New waste diversion technologies are advancing and stand ready to maximize resources. Ultimately, they help protect the integrity of recycling programs and promote sustainable waste management practices. 
By Christer Henriksson

Landfills across the country are reaching the end of their useful life. Waste generation continues to rise, and despite efforts to change consumer behavior and increase access to recycling programs, the nation’s recycling rate seems to have plateaued. As a result, state, county, and municipal authorities are growing concerned about the future of waste management.

An Evolving Landscape
The construction and operation of new landfills pose significant social challenges, compounded by the increasingly stringent permitting processes, particularly in metropolitan areas. Additionally, waste-to-energy solutions, once considered a viable alternative, are encountering social and regulatory hurdles and are being phased out in many jurisdictions.

In Hennepin County, MN, local authorities announced late last year plans to close their waste-to-energy facility as soon as 2028, citing challenges to achieve a waste diversion rate above 50 percent despite aiming for a 75 percent rate by 2030, adding pressure on regional landfills that will need to pick up the slack.1

Municipalities are increasingly moving away from landfill operations, as data from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) indicates that private entities now own or oversee 73 percent of the permitted disposal capacity.2 This transition aligns with a shift from smaller localized to larger-scale regional landfills.

This evolving landscape presents a growing challenge for local governments and waste management companies. The escalating volume of waste now requires further transportation distances for final disposal, resulting in elevated costs and environmental implications.


The proprietary process starts by sanitizing mixed waste in the Juno Clave™, a specialized, heated chamber to remove contaminants.

As the construction of new landfills dwindles and waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities shut down or reach capacity, many jurisdictions find themselves constrained in their waste disposal options. They may encounter staunch public opposition and prohibitively high costs associated with permitting and constructing new disposal facilities. Alternatively, they may transport waste to landfills in other municipalities or even across state lines.

Because of the limited land and construction requirements, transporting waste is often considered the most convenient alternative. However, transporting waste can be just as expensive as developing a large waste-to-energy facility. One analysis conducted by King County, WA, comparing the cost of waste-to-energy versus exporting waste by rail found that “both options will cost over $1 billion in the near term (10-years) and over $6 billion in the long term (50-years).”3

Santitized mixed waste exits the Juno Clave™ ready for multi-step wet separation where high-value recyclables, as well as pulp and liquified food, start their separate recovery journeys. Images courtesy of Juno.

Volume of Waste
One of the most significant cost drivers for disposal is the total volume of waste: the more waste generated, the more disposal capacity is needed to handle the waste. Reducing the total volume of waste handled could help to some extent, but it does not address the fact that so much of the current waste stream comprises valuable materials, such as metal, paper, plastics, food, and glass.4

The fact of the matter is: much of what gets thrown away has value. A recent report by The Recycling Partnership estimates that more than 75 percent of the nation’s waste stream could be recycled or composted. This waste could be going to better use. For example, it only takes 14 plastic bottles to create enough plastic fiberfill for a single life jacket or 114 bottles to generate enough plastic fiberfill for a sleeping bag, yet the majority—about 80 percent—of the 40 million tons of U.S. plastic waste generated each year is landfilled for one reason or another.5,6

This has led many jurisdictions to look at upstream public policy solutions to reduce the total waste generated or increase the types of material collected for recycling. Reducing generation and consumption is an important piece of the puzzle, but it can take a long time to change human behavior—and time is one thing we do not have. Limited disposal capacity is not the only problem—increased recycling education, consumer incentives, and accessibility are not moving the needle fast enough.

The Solution 
The current municipal recycle system in the U.S. only collects about 32 percent of available recyclables discarded from homes and businesses. Furthermore, 17 percent of what is collected for recycling is contaminated and cannot be recycled.7 Regardless of how good a curbside recycling program is, it is still only able to recover a fraction of the total reusable waste.

