges of trash and recycling from the U.S., </a>deeming it too dirty or low-value.)</p><p>Coca-Cola or Anheuser-Busch might buy bales of old aluminum cans to cut the raw material costs of making new cans from scratch. International Paper might buy up recycled paper. Or local companies like Pure Metal Recycling might buy bales of bulk metal, segregate the materials by chemical purity, and sell those new bales to smelters and steel mills.</p><p>Kyle Witter shows me around Pure Metal Recycling&rsquo;s scrap yard in the McKinley Park neighborhood. They sift through all types of metal waste &mdash; curly shavings of aluminum, empty beer cans, I even glimpse a piece of an old CTA bus &mdash; and send it to manufacturers. They say all their steel ends up at steel mills within 200 miles of the city. There, it&rsquo;s melted down and made into everything from steel tubes to components for power tools.</p><p>But only a small portion of this material starts in your blue carts or curbside bins &mdash; less than 2 percent, according to chief administrative officer Dennis Schalliol. Most of what I see is car parts, the innards of thousands of automobiles. By some measures automobile recycling rakes in $22 billion annually.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="true" frameborder="0" height="377" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15gZvU91wYz4-UkKpabe598VBBxzlM8PTn1ZsBPEGg8c/embed?start=false&amp;loop=false&amp;delayms=3000" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="620"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><span style="font-size:12px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><strong>PHOTOS:</strong> The scrapyard at Pure Metal Recycling in Chicago&#39;s McKinley Park neighborhood. (WBEZ/Chris Bentley)</span></span></em></p><p>Forklifts stack cubes of compressed aluminum two stories high. Witter points out a row of aluminum 6111 alloy cubes, which Ford will buy to use in its all-aluminum body Ford F-150 pickup trucks.</p><p>I do see daunting mounds of aluminum cans that likely started in the blue carts of people like our question asker Sara Bibik. But according to <a href="http://shanghaiscrap.com/">Adam Minter</a>, who wrote a book about the global recycling trade called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Junkyard-Planet-Travels-Billion-Dollar-Trash/dp/1608197913">Junkyard Planet</a>, commercial and industrial recycling operations dwarf municipal programs like Chicago&rsquo;s blue cart.</p><p>&ldquo;We all as Americans think of recycling as putting something in the blue bin. But the blue bin only represents somewhere in the range of 5 to 15 percent of what&#39;s recycled in the United States,&rdquo; Minter says. &ldquo;It&#39;s a very very small piece of the pie. And it&#39;s a very expensive piece of the pie.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Markets squeezed</span></p><p>Someone has to be making money after all this, right?</p><p>&ldquo;With respect to the value of the materials we know that we&#39;re in a commodities business and sometimes that value is up and sometimes the value is down,&rdquo; says Waste Management&rsquo;s Mike Tunney. &ldquo;And we&#39;re hopeful that the markets will return to their five-year averages, but right now it&#39;s a difficult proposition, no question.&rdquo;</p><p>How&rsquo;s the market treating Chris Sauve, the city&rsquo;s recycling director?</p><p>&ldquo;It&#39;s not a money losing operation,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;we&#39;re just not receiving any reimbursement that would help pay enough to offset the cost of the operations.&rdquo;</p><p>That might be par for the course. Like a lot of cities, Chicago got into a low-margin business when commodity prices were up. In 2007, when the city&rsquo;s blue cart program got started, commodities markets were soaring through what&rsquo;s called a &ldquo;supercycle,&rdquo; and arguably into a bubble.</p><p>According to author and journalist Adam Minter that market is cyclical.</p><p>&ldquo;There&#39;s really nothing unusual. It&#39;s just that your municipality, Chicago, has gotten involved in the commodity business, and commodities go up and they go down. You&#39;ve gotta ride it out,&rdquo; Minter says.</p><p>The thing is, recycling is not an easy business &mdash; especially for a municipality compelled to provide it as a public service.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&#39;re starting a business the first thing you think isn&#39;t &lsquo;How much stuff can I make.&rsquo; It&#39;s &lsquo;How much stuff can I sell&rsquo;. In other words you&#39;re thinking about &lsquo;Is there a demand for my product.&rsquo; But the way municipal recycling programs work is they start from the other end. They say &lsquo;We need to collect as much recycling as possible then we&#39;ll figure out where to sell it.