GRC 27th Annual Conference – 2018

The Georgia Recycling Coalition

"Sorting It All Out"

In Mid-September, VP and General Manager Chris Witherspoon represented M-PASS at the 27th annual conference of the Georgia Recycling Coalition (GRC). The GRC has a mission to promote material reduction and enhance recycling programs throughout the state by coordinating recycling activities.  Spearheading communication between Georgians interested in recycling – recycling professionals, individuals, governments and corporations.

This year’s theme and agenda “Sorting It All Out” covered many of the issues impacting recycling in Georgia.  Bruce Karas, VP of Environmental & Sustainability for Coca-Cola North America, kicked off the conference with a presentation on Coke’s World Without Waste Initiative Program designed to help collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one sold by 2030.

Conference participants also heard about other local progress as well as some of the specific “nitty gritty” of our business, including education, sorting and contamination.  The panel selection ranged from a group of individuals who shared about a local success story out of Hall County addressing specific recycling markets like glass, plastics, etc. sharing how Hall County has created a solid business solution for industry waste programs and their efforts continue to expand. Their twenty-year plan shows an anticipated profit starting as early as next year.

VP and General Manager Chris Witherspoon said it perfectly, “The GRC is such an important resource for all of Georgia, but especially for those of us working in waste diversion industries. They keep us in touch, informed and on target.  These conferences are valuable to M-PASS not only ensure that we as a company stay current on all concerns or issues, but we are able to anticipate potential changes all while keeping in touch with colleagues from around the state.“

 

Blue Sky 2018 – China Continues to Impact the World

Blue Sky 2018 - China Continues to Impact the World

In August, we talked about China’s changing import regulations on recyclable materials. That was just the beginning of a major adjustment in how the world has to deal with this issue in the future. Chinese authorities, increasingly concerned over the growing amount of contaminated recyclable materials entering their country, launched aggressive enforcement of existing regulations on inspections in 2013.
(“China’s ‘Green Fence’ is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market,” M-PASS, August 18, 2017).

Things continue to evolve. “Blue Sky 2018,” is the latest enforcement campaign announced by China’s General Administration of Customs. (Just keeping it interesting – the name “Blue Sky 2018” follows “The Green Fence” and “The National Sword,” changing as the intensity of the effort grows).

Jianan Yu/REUTERS

This newest action, running from March through December of this year, means full enforcement of earlier measures to ban 24 types of waste, including plastic and mixed papers. It goes further, setting a much higher standard for contamination levels. In addition, Chinese authorities are cracking down on false import documents. According to authorities, smugglers have been circumventing import regulations by illegally using another company’s import license. By November of 2017, these crackdowns had resulted in the arrest of “… 39 suspects and the seizure of 33,000 tonnes of plastic and mineral waste.” (SOURCE: South China Morning Post)

These changes have left Western countries scrambling to deal with a buildup of plastic and paper garbage while looking for new markets. Interestingly, the regulations are also having effects in Asia, as port cities like Hong Kong are seeing tons of rubbish pile up.

Hong Kong, partially autonomous because of the “one country, two systems” legal framework established when the city reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, functions as China’s import-export hub. Virtually all recycling imports from the West pass through its already overstretched port complex, the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals. (SOURCE: “China’s recycling import crackdown sparks Hong Kong pile-ups,” Engineering & Technology, Nov., 2017).

Hong Kong also produces its own large amounts of cardboard and paper, much of which is normally sent across the border to the mainland for recycling. Officials there fear that the area is far too small and densely populated to be able to properly process even all of its own recyclable waste. And since China refuses to take it, the pileups will leave them surrounded by garbage.

As Waste Dive 360’s Cole Rosengren wrote in a recent article:

“In the eight months since China announced import restrictions, the industry’s talking points
have essentially followed the five stages of grief. Most people now appear to be entering the
acceptance phase. Containers are getting rejected, import licenses are down and the new 0.5%
contamination standards are in effect as of this month. Figuring out what went wrong and
what comes next is now the top priority.”

There are no great short-term answers. Quick fixes include sending more recyclable materials to landfills, easing municipality recycling requirements, increasing taxes, and possible higher costs for haulers. Some recyclers are looking to export to other countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, but even together these places can’t fill the void left by China. None of these are long-term solutions.

“This is not a little disruption,” says Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute,
a research organization based in Southern California. “This is a big disruption to a bigger industry
than most people would think it is, because it’s sort of an invisible process. You put your stuf
out at the curb, and it goes away — nobody thinks about it as being a multi-billion industry in this country.”