Affordable, efficient, and convenient recycling systems are necessary, but it also means that municipalities and other governments must invest more in advanced waste diversion technologies. New diversion technologies should be seen not as a replacement for current recycling systems, but rather as an enhancement enabling consumers to recycle with confidence and stakeholders to eliminate contamination, capture high-value material, and substantially decrease the reliance on landfills.

As an example, a decade ago Georgia-Pacific began research on recovering and sanitizing otherwise valuable materials through Juno® Technology, especially single-use food-contaminated packaging, which is estimated to make up half of consumer waste in the U.S., diverting it from landfills and incinerators.8 With proprietary advancements that target unsorted residential and commercial waste, proven recycling technologies can recover up to 90 percent of the waste it processes.

A visual inspection for incoming waste to check for non-conforming materials is done before shredding and blending it. Waste is then sent through an autoclave, which uses steam, pressure, and heat to treat and sanitize it, pulping the fiber and solubilizing organics. After exiting the autoclave, the material travels through a wet separation unit that segregates the paper fibers and solubilized food from the rest of the waste.

Once fibers and food waste are removed, the remainder of the material is processed through optical sorting, magnets, eddy current, and screens to extract and recycle glass, high-value plastics, metals, and grit. Food waste and water is diverted from the other recyclables to an anaerobic digestion system and used to create a renewable biogas that can be sent to the energy grid or used to generate steam for the autoclave. The remaining water is treated and reused to help divert even more waste.

Business and residential waste are transported to a Juno facility where it enters the tipping hall for visual inspection and coarse shredding.

Complement Existing Programs
Some select new diversion technologies can collect and divert as much as 90 percent of material that was otherwise destined for landfill or incineration. Advanced technologies are successful because they can be integrated into existing solid waste processes and do not rely on changes to consumer behavior. Furthermore, they do not need to disrupt existing curbside recycling programs—in fact, they can complement them.

Waste haulers and jurisdictions are spending considerable resources on education and process improvements to reduce contamination in the recycling stream. Advanced waste diversion technology can help give recyclers the confidence they need to recycle right, improving the overall quality of the recycling stream. Empty, clean, and dry recyclables should still be recycled. Advanced diversion technology is a valuable tool to assure customers that sound recycling habits will result in the highest recycling outcomes, not a replacement for recycling programs.

Consider a curbside recycling customer wondering if their used paper cups or napkins can be recycled or if they are too contaminated. Today, that customer may choose to “wishcycle” those items just in case it can be recycled. Instead of successfully recycling paper products, this customer may unintentionally contaminate the recycling stream.

With advanced waste diversion technology, instead of wishcycling, consumers can toss their used contaminated paper goods, where they belong, in a garbage bin, confidently knowing that advanced innovations will clean and capture those paper fibers, making them suitable for reuse.

Final disposal options will always be needed, but should be reserved for material with no remaining value. While we embark on the important work to reduce waste generation, advanced waste diversion technology is ready to help maximize resource recovery.

Some waste diversion technologies are equally cost-effective when compared to building new waste-to-energy capacity. When added to the existing solid waste infrastructure, diversion technology can conveniently maximize resource recovery without requiring major changes to consumer behavior.

Protect the Integrity of Recycling
These technologies minimize contamination in recycling streams and instill confidence among recyclers, reducing wishcycling practices. New waste diversion technologies are advancing and stand ready to maximize resources. Ultimately, they help protect the integrity of recycling programs and promote sustainable waste management practices.  | WA

Christer Henriksson is President of Juno, a Georgia-Pacific owned company. Prior to leading the Juno team, he spent 12 years modernizing Georgia-Pacific’s recycling operations and leading the development of innovative recycling technologies. Before joining Georgia-Pacific, Christer served as SVP and COO of American Fiber Resources International, a multi-recycled-pulp mill entity. Christer can be reached at [email protected].


Click to access 2020-State-of-Curbside-Recycling.pdf

The Environmental Impact of Food Packaging

Georgia-Pacific began research on Juno® Technology.