Cities and counties come to grips with the high cost of recycling programs.

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Local governments have mailed out brochures. They’ve held live web chats. They’ve designed helpful magnets.

But D.C. metropolitan area residents — like recyclers across the country — are still tossing a whole lot of stuff into their recycling bins that shouldn’t be there. And it costs so much to sort that some cities and counties are losing money to recycle.

Now, some local officials are starting to acknowledge that it’s time to be smarter about recycling. That starts with being clearer with consumers about what should and shouldn’t go into the big blue bin.

In the past, “we had been telling people that, if they had any questions, when in doubt, put it into the recycling stream,” said Yon Lambert, the director of transportation and environmental services in Alexandria. “Now, we’re recognizing that making recycling work actually requires some recognition that it’s not as easy as we once communicated it to be.”

Not as easy — and not as lucrative.

Once a profitable business for cities and private employers, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. Almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

One of the main culprits is a fluctuating global market for plastic and aluminum that local authorities can do little to control. But another is the cost of sorting a multitude of materials that often arrive in a single truck, is highly contaminated driving down the value of the recyclable good because there is too much other stuff mashed up with it.

The realization that more isn’t always best has prompted some debate about whether the big blue bins and “single stream” systems employed throughout the country are really all they’re cracked up to be.

One bin for all materials makes it easier for people to recycle, but it can also make the process more costly.

Several years ago, in the interest of encouraging more recycling, the District followed a pattern set by other cities across the United States and switched from dual stream to single stream.

“You get more recycled product than you do with a dual stream,” said Tommy Wells, director of the D.C. Department of the Environment. “But the downside is that you get waste that can’t be recycled, and it’s more than you bargained for.”

Now it appears less certain that the big blue bin is the easiest option or the way to go.

When recycling bins were filling up because residents were tossing so much in them, the city simply doubled their size. Fines for placing recyclables in the trash also prompted private companies to err on the side of recycling.

The District’s Department of Public Works says it has worked to educate residents on what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable for the city’s recycling bins.

The Public Works Web site lists glass, plastic lawn furniture and dozens of other objects, big and small, as items that should go in the recycling bin. The only things the District officially says cannot go in the recycling bin are plastic foam and pizza boxes.

Recycling over the past year has cost the District more than a million dollars, after making a profit in 2011, in large part because the quality of recycled product has gone down because of contamination.

“If the blue bin becomes nothing but a trash bin, then we’re missing the point and missing an opportunity,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who sits on the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

“If our current recycling system isn’t working as well as it should, then we need to explore what changes we’re comfortable asking residents to make, and what changes in collections we can reasonably expect the agency to take on,” he said.

In some of the District’s neighboring counties, officials are feeling similar pressures.

Fairfax County, which netted an average $16 per ton of recyclables in 2011, and paid an average $38 per ton this year, is now weighing the real benefit of a single-stream system.

The cities of Alexandria and Arlington have also started sending out e-mails and brochures about smarter recycling practices.

And in Prince George’s County, where contamination has also sent prices climbing the county has decided that it will no longer accept plastic bags/film of any color, size or shape in its Recycling Program, starting on July 1.

Glass, too, has come under scrutiny. Every county and city recycling program in the region accepts it. And no sound evokes the arrival of the recycling truck quite like the crunching of shattering glass. Yet, officials now agree that it has little value to recyclers. When it breaks, they say, it just tends to end up in landfills.

As technology changes, cities have to look down the road and continue to evolve their policies to determine if it is still worth recycling glass. Glass is very heavy and really contaminates the other recycling material.

One bright spot on the map, might be Montgomery County, which still maintains a “dual-stream” system, and which, still churns out a profit.

The two-stream system makes for less contamination — better sales and less material diverted to landfills, and really isn’t much harder for residents than dealing with a single bin.

Though there are pitfalls in the economics of recycling, there is still value in diverting recyclables from landfills. Most advocates agree that governments do not institute recycling programs to save money, but instead to save energy and maintain the environment.

As John Tiemstra, professor of economics at Calvin College explains, “In economic terms, it’s very often a losing proposition but the thing is, human work does not have the same environmental consequences that exploiting virgin resources has. From a sustainability point of view, recycling has value.”

People have been preaching the importance of the three R’s (Reduce, Re-use, Recycle) for years now – and with good reason. There is truth in saying that recycling reduces pollution and the need for large CO2 producing-landfills, saves limited natural resources such as water, mineral, oil, and coal, and preserves energy by decreasing production numbers.