(“Mountains of US recycling pile up as China restricts imports,” PRI, January 2018)

There is some good news. Challenges often provide the opportunity to increase knowledge, growth and effect change. Increasing consumer awareness, even in our daily activities, is an initial step.

  • The milkman is making a return, partly due to a renewed interest in using glass bottles instead of plastic.
  • The EU announced plans to make all plastic packaging across Europe recyclable or reusable by 2030.
  • British Prime Minister Teresa May called for more stringent rules on the use of plastics, particularly in supermarkets.
  • Recently, the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free aisle, offering more than 700 products with no plastic wrapping. There are plans for a national roll out.
  • And to come full circle, Roy Tech Environ (a Chinese-owned company) is opening a plastics-recycling facility in Grant, Alabama. With regulations tightening, increasing the difficulty to ship unprocessed plastic scrap into China, the company decided to open a processing plant in the U.S. to ensure that its operations in Asia have enough material to meet their needs. (SOURCES: Recycling Today; WHNT News)

Hopefully, by now you are thinking: So what can I do?

Here are three pretty simple things that we can all do right now:

  • Rob Schmitz/NPR

    Decline plastic straws offered by servers at restaurants. There is a growing anti-straw activist movement amid talk of edible straws and return of the paper straw. The #stopsucking movement is not new, but it got a boost recently from Queen Elizabeth. She “stopped sucking,” according to one roguish headline, after seeing part of a film series presented by her friend David Attenborough. Greatly impacted by the scenes of plastic bottles and bags clogging oceans and killing marine life, she banned plastic straws and plastic materials from the royal estates.

  • Stop “wishful recycling” (We probably all practice this every once in a while when we just throw it in the bin, not 100% sure it can be recycled). I find myself thinking twice now when I approach my recycling container.
  • Make sure you take your own bags to the supermarket.

“Blue Sky 2018” has had a large effect on economies and jobs around the world as prices for recyclable materials have decreased with demand. It even affects the income of Hong Kong’s scrap and garbage pickers (often referred to as “cardboard grannies”), who make a living going shop to shop collecting scrap materials to recyclers.

But while we may be facing short-term economic losses, in the long-run, we can increase – and develop new – and sustainable practices.

If you want to know more ….

More reading on China and the continuing outcome of their actions:
There is a wealth of information and reporting on the China policies and their effects on the world and there are new stories every few days. We will keep you updated on any significant changes or responses. In in the meantime — If you want to read more about it …

Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South. How We Doin’?

Waste Reduction and Diversion in the South

How We Doin’?

Well, not really very well, according to a March 2015 study reported by Waste360 which ranked “The 10 Best and Worst States for Waste Diversion, Reduction.” No states in the South were among the best, but you will find five Southern states listed among the worst.

So, why is the South falling short in our waste diversion and reduction efforts compared to other parts of the country? There’s one answer and it’s both simple and complicated – it’s about cost. But cost considered only in financial terms, not taking into account costs to the environment and our quality of life.

Though ever-growing numbers of people and businesses are participating in recycling programs in their communities, we still produce enormous amounts of waste. In most cases, a landfill is the easiest answer, and many of us tend to just be content with burying the problem in a landfill. If we can’t see it, we can just forget about it.

We’ve all heard the downsides of landfills: among them, soil and ground water pollution and higher transportation and energy costs (in many cases, waste has to travel a long way to find its landfill home). And P.S., after a landfill is closed, it can take thousands of years for many of the contents – such as Styrofoam – to decompose.

Even with increased interest in recycling, landfills remain the most common and economical waste management solution in many parts of the country. And since the South is a large region with lots of open land, the tipping fees (cost of waste received at landfills) have remained relatively low in the Southern states.

 “Because of this abundance of landfills and land space in certain states, it’s sometimes much
cheaper to dispose of waste rather than recycling. States with less land have greater
difficulty getting rid of their waste, which is why their prices are higher.”

–John Witherspoon, President,
Municipal Waste Consultants of Georgia

These tipping fees vary widely from region to region and even from state to state. For example, according to the Waste Business Journal, in 2017 tipping fees in the Southeast averaged $38 per ton. In the same year, the Northeast averaged $79.3 per ton – more than double the average fee charged in the Southern states.

In coming years, however, we may not be able to blame price differences for our continued landfill use. If you google “increasing landfill fees,” you’ll find news about rising fees from Paso Robles, California to Walker County, Georgia to New Zealand.

