The main goal of reducing, reusing and recycling is to reduce the carbon footprint we have on the world we live in. We must always evaluate what we are doing and look at the bigger picture in order to be more efficient, sustainable and teachable to every citizen we serve residentially or commercially.
By John Paglia, III
Many in the industry have thrown ideas and opinions on how Americans can fix the recycling issues in today’s economy. Having spoken to many private and public individuals on this topic, ideas are varying, but all revolve around solutions to make us as Americans and marketability of recycling commodities sustainable. As all waste haulers have a cost to collect and dispose trash, we have that same collection cost, which is historically lower with the hope of the offset of sold commodities collected. The main problem is that these collection costs have trended downward (too many reasons to list) year after year prior to the current crisis and have never fully recovered. With collection revenue lower than it should be, recyclers have attempted to thrive off efficiencies (keeping internal processing cost down) and selling the material on the commodities market higher than processing cost, yielding a positive and assisting the lower collection revenue to even out. Depending on who you talk to, it is fair to say that the average thrown about processing cost per ton is $125 and upward. As of January 2020, current commodity national averages per ton were listed at:
• OCC ($25 per ton)
• SOP ($5 to $10 per ton)
• Aluminum Cans (50 cents per lb.)
• Steel cans ($100 per ton)
• Plastics (12 cents per pound)
• Grade A film plastics (8.44 cents per pound)
You can see the deficit without even doing the math. There are absolute markets for Natural HDPE, color HDPE and PET when collected and recovered efficiently.
An Efficient Plan
Even with the too often proposed solution of raising recycling collection rates to make recycling break even or profitable again is not a well thought out solution. The only problem that fixes is making the bottom line look better. Prior to any price increases, I challenge you to look at making your material processing as efficient as possible. In a scenario where you are the hauler and processor, you can control a lot more with an efficient plan working together. A big part of becoming successful recycling nationwide is to recycle what we can and find domestic uses in regional markets of the country. What works in the Northeast may not work in the Midwest, West or Southeast.
Wherever you search for waste and recycling news over the last six months, you will see municipalities cancelling or raising single-stream residential collection. I do not agree with that method at all; it only gives the impression to our citizens that we do not want to recycle because it is not profitable. What we need to do is work where we can to evaluate and change the residential stream being collected in your specific market, to only accept collection of what that community or city can offer.
As mentioned previously, with e-commerce being so easy to consumers these days, we need to target the highest volume-based items to be diverted from the waste at the residential level—paper products including SOP and OCC (Cardboard), ferrous and nonferrous metals. These materials have always had a home and have been easier to sort at a processing facility. This ease of sort relates to a reduction in processing cost. When our market allowed, what at the time was supposed to be the greatest thing ever promoting single stream, I will argue assisted in causing the problem we are in today. Glass and plastic products can be recycled to be clear. The problem with them being added to a single-stream product is that they are the highest level of product needing consumer education of all the different grades and variances. The wishful recycling (as I call it) of barbie dolls, garden hoses, old lawn furniture, plastic lawn ornaments, plastic bags, wrap, etc., end up contaminating the stream of easily movable paper and metal products.
At a slow moving and higher level, but yielding great benefits in the long run, I do agree that if we could get manufacturers to unify a decrease in packaging variances that would assist in becoming more sustainable. For example: anyone shipping FedEx, Amazon, UPS, USPS should use only a carboard exterior and interior baffles. No plastic. As far as bottles, imagine walking into a grocery/convenience store and unifying all bottles to aluminum. Even better yet, where applicable, removing bottles of any kind and requiring the use of reusable aluminum cups (like a YETI product) for your beverage of choice and dispensing the beverage from something like a soda fountain. These soda fountains would be in reusable and fillable aluminum kegs that the commercial store and beverage manufacturer could swap back and forth. These are only two briefly discussed ideas, but momentum we need to push to accomplish true sustainability. I could expand but I would be typing pages upon pages.
Evaluating Household Waste
Having each household start small and evaluate their waste is the start of the education process. In my household directly, I only use reusable silverware and aluminum or reusable glass products. If purchasing anything bottled (beer or soft drinks), we only do so in aluminum cans. We filter our water for drinking and cooking and use reusable containers as well no matter the size needed for use. We only purchase foods fresh with little or no packaging, looking for steel containers as preference, and purchase as little plastic as possible. The little plastic we are left with is thrown in the trash. We save all paper to be shredded when the amount fills our carboard box under the desk in our office. What is left in my single stream cart is aluminum, cardboard and tin cans. If we do not purchase in a wasteful manner, even with all of the packaging of today’s world, we can only produce the top sustainable recycling products residentially.
Reducing Our Carbon Footprint
My final thought of application to all of this: the main goal of reducing, reusing and recycling is to reduce the carbon footprint we have on the world in which we live. That was one of the main goals of single-stream recycling—collecting everything in one swoop. All it did was put more trucks on the road and double handle the material being transferred from the recycling facility to a landfill as residual waste from processing facility, instead of diverting the recycling contaminants in the stream upon initial collection. We must always evaluate what we are doing and look at the bigger picture in order to take care of this beautiful place we call Earth. If something does not work, adapt and fix it. I am okay to try new things, but not sacrificing logic along the way. Let’s admit single-stream collection does not work, and change the process to be more efficient, sustainable and teachable to every citizen we serve residentially or commercially. | WA
John Paglia III is a 4th generation garbage man. Before he climbed the ranks to become Florida Express Environmental’s General Manager, he had a successful career in college and professional athletics. John has been around the garbage industry since his car seat days. Currently, John is focused on growing his company and offering the highest level of customer service and prolonging the world we live in today. John wakes up every day knowing the impact professional haulers have on their community is far greater than most realize. He can be reached at (352) 629-4349, e-mail John3@floridaexpress.us or visit www.floridaexpress.us.