I too have been watching this debate with great interest. Having spent
the better part of the last fifteen years in the dumpster I am convinced
that all recycling efforts offer little more than incentives to wasting.
We, as recyclers, give up our lives finding ways to excuse, or at best
accommodate, our community's consumptive behaviors. We are a reactive
industry, cleaning up the messes left behind by consumerism.
Single stream is just the most recent pandering to the whims of the
consumer...its more convenient for the customer and therefore must be
the preferred collection mechanism. Proponents talk about fewer job
related injuries (at the truck), collection efficiencies afforded by
automated trucks, increased tonnage based on convenience etc. The big
players in this industry, as Susan points out, are free from the
challenges presented by contamination and accept 30% (and higher)
residue rates as the norm. For these firms, single stream is cheaper,
clearly, or they would not promote it so vigorously. These are also the
firms who rely on export markets, where contamination is even less
important. My guess is these markets will be the last to rebound and
those that rely on them will be the hardest hit. I also foresee that
these market conditions will reignite the industry standard that
recycling is a financial loser and their existing efforts will begin to
contract or their fees will increase to cover the gap. Somebody has to
pay for the corporate jet, and if not the Asian markets, then Joe the
Plumber. The implications of the down market are not limited to the
little guys immediate financial woes, but will extend into the
"heartland" as the corporates shutter programs.
EPR is at least a preemptive tool to manage society's discards, but it
too ignores the root of the problem. Until we address the "regulatory"
subsidies to wasting, and deal with the reality that landfills are cheap
(even at $150/ton) relative to the permanent environmental damage they
cause let alone their potential to be every community's own Love Canal.
RCRA is our worst enemy. 30 year post closure care? Liner systems a few
millimeters thicker than a penny? HHW exemptions? These are not only
insults to the planet, they are direct subsidies for disposal. And as
long as waste is cheap and easy, it will be the preferred management
method for our discards.
While I admit to being less than optimistic, we all need to get past
picking up the mess and get on with preventing the mess in the first
place. Two bin, three bin, single stream, landfills, incinerators,
gasification are all vehicles for dealing with the symptoms of the
irresponsible behaviors of citizens, corporations and the global
Lets all hope for a global depression, that'll stop waste in its tracks.
Susan Hubbard wrote:
With the greatest respect for Eric and Helen and all our recycling friends,
Many producer responsibility advocates are recyclers so they may be busy
trying to keep their recycling programs going in this dire economy. I know
we are so it took us a bit to respond to this dialogue. We'd appreciate all
your best thoughts for the future of recycling not just for us but for all
the recyclers like us who are struggling right now.
We have both served on NRC's board and don't know much about it now. We do
know that NRC's board is loaded with single stream recyclers who continue
to say that single stream is less expensive and this is a good time to go
that way. We also know that every city in Minnesota that has gone to
single stream has experienced higher rates. It is complete bogus. If it is
cheaper then there is no savings passed on.
Luckily we didn't go single stream and we can still move our materials in
this market. We have gotten calls from other recyclers like ourselves in
our area but that they have gone to single stream and are asking for our
help as they are unable to even move the materials - let alone get paid. So
is this proof that the feedback loop from the mill is working? No.
This is the proof that what is theoretically possible and what is actually
happening in single stream are eons apart. The largest recycler in the
country is single stream and they have sway to land contracts with mills
that include floor pricing. Their "quality" of materials sets the national
price we all get for our recyclables. They continue to move their single
stream materials. This is the real world of single stream recycling. The
feedback loop only works with the small recyclers who are trying to compete
with the giants by going to single stream - they get the feedback for poor
quality at the mills. That was fine when the demand was high but not so much
now as they are currently shut off.
We aren't experts here - we have been recycling for a couple decades and we
talk with our mills. Ironically the mills in our country are older and can't
handle the dirtier paper so how do we support local mills - how do we keep
paper and other raw materials in our country? For now we keep it super
clean - not single stream. All of our material stays in North America. Our
residual rate at our MRF is less than 1% and that includes glass bottle
recycling into glass bottles not sand blasting medium or landfill cover. We
educate our customers - our drivers leave what isn't recycled in the bin.
They can see because it isn't in a big closed cart and our two stream
materials are handled with respect in our trucks and at our facility. Not
compacted to smithereens to "save money." Maybe this sounds arrogant but the
idea at Eureka Recycling was to demonstrate that it could be done...waste
could be prevented - environmentally sound, socially compassionate and
Ideally..... our community deals with discards by buying less and in bulk or
refillables. Then we purchase what is really recyclable not just swept off
the curb and discarded later. We compost their food scraps at home as much
as possible and then only what must be is actually driven off to a
commercial composting facility. We use the compost we create in their garden
or give it to our neighbor. The commercial compost goes to local farms. We
buy products from producers that understand their responsibility for their
manufactured goods. We support restaurants and businesses that do the same.
We stop justifying short term fixes like dirty single stream and demand
change - real change and we know that our vote - I meanour individual action
actually does count.
National minimum content standards are important so are partnerships. We are
always looking for good partners.
Susan Hubbard & Tim Brownell
2828 Kennedy ST. NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Waste is Preventable Not Inevitable
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