If we eliminated recycling programs completely 30 percent of solid waste that we recycle would be completely lost. That means that instead of re-using old materials, we have to produce more virgin products from natural resources, a practice that is neither energy- nor cost-effective. For example, recycling an aluminum can saves 95% of the energy required to otherwise produce it from raw materials.

In addition to the environmental rewards, there are also significant social benefits produced through recycling. Aside from bestowing a moral responsibility onto the public, recycling also promotes job growth. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance,

According to the EPA, every 10,000 tons of solid waste hauled into a landfill creates 1 job. Every 10,000 tons of recycled material, however, can result in 10 recycling jobs or 75 material reuse jobs. If the United States could amp up its recycling rate to 75%, it would create nearly 2.3 million jobs across the nation. Therefore, while recycling may not be the most cost-effective program for cities, it helps provide stable, green jobs for the millions of unemployed persons in the U.S.

Thus, cost is not the only factor in cities’ decisions to institute recycling programs. The question will always stand: for whose best interest do we recycle?

NYC Compost Problems

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As reported first by CBS New York, New Yorkers complain that being asked to compost their garbage is creating a stinky mess.

NYC residents have green bins for regular garbage, blue ones for recycling and now brown ones for composting and residents of Greenpoint located in the borough of Brooklyn are none to pleased with the new bin.

Marzena Golonka, a Greenpoint building owner says her neighborhood stinks and it’s the city’s fault. The city is also always complaining about the rodent problem, and now in Greenpoint along with many other neighborhoods, the addition of the brown bin is like putting out a welcome mat for the rodents.

Walking down Guernsey Street, CBS news reports that you can barely breathe through your nose due to the stench. Neighbors say the brown bins for composting are not working – the reporter found one that was not securely closed and had maggots spilling out of it.

For years, residents voluntarily dropped off food waste at compost sites throughout the city, but with some restrictions. Meat, fish, and dairy products were not allowed; they took too long to break down and are way too smelly. But for some reason, the curbside pickup by NYC sanitation will accept the odorous items.

The true test will be when businesses are tasked with separating out their food waste from the regular trash. Hearings begin in the fall of 2015 to map out the city’s plan for commercial businesses. Until then Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner admits that they are still experimenting in certain parts of the city and still is unsure what is going to be best for the city of New York.

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/07/17/greenpoint-compost-problems/

New York City Moves One Step Closer

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Administration proposal expands organics diversion program to the commercial sector.

On July 1st, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration unveiled their proposal to expand organic diversion to the commercial sector. The program would be mandatory for some 357 New York City businesses that generate large amounts of food waste, like the Barclays Center, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium; restaurants inside hotels with more than 150 rooms; and large food-processing plants. The city is planning to eventually require all restaurants to participate in the program, which began under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The program is designed to cut methane emissions from landfills and make waste disposal practices more sustainable in the nation’s largest city.

Specifically, the program will affect 132 hotels, 7 arenas, 58 manufacturers and 160 wholesalers, according to the city. The City estimates that these waste generators produce approximately 50,000 tons per year of food waste that can be either composted or handled in another sustainable manner approved by the Department. City Hall said this program is environmentally responsible and would save space in the region’s overcrowded landfills. Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner said the regulations wouldn’t cost the public any money because they would be the responsibility of affected businesses to comply.

Those affected businesses would be given a six-month grace period, after which violations would result in fines, though the amounts haven’t yet been disclosed.

“We want to be at the forefront of cities that are going to zero-waste-to-landfill,” Kathryn Garcia, said.

In total, the city’s commercial establishments generate roughly one million tons a year of organic waste. So this action will need to be followed up with more expansive directives over the next several years, so that the program ultimately includes all significant food waste generators in New York City.

With the Mayor’s recently released OneNYC sustainability plan, this is apparently what the de Blasio administration plans to do.

Hearings on the proposed regulations will begin in the fall, and the city hopes to see them go into effect next year.

This program brings New York City one-step closer to declaring its independence from environmentally troublesome, methane-generating, climate-altering landfills.

It’s All About The Data

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In the waste industry, a key criticism is the lack of data or, where data does exist, a lack of accurate information. For example, almost all operations have no idea how much waste they have, what kind of waste it is, how to prevent the waste, and where the waste goes.

In recent years the conversation regarding the need and importance of data has evolved tremendously. About five years ago responses were mixed, with some expressing how important data was, while others indicated they had a hard time seeing how the additional information might benefit their operations.

In contrast, today it is rare to come across someone who isn’t interested in or doesn’t see the value that good data can bring to their operation.

