This Week in Recycling

U.S. Recycling Woes Pile Up as China Escalates Ban

by Adam Allington
Oregon DEQ has approved 14 separate waivers to dump 6,107 tons of erstwhile recycling into landfills, with more waivers yet to come, Miller told Bloomberg Environment. “The amount of materials coming into the MRFs have not slowed down,” said Miller. “This is going to lead to changes in programs in some cities about what you can and can’t recycle.” Massachusetts has also approved more than 40 landfill waivers since November. Likewise, public works officials in Boise, Idaho, recently suggested the city stop accepting mixed paper recycling for a year, until better options open up. If that happens, the city estimates about 640 tons of paper would end up in landfills every month. China is also severely tightening standards for the imports it will continue to take. Previously, China would accept bales of mixed paper containing up to 2 percent impurities—which could be everything from bits of garden hose, to diapers to propane tanks. But starting March 1, the impurity threshold falls to 0.5 percent for both mixed paper and plastic bales.

Recycle Across America: Standardization, not education, can fix contamination

by Cody Boteler
Recycle Across America has a straightforward goal: Get every recycling system across the country, from schools, to businesses, to municipalities, to use standardized labels. The hope, in implementing a standardized system across the country, is to reduce consumer confusion when someone walks up to a bin to recycle something. If the bins at someone’s office have the same labels as their kid’s school, ideally, that person will be more likely to recycle the right type of material in the right ways. For Recycle Across America Executive Director Mitch Hedlund, the battle to improve recycling in the United States is all about this standardization, not education. Education is important, but if labels or instructions on bins are different across the country, the argument goes, consumers may not be able to recycle correctly. When consumers don’t know how to recycle, they can fall into two traps: Not recycling, which lowers participation rates, or “wish-cycling,” which increases contamination.

Keep America Beautiful (KAB) Reorganizes

by Colin Staub
KAB, which runs America Recycles Day and other initiatives, is closing its Washington, D.C. office and consolidating staff in Connecticut. Two leaders from the organization’s recycling arm are exiting as part of the shift. In a statement issued to Resource Recycling, Helen Lowman, president and CEO of KAB, said the group would maintain its focus on recycling advocacy. But KAB confirmed Brenda Pulley, senior vice president of recycling, and Alec Cooley, director of recycling programs, would be leaving the group at the end of March as KAB brings all remaining staff to its Stamford, Conn. office. In her statement on the group’s consolidation, Lowman noted KAB is taking the action to move forward on several priorities, including improving organizational efficiency and strengthening engagement with donors and volunteers. But she made clear recycling will remain as one of the group’s three “core pillars.” “We expect these changes will advance Keep America Beautiful’s efforts to end littering, improve recycling and beautify communities,” Lowman stated. She also said KAB is looking to “strengthen our ability to measure our impact on behavior change.” The statement noted KAB expects the transition to be completed by early April.

GM Now Boasts 142 Landfill-Free Sites – More than Other Automakers, Company Claims

by Jennifer Hermes
General Motors has expanded is landfill-free program to 27 newly certified facilities. All of the company’s manufacturing plants in Canada, Mexico and South America now reuse, recycle, or convert to energy all waste from their daily operations. With 142 landfill-free facilities (both manufacturing and non-manufacturing), the company says it has more than any other automaker. “To us, waste is simply a resource out of place,” says John Bradburn, GM’s global waste reduction manager. General Motors drives its zero mindset by local teams. Employees of local facilities actively look for innovative and sustainable solutions to waste management, including efforts to keep resources within the value chain. In 2011, GM set a goal to operate 150 landfill-free sites by 2020. With its total of 142 landfill-free facilities – 79 of them being manufacturing operations – the company has nearly met its objectives.

Sustainability milestone: Tetra Pak hits half a billion mark for Tetra Rex Bio-based

Tetra Pak has delivered more than half a billion packs of Tetra Rex Bio-based, the world’s first beverage carton to be manufactured entirely from renewable materials. The landmark event was announced at the Museum of Brands, in London, where the package, is featured in a new sustainability display, which is open to the public as of today. Tetra Rex Bio-based, which was launched in October 2014, is manufactured solely from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified and controlled sources paperboard, together with plastics derived from sugar cane, all traceable to their origins.

Hot drink cups: recycle or digest?

What is the most sustainable end-of-life option for paper cups used for hot beverages? Wageningen Food & Biobased Research and TNO conducted a life cycle assessment study for the Dutch Government to compare two end-of-life routes after separate collection: converting the used cups into toilet paper and tissues in a paper factory (recycling), and digestion of the cups to create biogas – and subsequently produce compost of the digestate. Recycled cups were shown to have a better environmental performance, while digestion and composting results in a higher net reduction in CO2 emissions. To perform a proper environmental analysis, the scientists used the ReCiPe midpoints method combined with environmental costs. At the request of the client, the results were also presented as a so-called carbon footprint, which only addressed the ‘climate change’ effect category. “When evaluating the full environmental profile, the environmental analysis shows that the recycling route performs best by avoiding €1.22 in environmental costs per 1000 cups,” says Martien van den Oever, project leader at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “One of the reasons for this result is that up to 89% of the collected coffee cups are suitable for recycling, and therefore preventing the use of primary pulp. This avoided use of primary pulp in particular means saving on environmental costs for cultivation of trees and fine particulate matter formation. Although the digestion route takes a second place with €0.45 in avoided environmental costs, it is still a better performance than the €0.28 figure of discarded cups processed in the waste energy plant.”