According to Waste Dive, the largest landfill fee increases in the United States most recently occurred in the Midwest (8.9%) and the Southeast (6.6%), partly due to the continued popularity of these regions as export destinations for other states. (Isn’t “export” a nice way of saying “we’re sending you our trash”?)

Many states with less land area have found exporting the most effective way to deal with their waste.  In some cases, larger states are also increasing export volumes as their landfill fees

increase or as they look to reduce the number of their landfills. A number of Southern states are receiving these “imports,” among them Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Southern states are even exporting to each other. As an example, trash collected from cities and towns in Florida that border Georgia and Alabama will often be dumped outside the state of origin in order to receive the lower gate rates in those states.

And while we’ve primarily been talking about land mass, it’s important to remember that it’s not only the size of the area that’s an issue. For example, a large state like California today may appear to have lots of land but their greater population density can increase pressure to preserve land and environmental quality.

As you might imagine, transporting huge truckloads of garbage from one region of the country to another adds to the tipping fees – fuel, equipment, and personnel. Some of you may remember the infamous “garbage barge,” which left New York loaded with trash in March of 1987. The waste traveled down the East Coast and around Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. After being banned from six states and two foreign nations (Mexico and Belize), and riding around for almost two months, the waste returned to New York, and was eventually disposed of after a series of inter-borough debates.

No matter how much land we have now or how we choose to use it, we need to remember that open land is a finite resource. And as the economic justification for landfill use becomes less persuasive in the future, we must continue to look at better ways to deal with our waste.  There are things we can do in the meantime, including buying more products made from recycled material, changing our recycling and waste disposal habits, including reducing contamination in our residential recycling by separately recycling glass and ensuring only materials that are 100% recyclable are in the bins. We can also better educating individuals and businesses on the benefits – both economic and environmental – of recycling.

In 2006, M-PASS Environmental developed their Multi-Step Cost Reduction Analysis Process, which, according to President and Founder Lorraine White, “enables us to provide organizations and municipalities with significant cost savings in their waste management and recycling programs. A priority of our work with clients is to enhance sustainable initiatives, including looking for all the possible ways to reduce landfill tonnage and help our clients increase their recycling efforts.”

And finally, by not emphasizing recycling as an alternative to landfills, we are ignoring a huge economic market. According to the Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC), “Southeastern manufacturers rely on recycled glass, plastic, metal, and paper to make new consumer goods.” You can get a quick idea of the numbers of these manufacturing sites from SERDC’s interactive map, which highlights key manufacturers using recycled materials to make their products.

In Georgia, for example, we have a recycling market infrastructure which includes the state’s carpet industry which uses recycled plastics, and the pulp and paper mills that use recycled fiber in their production. Our landfills probably contain millions of dollars’ worth of recyclable materials. Materials that could turn into a financial benefit for both the entity dumping the waste as well as the company waiting to turn those materials back into useful products.

Let’s take a longer look at the economics of recycling and take better care of our valuable land resources – both in the South as well as the rest of the United States.

PLEASE REMEMBER — RECYCLING MEANS BUSINESS
It …
Creates jobs
Saves energy
Conserves natural resources
Contributes to water conservation
Saves landfill space

M-PASS Has the Answer for Business Owners — Recycling Glass, part 2

Last week we left off with the understanding that demand for glass continues to outpace the supply. How and where do we start to change glass recycling policies?
It’s not that difficult for residential areas because many places have designated recycling centers which accept glass.  (You can usually locate these through your local government).

That sounds easy enough but what about everybody else?
DIY recycling isn’t feasible for everyone due to the potential of large volumes of recycling and the time needed for busy companies to take their glass to a designated center — if there even is one in their area.

Recycled glass can be processed into products as diverse as landscaping rocks and aquarium chips

The alcoholic beverage industry uses over fifty percent of all glass containers, with the majority most likely coming from bars, restaurants, and hotels where beverages are consumed on the premises. It’s difficult to even imagine the huge volume of recyclable glass these businesses can generate.

  • As mentioned in the first part of this discussion Nashville, Tennessee can generate up to 1500 used bottles per hour on a busy night
  • And after North Carolina passed a 2008 law requiring Alcohol Beverage Permit holders to recycle their beverage containers, the number of glass bottles recovered for recycling almost doubled over only the next three years.
    (source: Glass Packaging Institute)

What a huge opportunity for the hospitality & food services industry and other companies to be leaders of a renewed, energized effort to reuse this ageless natural product.