&rsquo; Well that&#39;s not a very good business model, you know.&rdquo;</p><p>But it may not be as bad questioner Sara Bibik fears. Remember, she wonders if recycling in Chicago was just a feel-good sham.</p><p>&ldquo;Recycling isn&#39;t a sham. It&#39;s a half-trillion dollar industry globally,&rdquo; says Minter. &ldquo;What you put in your recycling bin is put there so somebody else can consume it. You&#39;re doing an environmental good deed, but you&#39;re also competing directly with, say, a bauxite miner who is pulling bauxite out of the ground to be made into aluminum cans. You&#39;re competing against an iron ore miner or you&#39;re competing against a logger &mdash; you&#39;re part of a commodity business.&rdquo;</p><p>Sara Bibik might not have realized her recycling was feeding into this giant, global trade, or that for the last several years that that business has ebbed and flowed largely with demand from manufacturers in China. But she&rsquo;s just happy to know it&rsquo;s getting recycled at all. Even if at least 20 percent of it is &ldquo;contaminated&rdquo; and ends up in the landfill anyway.</p><p>&ldquo;That&#39;s a lot better than 100 percent. I mean I voted for both Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel, but I quite honestly didn&#39;t have confidence that that the contract was really being done on this recycling. Well, that&#39;s great to hear that it&#39;s even you know let&#39;s say worst case scenario it&#39;s 80 percent [recovered]. That&#39;s pretty exciting to me,&rdquo; says Bibik. &ldquo;Hopefully the trash piles are not getting filled as quickly and we&#39;re not building new ones. And that&#39;s also really exciting.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bibbik.jpg" style="float: left; height: 400px; width: 300px;" title="Questioner Sara Bibik." /><span style="font-size:22px;">Meet the question asker</span></p><p>Sara Bibik grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, but moved to Chicago when she was 18. For the last 15 years she&rsquo;s been raising two kids with her husband, Jeff, in the Edison Park neighborhood. And she&rsquo;s been teaching those kids, 14-year-old Zoe and 11-year-old Jake, how to recycle.</p><p>&ldquo;We just had a party, so there were some soda cans in the trash and the kids are all like, &lsquo;Oh! They should be in the recycling!&rsquo;&rdquo; says Bibik, 47. The family started recycling when the city began offering Blue Bags in 1995 and kept up with it until the program was discontinued in 2008.</p><p>Between the Blue Bag and the <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/streets/supp_info/recycling1/blue_cart_recycling.html">blue cart program</a>s, Bibik even took her recycling to a dropoff center in a nearby forest preserve rather than throw it out.</p><p>&ldquo;It was a little annoying but not terrible,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;You still did it.&rdquo;</p><p>Bibik says she waited years for a blue cart, and now that she has one she wants to know more about what actually happens to all the stuff her family dutifully throws in there.</p><p>She says now she&rsquo;ll make sure the paper in her recycling bin stays dry so less of it gets thrown out as &ldquo;contamination.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&#39;s important for our Earth. I think it&#39;s important that we don&#39;t contaminate the water in the soil and the air with our burning of trash,&rdquo; says Bibik. &ldquo;It seems we&#39;re supposed to be good stewards of this Earth.&rdquo;</p><p><em><a href="http://cabentley.com/">Chris Bentley is a freelance journalist</a> who reports regularly for WBEZ&rsquo;s Curious City. Follow him at<a href="http://cabentley.com/">cabentley.com</a> and on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/cementley">@Cementley</a>.</em></p></div></div></div></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-really-happens-chicagos-blue-cart-recycling-112302 Q&A: Recycling industry CEO Sharon Kneiss talks blue bins, and why zero-waste really isn't http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/qa-recycling-industry-ceo-sharon-kneiss-talks-blue-bins-and-why-zero <p><p><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/abmarfia/490005923/" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/recycling-bin-beach-by-Andy-Marfia_0.jpg" title="(Flickr/Andy Marfia)" /></a></p><p>At a time when environmentalism is as much about high-tech innovation and industrial economies of scale as it is about conservation, recycling seems almost quaint. But what is one of the world&#39;s most widely adopted environmental programs has made considerable strides since it began in earnest during the 1960s. &nbsp;Sharon H. Kneiss is&nbsp;the president and CEO of the&nbsp;Environmental Industry Associations, the trade association that represents the private sector solid waste and recycling services industry.