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[GreenYes] Automation and beyond
    I can't remember who it was who first started this dialog on the role of
automation in saving recycling's backside, but whoever it is should be shot
for getting us all going.  But, in any event, the damage is done.

    Let me -- and I will not belabor anymore about this -- just comment on
Doug and Eric's subsequent comments that focus on specific ways in which
automation can help recycling, with an emphasis on collection compaction and
on the highly automated single stream designs so well described by Eric.

    I have excruciating familiarity with the first and a moderate degree on
the second, and I believe that we are at risk of becoming so transfixed (or
starry eyed) with technical issues that we are losing sight of the
overriding ways in which industrial organization trumps all in a political
capitalist economy.

    Yes light compaction can indeed make major -- no make that incredible --
savings. We have done numerous lab and field studies of them which you can
find in Resource Recycling in the May 1996 issue ("The Impact of light
compaction on curbside recycling collection") and May 1997 ("Glass
compaction: Defining the possibilities") that demonstrate this.

    Yes, as Eric says, single stream technology has significant potential
that certainly warrants consideration.

    But that is techie-talk, and that is NOT the same as what goes-down in
the real world.

    Carefully calibrated light compaction can work without any more glass
breakage than non-packing, over-the-top units. We've demonstrated that.
We've also demonstrated, though, that the big danger once a packing truck is
put in the fleet is overpacking to increase payload, extend routes, and
decrease fleet size beyond reason, all at the expense of the glass and
whatever else the glass cross-contaminates.

    From what I've seen of carefully scripted presentations like Eric
describes, single stream automation can work too.  But, once such a system
is put in place, it is a simple matter for the operator to turn up the
conveyor speeds to reduce per ton costs dramatically, which is presumably
why a survey that we commissioned on behalf of the St. Paul Neighborhood
Recycling Corporation found that residue rates often running up to and in
excess of 30%!

    Imagine, if you will, being in a typical city -- San Francisco,
Berkeley, Oakland, Austin, Madison and Ann Arbor sit back for a moment,
you're not typical of America -- and you're either a for-prof or non-prof
sincerely interested in bidding for a recycling program that will really
work to maximize diversion within reason.  You are faced with a bid from an
vertically integrated waste company which owns a $20/ton landfill where all
the residue can be sent dirt cheap, and who bids low based upon overpacking
and sky high MRF residues, which these new wonderful automation technologies
make easy to do.

    Who will get the typical city's business?  I won't bother answering this
question because it answers itself, as anyone in NYC will tell us.

    That is why maintaining recycling as a viable endeavor in the 21st
century begins -- albeit as Doug and Eric ably argue it does not end -- with
first correcting our broken landfill rules. We can't compete with what's
coming down no matter how much we invest in those technologies, because,
abused, they're far cheaper than doing it right.

    I know that what I'm saying about focusing on landfill reform is
considered pie in the sky and impractical to sell by some. The landfill
industry just does not believe that Americans will be willing to accept
handling costs of their discards of $50 or more per ton (that source
separating organics for composting in order to keep decomposable waste out
of the landfill where it cannot be safely managed might cost).  That's about
$2 per household per month, incidentally, less than the price of a cup of
nice coffee.

    Translated, this means that they believe the great unwashed public would
prefer to save that two bucks rather than to save their grandkids from
drinking water laced with dangerous levels of cancer causing benzene and
toluene, or a world afflicted by irreversible global warming.

    I don't believe that for a minute.

    Do you?


Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
Ph:    (608) 231-1100
Fax:   (608) 233-0011
Cell:   (608) 345-0381

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