But we’re back to how to solve the problem of separating out the good, reusable glass. The processors do want glass. One of two things must happen to get glass to the processors.  Recycling collection companies must run a dedicated glass route or manually sort what they pick up and do so without losing money in their operation. 

Even though they realized the potential obstacles, M-PASS Environmental wanted to find an answer to help businesses and property management companies recycle glass in the Atlanta metro area.

“A number of forces are still working against us,” said M-PASS General Manager Chris Witherspoon. “For example, states with higher tipping fees (fees charged per load at landfills) are more motivated to separate glass and truck it to a processor. For example, disposal rates at North Carolina’s landfills are double the rates in Georgia. And North Carolina’s collection rates of recyclable glass reflect that difference.”

Okay, now I better understand the issues. But isn’t there any good news about a solution?
Yes! For residential recycling, find out if your collection company sorts out glass and, if not, where you can drop off your glass. (My neighbors and I coordinate so we each only have to make a trip to our county recycling site every other month).

Businesses have another option – and they don’t have to take anything anywhere.

M-PASS Glass Recycling Bin

In February of this year, M-PASS took the lead in glass recycling solutions in the Atlanta area when they began offering a single stream or dual stream recycling program that includes glass.

“This means we can accept glass from our clients because our glass is manually separated and sorted, enabling it to skip the MRF recycling step and go directly to a glass recycling company instead. We are able to do this by partnering with a company that does the manual separation and then sells the product directly to the glass processor,” explained President and Founder Lorraine White. “It has already had a financial benefit for our clients because it means they have less trash to dispose of. Of course, the financial benefit can be greater for companies that generate a greater amount of recyclable materials.”

Here’s the equation: recycling glass = more jobs + energy savings +
greater financial benefit to companies who recycle glass

“It’s no surprise that M-PASS has worked to be at the front of this issue in Georgia,” White continued. “We are recognized in our industry for our ability to analyze a situation, find solutions, and reduce operating expenses. We are also eager to cooperate, and often provide consulting services for other companies in the industry.”

Glass is not going away … neither is M-PASS

 

 

It’s Very Clear … We Should Be Recycling Glass

We all most likely handle some type of glass several times a day without thinking about what this material actually is. Glass has been around for thousands of years and from its beginnings has been made primarily with natural elements – sand, limestone, soda ash, and various additives, including those used to color brown, green or blue bottles.

The basic recipe for glass is still the same, but one thing in the mix has changed – the percentage of cullet (crushed recycled glass) used in glass production today. Glass can be recycled endlessly with no loss in quality or purity and can be substituted for up to 95% of raw materials.

While a glass bottle may have been the first thing many of us put in a recycling bin (or took back to the store to get our deposit back), the process of recycling glass has changed over the last few years. It’s really simple: we have glass and there are companies who want glass to process into new containers. Then why does it seem like it’s gotten so complicated? I decided to see if I could simplify things – for myself as well as others.

Processed recycled glass

Why should we recycle glass?
In addition to the fact that glass can live on and on and easily be re-made for different purposes, recycling glass has many other benefits, including

  • Saving natural resources (over a ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of glass recycled)
  • Reducing energy costs
  • Reducing carbon dioxide production
  • Providing opportunities for employment at glass processing facilities

 So what happens to the recycled glass? Who uses it?
An estimated 80% of all glass containers recovered for recycling are re-melted and find new life primarily in new glass containers and fiberglass. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, these two industries collectively purchase 3 million tons of recycled glass annually, which becomes the new containers or fiberglass products.

 Why can’t I put glass in my recycling bin any longer?
This answer depends on who is collecting the recycling. Most of us have Single-Stream Collection at our homes and businesses (all recyclable material are put into the same bin). The responsibility of the collection company is to collect and deliver the single-stream recycling to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where everything is processed together by automated sorting equipment. When that happens, the unseparated glass breaks and degrades, losing its value to a glass recycling processor.

It is not because glass can no longer be recycled. In fact the
demand for recycled glass continues to outpace the supply.

Glass recycling is further complicated because guidelines differ from state to state and city to city. In the Atlanta area, for example, glass recycling has essentially become non-existent. Hauling companies and cart service collection companies began eliminating glass from their acceptable materials lists in late 2015 and 2016 because recycling processing facilities stopped accepting glass due to complications in processing glass as a component of a mixed stream.