The data, however, continues to be hard to get a hold of but if you are one of the lucky ones, the data you are receiving can vary from asset management to tracking utilization to understanding how many pounds are being managed to determining waste composition. The list goes on. The point is that there is a strong push to acquire data and exploit the knowledge gained to evaluate everything from internal efficiencies to potential competition.

There was always some interest in this before, but what seems to have qualitatively changed is that there is now the ability to easily acquire accurate data from none other than the Eco-Safe Digester. This on-site technology that was originally manufactured to eliminate food waste has been collecting waste data via the cloud for more than two years. Eco-Safe Digester customers are receiving data in ways they’ve never seen before.

The level of data continues to grow from once only seeing the pounds diverted and dollars saved from the traditional and compost costs to now understanding what’s happening internally in each department, by each employee and from one location to the other. The information acquired now allows a company to understand its place in the world, evaluate trends, and save more money.

As data acquisition and availability increases, operations will be able to incorporate this corporate-specific data in their operations, forecasting and business development activities.

Additionally, Ec0-Safe Digester customers as well as the public and potential investors are looking to this data to gauge what is happening with the waste that is generated and how users adjust their behavior to prevent it altogether.

Because the data is accurately measured on-site and streamed simultaneously to a secure platform its credibility is not an issue. BioHitech America represents that the data is not skewed or flawed in any way as decisions are made based on this information.

The importance of accurate data is critical as it can spell the success or failure of any sustainability project, something BioHitech America takes very seriously.

Portions of this story was previously published on May 4, 2015 in Waste 360 and written by Bryan Staley. Bryan Staley, P.E., is president of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, a non-profit research organization that represents the entire industry and has been working to aggregate credible and reliable industry-wide data.

The Fremont Food Waste-to-Energy Plant Shut Down

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The Fremont food waste-to-energy plant, located in Fremont, Michigan, touted as the first of its kind in the nation has closed a little more than two years after it opened because it hadn’t paid its electric bill.

The plant, operated by Novi Energy, agreed to sell renewable energy — enough to power 1,200 homes — to Consumers Energy. But on Monday, a Consumers Energy crew was at the vacant plant to shut off the power.

The plant manager claims it is a legal fight over ownership that led to the shutdown in January but nearby businesses say nobody has been seen working at the plant since late last year. Fences were locked and the lawn was choked with weeds.

The $22 million Fremont Community Anaerobic Digester, built with help from a $12.8 million U.S. Department of Agriculture loan guarantee, was designed to take in 100,000 tons of waste each year from West Michigan food processors, most notably nearby baby food producer Gerber Products Co., and turn that into energy.  The Fremont project also benefited from a 2008 state law that requires Michigan utility companies to obtain at least 10% of their power from renewable sources in the state by 2015.

Anaerobic digestion has been around for centuries, although only recently evolved to where it can produce energy on a utility-use scale from a variety of food waste.   The plant is not the first anaerobic digester power site in Michigan, but is considered the largest and the only one in the state that can harness energy from waste sources other than manure.

While there is opportunity for more of these plants in the United States, the price of digester electricity is considerably higher than conventional energy. Government incentives would be key.

The City of Fremont is keeping a close eye on what’s happening at the plant, since it helped it out with a $120,000-per-year tax abatement and was relying on helping the state make progress on their sustainability goals.

 

A New Waste Hierarchy

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In 1989 the EPA issued an Agenda for Action that first included the idea of an Integrated Waste Management Hierarchy, which took on many variations before reaching the common one today.

The EPA’s basic idea was to attempt to suggest–but not mandate–that, even though landfilling was most common in the marketplace because it appeared cheapest, other options to handle discarded materials were preferable. These included source reduction, recycling, and even waste-to-energy.

Most recently, Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA), a global zero waste organization has upended traditional concepts about the Integrated Waste Management Hierarchy taking that thought further to fully reflect today’s principles of sustainability.

And now with state and city policies mandating the diversion of recyclable materials from landfill coupled with the technological advances the waste industry is seeing to not only eliminate the waste more efficiently but to capture the data about the composition of that discarded waste, the hierarchy will likely need to be refreshed often.

NYC’s Commercial Waste Management System Is Garbage

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New York City’s commercial waste-management system is more broken than anyone realized, according to a report released by Transform Don’t Trash NYC.

The coalition found that New York City businesses produce 5.5 million tons of waste per year—two million more tons than the most recent official estimate. Of those 5.5 million tons, 4 million are “disposed”, sent to the landfill or incinerated, rather than recycled. And while Bloomberg’s 2011 PLaNYC report set the city’s recycling rate by offices, restaurants, stores, hotels, and hospitals at a less-than-great 40%, TDTNYC estimates that the actual percentage is closer to 24%.