</p><p><em><strong>Chris Bentley</strong></em><strong>: Recycling rates are increasing, but citywide recycling still isn&rsquo;t a reality in Chicago, the nation&rsquo;s third largest city. Meanwhile it&rsquo;s mandatory elsewhere, as in San Francisco, where they also have curbside composting. Are municipally organized systems doomed to be a patchwork of programs, some of which work and some of which don&rsquo;t?</strong></p><p><em>Sharon Kneiss</em>:&nbsp;Recycling has been developed at the municipal level, but we&rsquo;ve learned a lot about the tools that they have to promote it. Accessibility is very important. We&rsquo;ve seen a jump in the amount of municipal solid waste that was recycled when we switched from the little blue bin to the 95-gallon bin. Education is also very important. When you educate you can really encourage people who have access to recycling to participate.</p><p><strong>What happened in 1985? The total municipal solid waste recycling rate nearly doubled that year.</strong></p><p>In the 80s there was a big jump in recycling because there was concern over landfill space. There was another big jump between 1990 and 1995, because that&rsquo;s when a number of big groups started to adopt recycling programs. Another significant improvement has happened in the last 10 years. We&rsquo;ve gone from recycling programs in about 500 communities to about 10,000 communities. It means that there is accessibility for between 58 and 74 percent of the population.</p><p><strong>Is municipal waste recycling a good proposition for cities, fiscally speaking?</strong></p><p>Recycling has become a culture in this country. It&rsquo;s really important that you have the markets developed for recycling. Part of the enterprise is to make sure you have a market for the commodities you end up with from recycling: paper, corrugated container board, plastics &mdash; some plastics become fleece fabrics, some become part of composite wood, other plastics &mdash;&nbsp;paint, aluminum. Recycled aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy it would take to make a new product.</p><p><strong>What percentage of recycled goods are actually landfilled?</strong></p><p>There have been tremendous improvements in the amount that has been recycled. The vast majority of it is recycled. The technology has advanced to a mind-boggling degree. Curbside, single-stream recycling where you can put all your recyclables in one bin and it&rsquo;s recycled at a single facility. Almost two-thirds of the population has access to single-stream recycling.</p><p>Optical scanners can read recyclables on the line and pick out certain plastics based on its optics. Stereo vision scanners can pick out certain trash based on its shape. The Eddy Current uses magnets to pull away aluminum. If you like mechanics, visiting these facilities is like being a kid in a candy store.</p><p><strong>What is a &ldquo;dirty MRF&rdquo; and what impact do such projects have?</strong></p><p>A &ldquo;dirty MRF&rdquo; is where they mix all of the waste with recyclables. There&rsquo;s some concern about contamination of the recyclables when you&rsquo;re mixing it with municipal solid waste &mdash;&nbsp;there&rsquo;s only one bin and it all gets sorted after that. I think it&rsquo;s a greater challenge in terms of separation.<img alt="Sharon H. Kneiss, CEO of Environmental Industry Associations" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Head-Shot--Sharon-Kneiss-305px.jpg" style="float: right; height: 324px; width: 180px;" title="(Courtesy Environmental Industry Associations)" /></p><p><strong>Paper/paperboard waste was nearly three times more abundant by weight than the next most prevalent material (tie: yard trimmings and food scraps), but since 2000 it has started to crash. But isn&rsquo;t that positive movement masking an uptick in e-waste?</strong></p><p>This is really a cultural change, on the paper side. This is what we call the &ldquo;evolving ton.&rdquo; Recyclables are changing. We&rsquo;re seeing less packaging, smaller containers; less glass, more plastic; we are seeing a changing composition.</p><p>On the electronics side, there is a growing cadre of recyclers who recover a lot of the precious metal of electronics.</p><p><strong>Shouldn&rsquo;t it be mandatory for more items, given the education issues and public health issues in some cases?</strong></p><p>Part of it is educating people. We&rsquo;ve learned even $1 per household spent on education gets a large return. Some places, like San Francisco, have a recycling requirement and there has been an impact. You need to accompany that with strong education so people understand what goes in and the importance of recycling.</p><p><strong>Illinois is one of eight states to cover at least three products with an Extended Producer Responsibility Law (EPR). What impact could these programs have and how likely are they to advance?