In contrast, in July of this year, DeKalb County discontinued the placement of glass in curbside single-stream recycling, instead offering its residents county-operated glass recycling drop-off locations featuring a glass separation process. By doing this, DeKalb became the first county in Georgia to offer an official glass recycling drop-off program in an urban area. This program is ideal for residential glass but not necessarily for commercial businesses.

Glass in the landfill

High costs also complicate things, at least in the initial stages of investment. For example, Nashville just announced it will spend $400,000 to start collecting glass bottles for recycling from downtown bars. They are making a big investment, but a worthwhile one. According to Nashville Public Radio, it’s estimated that one of the larger bars in Nashville may go through up to 1,500 glass bottles an hour on busy nights. That’s right: 1,500 AN HOUR.

Where do all the unrecycled bottles end up?
In landfills, of course – where it can take one million years for a glass bottle to decompose. Glass is a hardy material – haven’t you ever wondered how it’s possible we still have glass artifacts from Egypt and other ancient civilizations?


As Atlanta’s population continues to grow, the city is looking for cost-effective solutions to the challenges of recycling glass, including equipment upgrades as well as the development of drop off sites.

 “Georgia is home to eight manufacturing locations that use recycled glass as a material,
providing employment to more than 1300 people. A city the size of Atlanta
can influence all the cities around it.”
—-Bill Clark of Strategic Materials,
the premier supplier of glass cullet to the container industry

The market and the product are here; how can we do more in Georgia and the Atlanta area – whether through government or private companies?

Watch for Part Two next week…

Contact us about Glass Recycling

Going Into the Trash for a Good Cause

You might mistake Elizabeth Rowe for a college student even though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, two years ago. Her first job after graduation – sustainability fellow in the college’s Center for Sustainability. At the Center she helps guide the college in their mission “to balance what the college takes from and returns to the world’s natural resources.”

M-PASS has been working in partnership with Agnes Scott since the college’s first audit in 2010.

This summer, while many students and recent graduates were sunning on beaches, Elizabeth and M-PASS’s Chris Witherspoon went “dumpster diving” behind the campus dining hall.

We asked staff writer Frances Kidd to talk to Elizabeth about her afternoon in the trash.

Frances: Well, the first question is WHY?
Elizabeth:  “When I asked a student intern to review their most recent audit report from M-PASS, I was concerned that the estimates were off because they seemed lower than they should have been. When I called Chris to ask about it, his response was “Let’s go look.”

Note: M-PASS does not charge extra for dumpster “dives.” They are part of the company’s regular client services – they  are always willing and able to assess the specific customer situation and evaluate if a new stream is introduced, or if the client can improve their separation process.

FK: And did you immediately agree?
ER: Immediately … but reluctantly. But when Chris said, “Normally we can get most information from the M-PASS audit process so we don’t have to get into the trash frequently. But — if you really want to know, we need to get down and dirty.” And I said, “Okay, let’s dive. If M-PASS is willing to get into the trash with us, I’m willing.”

FK: What happened when you got out there?
ER: Well, fortunately, I didn’t actually have to climb into the dumpster. We picked an afternoon just before a regular pick-up day so the dumpster would be full. Chris rummaged through the top layer to get a sense of what was in there. Then he pulled out a number of garbage bags and we spent the next hour or so pulling stuff out and laying it on a tarpaulin on the ground nearby so we could see what was there.

FK: What did you find?
ER: We did find some non-recyclable, non-compostable things mixed in with the regular trash. If wasn’t overwhelming, but we did learn that we need to continue to work closely with the personnel from our different departments. Often it’s as simple as a reminder to keep an eye on how their trash can be sorted.

FK: Was it just the two of you and that big dumpster?
ER: Actually, a few students and even a professor walked by and helped with the sorting for a while. The staff, faculty and students all support our recycling efforts. But I think they were amazed to see it in action that afternoon.

FK: A couple of final questions before we let you go: Were there any lingering effects from your efforts?
ER: I had food on me for sure. While I didn’t notice any smells, my boss gently suggested that I might want to leave early that day.

FK: And, would you dive in again?
ER: I would. And I probably will a few more times this year if I need to. Even though we have all the right practices in place, we have to continue to be vigilant to ensure we’re doing our best.

Our campus in downtown Decatur is very active – a lot of people live here, work and visit. So we need to make sure that we continue to educate new members of our community, because what we can’t recycle or compost goes to the Seminole Road Landfill in Ellenwood, Georgia. We really appreciate our partnership with M-PASS as they continue to help us keep down our contributions to the landfill.