If not worse, annual reports foiled with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation show that last year, two of the biggest private waste haulers in the city recycled just 9% and 13% of their waste, respectively.

TDTNYC obtained these troubling new statistics from a study of commercial waste management in New York City, conducted back in 2012 by Halcrow Engineers, and commissioned by the DSNY.

According to the report thousands of private waste-collecting trucks overlap routes in NYC: in 2012, at least 25 independent trash haulers worked each neighborhood, and a whopping 79 just in Midtown. As a result, the city was faced with unnecessary “pollution, noise, congestion and hazards of excessive truck traffic.”

Setting the 2012 study aside, TDTNYC supplemented these findings with a 2014 survey of 580 businesses across the five boroughs.

Their survey revealed individual blocks in several neighborhoods where collection trucks from 8-10 different hauling companies serviced businesses, and one multi-block commercial strip serviced by 22 different hauling companies. The constant struggle to gain and retain customers leads haulers to operate inefficient routes.

For example, a typical team of two workers operating a truck might collect waste from 70 different restaurants in one night. While a dense customer base would allow these workers to fill their trucks from restaurants in a single neighborhood, in NYC’s open system these workers are likely to drive across multiple neighborhoods and even boroughs to collect the same amount of waste from the same number of restaurants.

“When you’re out there at night, you can be on any particular street and see ten different companies at the same time picking up for different customers. You have haulers coming up all the way from Brooklyn or Queens to the Bronx or Manhattan to collect, and then going all the way back to drop garbage. If you have companies in the Bronx, why does someone from Staten Island have to come to the Bronx to pick up trash,” commented Plinion Cruz, Sanitation Truck Driver for Progressive Waste Solutions.

Cruz has also witnessed considerable shortcomings in the industry when it comes to separating out recycling:

“There are some places where you see that the customer did the diligence and separated the cans in one bag and the cardboard piled separately, and then the solid waste in black bags. The customer takes the time to separate the recyclables, but then the sanitation driver is told to put everything in one truck. So whatever the customer did didn’t serve any purpose because everything is going to be mixed together and when you get to the transfer station, the truck dumps everything and a loader scoops it up to go to a landfill or an incinerator.”

A zoning system confining private waste management companies to geographic areas would at address the traffic issues and cut back on unnecessary gas guzzling but it still does not solve the problem. Businesses are creating too much waste and need the right tools to reduce the volume before finding a more efficient way of disposing of it.

The story was first published on April 20, 2015 here:
http://gothamist.com/2015/04/20/nyc_trashed.php

 

Our Plastics Might Be Headed to the Landfill

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The Wall Street Journal posted a story yesterday about how the fall in oil prices has dragged down the price of virgin plastic erasing any advantage to the plastic recycler. In that same article, the writer suggested that oil prices are not only to blame for the collapse of plastic recycling but that government policy caused a mushroom effect in the US and Europe creating overcapacity.

Depending on whom you blame, it seems the result is that the cost to recycle plastic is more expensive than creating virgin plastic and that because of that the demand for recycled plastics have shrunk, bankrupting many recycling plants and crushing the value of collecting the material for profit.

Compared to lucrative recycling materials such as glass and metal, plastic has often been more challenging because of the complex sorting and processing, unfavorable economics and consumer confusion about which plastics can actually be recycled.

Waste Management and municipalities typically earn cash for selling recyclable materials creating a need for program that generates a profit. But no one wants to pay a premium for the recycled plastic even though it’s better for the environment. If dumping plastics in landfills is ultimately a cheaper method of disposal some municipalities may decide to forgo the recycling of plastics altogether because it will end up costing their residents money to continue to recycle the material.

The concept of uncoupling from plastic recycling programs is really a huge step backwards for our landfills and our environment. If there is no value in a plastics recycling program the plastics will be either tossed back in with our waste stream where they will take centuries to decompose in our landfills or worse, contribute to an even larger problem in our oceans where it will never degrade.

The current problems occurring at landfills all over the US however continues with our without the addition of the plastics back to our landfills. Now with the fate of our plastics final resting spot up for discussion there is certainly a potential for stronger odors and increased toxic runoff at these landfills which might make the current situation around the US even worse.

So, the battles will continue like they do in Tullytown, Pennsylvania and not because of the extra plastic.