</strong></p><p>One of the most effective programs, in Maryland, is not a requirement &mdash;&nbsp;a utility in Maryland has an aggressive program. But in terms of these laws, we don&rsquo;t know how effective they are. We would urge states considering these laws to look at the whole picture. They need to look at the life cycle, and ensure that they don&rsquo;t disrupt recycling markets already in place.</p><p><strong>Is zero-waste an attainable goal? How can it ever be economically feasible? What does it mean to aim for zero- or low-waste, exactly?</strong></p><p>Zero waste doesn&rsquo;t mean none. Unless you repeal the laws of physics there will be something left. The definition is really somewhat fuzzy. There&rsquo;s no established and accepted definition of what zero waste is. A lot of companies institute these programs because of the potential cost savings &mdash; Subaru, Walmart, Coca-Cola &mdash; it&rsquo;s smart capitalism. It&rsquo;s reducing waste to the degree that is economically feasible.</p><p><strong>You note that the recycling supply chain has become more environmentally sustainable &mdash; fleets use alternative fuels, mechanized sorting and screening are more efficient &mdash; but is the life-cycle analysis still worth it in terms of greenhouse gas emissions?</strong></p><p>The waste management industry is leading the way in natural gas-powered cars. We capture a lot of that gas from landfills. The savings is tremendous. Right now we have between 4-5,000 such vehicles on the road. Almost half of the newly produced trucks for the fleet run on natural gas. Of course there&rsquo;s an infrastructure cost around that, but many have put in natural gas refueling stations.</p><p><strong>Do you think recycling is popular because it represents a no-cost, out-of-sight way for consumers to feel like they&rsquo;ve had an impact, when in reality they may be consuming too much in the first place? Shouldn&rsquo;t the focus be on reducing consumption or at least reusing goods?</strong></p><p>Some experts have called recycling the most effective environmental program in the world &mdash; it&rsquo;s the most widely accepted program, because it&rsquo;s become easy for people to do. We still have a ways to go, but it&rsquo;s now accessible to 10,000 neighborhoods. There has been a focus on reducing packaging upfront. We are seeing those opportunities.</p><p>The area where they&rsquo;re really starting to look at reductions is food waste. Organics is the next frontier in recycling. They&rsquo;re also much harder because there are a lot of liquids and what we call &ldquo;putrescibles.&rdquo; Many retailers are looking at ways to reduce that by donating perishable goods before their expiration dates.</p><p><strong>Even with all the improvements we&rsquo;ve discussed today, how big of a role does recycling play in a sustainable industrial society? Describe your ideal view of the industry as your children will know it.</strong></p><p>It&rsquo;s probably beyond my imagination. The advancements in recycling have moved forward at an amazing speed. When I visited a facility recently, the manger said he had to update his equipment once a year, but if he really wanted to keep up he could probably change it once a month. The technology is allowing a lot more to be recycled a lot faster.</p><p>That doesn&rsquo;t mean we don&rsquo;t have a long way to go. Commercial and demolition debris is improving, and we&rsquo;re finding new markets. You can&rsquo;t just collect products for recycling &mdash;&nbsp;you have to have a market the product can go to. For organic waste, we&rsquo;re looking at processing that into methane and other gases. There&rsquo;s a lot of exciting potential opportunities.</p><p>One thing I was fascinated by when I first came to this industry is that companies don&rsquo;t look at waste as trash. They look at it as a raw material to extract value from.</p><p><strong>Any takeaway lessons for the near-term?</strong></p><p>Single stream has been the key to expanding recycling. &nbsp;Privatization, quite frankly, has really helped. It has developed large, regional facilities quite quickly in a way that generally governments don&rsquo;t do. It has also lowered costs. Advancements in truck technology has made collection more efficient and safer.</p><p>The waste industry is an industry in transition. Since 2000 all of the increase in waste has been matched by an increase in recycling. That doesn&rsquo;t mean challenges don&rsquo;t remain in the collection and the economics &mdash;&nbsp;we still need recycling at multi-family housing, and price volatility impacts the economics.</p></p> Thu, 28 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-03/qa-recycling-industry-ceo-sharon-kneiss-talks-blue-bins-and-why-zero