For years the residential neighborhoods of Florence, New Jersey have alleged noxious odors have emanated form the Tullytown landfill. In October 2014, the Pennsylvania DEP issued a notice of violation, citing Waste Management for nuisance odors emanating from the landfill. In response, Waste Management made a number of improvements that have reportedly cost them millions of dollars.

What is worrisome is that if the likes of Waste Management stand to lose money on the crash of the plastic commodity will they be able to afford the clean up process at their landfills to keep the residents happy?

This Waste-Transfer Station Plan is Garbage

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In a section of the job-hungry South Bronx zoned for heavy manufacturing sits a trash-transfer station. At the state-of-the-art facility, which like all such stations is enclosed to minimize odors, optical-sorting equipment and workers pull recyclable material from regular garbage so as little waste as possible ends up in landfills. Its 120 employees are paid well above minimum wage and earn promotions if they perform well. Some hail from a program that steers defendants from the criminal-justice system into productive employment.

In short, the transfer station is located exactly where it’s supposed to be, hires the people who need jobs the most, pays well and helps the environment.

Now get this: At least 20 City Council members want to cut the plant off at its knees.

In the name of environmental justice, they are sponsoring a bill to hamstring transfer stations like the one in the Bronx, which could have its waste-processing capacity reduced by 50%. The result would be more trucks carrying trash across the city for longer distances and spending more time on local streets, rather than highways.

Bronx plant owner Action Environmental Services, for its part, would be stuck with an underused $15 million optical sorter. And the Bronx, which has by far the highest unemployment and the lowest median income in the city, could see dozens of the facility’s quality jobs disappear.

The council is right to be concerned about the concentration of trucks in certain parts of the city. But this bill, known as Intro. 495, would do more harm than good. It would compel many stations to handle less waste, yet would do nothing to reduce it. With the city’s waste stream growing by 4% to 5% every year, the consequence would be more waste processing in neighborhoods and at facilities less suited for it. It’s not even certain that waste-industry businesses would add the needed transfer-station capacity or build the composting facilities the council wants, given the chilling message that Intro. 495 would send by undermining their previous investments.

This is the kind of legislation that lets politicians don a halo of environmental justice without helping the environment or doing justice. The bill purports to limit garbage trucks but will merely divert them to longer and less efficient routes. It increases disposal costs and pollution. And it pits communities against each other.

The de Blasio administration, to its credit, opposes this counterproductive bill. Its council sponsors would do well to dump it in the recycling bin. The bill they should start focusing on, which is up for a vote in July, is Local Law 146 requiring the city’s largest food waste generators to separate food waste ensuring it does not go to landfill. Suitable on-site disposal solutions offer the promise of eliminated garbage trucks removed from the city’s congested roads and perhaps eliminate the need to build composting facilities altogether. An on-site solution like The Eco-Safe Digester, manufactured and sold by New York-based BioHitech America offers customers an opportunity to become more aware of what is being disposed so that efforts can be made to reduce it entirely. That is the kind of change needed in a city looking for considerable environmental and monetary wins for their garbage and their communities.

A version of this article appeared in the March 6, 2015, online issue of Crain’s New York Business

 

 

Remote Monitoring as a Value Add

 

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Imagine having a problem with a piece of commercial kitchen equipment and have it fixed before even knowing there was a problem. Though it seems implausible, staying connected to a product wherever it is located is now possible thanks to remote monitoring.

Global suppliers such as General Electric and Emerson Electric Co are selling remote monitoring services to help manufacturers fix or prevent mechanical problems increasing their productivity while cloud computing is storing and analyzing vast amounts of data from those machines to predict trends. These combined efforts cut down the need for costly hands-on service calls and turns every day into a profitable and efficient day.

Monitoring performance, analyzing data and troubleshooting any problems, even before the customer knows the machine is having a problem, is an extraordinary level of service. A service BioHitech America offers with every Eco-Safe Digester.

BioHitech America’s remote monitoring feature offers an enhanced level of insight that can truly improve the performance of the machine. Data can be monitored and made available for analysis through cellular or Wi-Fi networks.

In the past, monitoring a machine required specialized men and women to travel to a location to perform a routine inspection of that machine. Now, automation takes over the task and eliminates a considerable amount of travel time, expenses and fuel.

Service is not the only value-add, big data, streaming from the Eco-Safe Digester to your tablet or computer is priceless. Increased efficiency and productivity, improving customer satisfaction, and measuring carbon footprint performance, increases profitability.

This technological baby-sitter represents an entirely new way to keep businesses running smoothly. Anytime, Anywhere Access.