Thursday, March 24, 2011

Update on recycling markets

Today I went to a recycling-markets forum sponsored by the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM). All the markets have seen a dramatic comeback from 3 years ago. Metals, paper, plastics and glass are all commanding good prices.

Matt Woessner of Kirschbaum & Krupp Metal Recycling in Minneapolis said base metal prices (e.g., lead, tin, nickel, copper, zinc) are all recovering from the 2008 slump. People who have been storing their metals in their basements and garages for the past 5-8 years and now bringing them in to sell.
China is leading the world in demand for base metals, especially copper.
85,000 pounds of Christmas lights and extension cords were recycled this past season.

Fibers (paper):
Liberty Paper in Becker, Minn., is a linerboard mill. Linerboard is the top sheet of a food box where the printing is visible to the consumer. Liberty makes linerboard out of 100% recycled paper.
Peg Wander, who presented for LDI Fibres (owner of Liberty Paper), said paper is global: hiccups in the supply and demand chain can affect U.S. markets. For example, Chinese New Year affects Minnesota markets. The paper industry must be collaborative, she said.

Marshall Johnson of Asset Recovery in St. Paul said that when new tech gadgets come out, Asset starts thinking about how they'll recycle those gadgets in two years.
How can consumers choose 'green' electronics? Look for EPEAT, international standards for electronics. EPEAT evaluates electronic products in relation to 51 environmental criteria.

Strategic Materials is opening a plant in St. Paul by the end of the year. Jennifer Grace said it'll feature the latest technology -- ceramic detectors, color sorters, fine-grind cullet. Strategic processes plate glass, windshield and post-consumer container glass, recycling 2,000,000 tons per year in more than 30 locations.
Glass is made into new glass containers, fiberglass, reflective beads for highways, abrasives, tiles and decorative landscaping.
1 ton of recycled glass saves 1.1 tons of sand, soda ash and limestone, not to mention all the air emissions savings from not extracting those materials.
The life of glass is virtually unlimited.
With single-sort recycling, the glass processors are finding
  • the 3-mix (green, brown and clear) is harder to process
  • pieces of glass are smaller because there's more breakage
  • processing costs are higher
  • the glass is dirtier
  • contamination is a big issue. Ceramics, metal, abrasives, Pyrex and glass ceramics all melt at different temperatures, causing weakness in the glass.

Recycling in general:
Jim Wollschlager from Randy's Environmental Services says they have 125 CNG-fueled trucks. CNG (compressed natural gas) is cheaper than diesel, quiet, with no emissions.
PET plastic is worth 36 cents a pound today whereas three years ago it was worth 0. He stressed keeping recyclables clean to keep costs in check.
Randy's collected 20,000 tons of source-separated organics (SSO) in 2010. Jim gave the example of March 3, when one commercial route collected 10.7 tons of SSO.
With SSO collection, rates for traditional recyclables go up, too, as people become more mindful about recycling.
With commercial recycling, owners have to be involved, he said. You have to walk them through the process and get them on board. Perform a waste audit so they can see how much is being thrown away and how much of that could be captured for recycling.

Terry Nichols of Trident Polymers in Plymouth said the company is the busiest it's ever been. The company deals with 45-50 different physical material types. For example, even with a #1, or PET, plastic soda bottle, there are additives: glue, the paper label, the polypropylene (#5) cap.
If a plastic contains additives, Terry goes on a tracking mission, working back to the manufacturer of that particular product to find out what's in it.
And here's a tidbit: Even though PVC (polyvinyl chloride) has negative health and environmental impacts, he said it is mechanically stable and you can do the same things with it that you can do with glass.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Compostable bits

Here are some news briefs:

  • My friend Carolyn's go-to source for where to recycle everything is From what I've seen it's really comprehensive, so it would be a good bookmark to add to your list of resources.

  • Pepsi Co. has introduced a plastic bottle made entirely from plants. Read all about it here.

  • In January, Kauai and Maui counties instituted plastic bag bans on the islands. My dad, who lives on Kauai, says plastic shopping bags are a hot commodity now. Read stories here, here and here. And hey, at one store you get free nuts for bringing in your reusable bags!
Stores like Foodland already offer incentives to customers to remember re-usable shopping bags. They give you a five cent credit and after 10 visits with a reusable bag you get a free bag of nuts.
"Today was my last stamp so I get my free nuts next time," said Frankie Quinabo, a shopper who enthusiastically supports a plastic bag ban. "It's an incentive. I went back out to the car to get the bag just because I knew it was my last stamp today."

  • As of three weeks ago, ARC will no longer send out their blue trucks to pick up donations of clothing and household goods at your house. It was a move to cut costs. Continue to support these reuse centers by bringing your donations to their drop-off centers in Richfield, New Hope, Brooklyn Center and St. Paul.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weighing in at Minnetonka High School

Minnetonka High School is about to re-launch its organics program, which has faltered for lack of supervision and enthusiasm. I've been providing technical assistance, so one thing I did last week was to weigh the trash so we'd have some baseline data.

2,800 students over 4 lunch periods = 60 bags of trash for a total of 468 pounds. You can see in the pictures that aside from the foam trays, much of what's being thrown away is recyclable or compostable. When Wayzata High School relaunched its organics program, the lunchroom went from 84 bags of trash a day to 12. Looking forward to seeing what happens at Minnetonka!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

GreenCorps gang's together again

We had our quarterly training last week. In the afternoon we got to tour Rock Tenn's paper-making facility, which was awesome, but they wouldn't let me take any pics to show you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Calling all wannabe Master Recycler/Composters!

Hennepin County introduced a brand-new program last week -- the Master Recycler/Composter program. (Think Master Gardener but instead of plants and flowers it's compost and, let's face it, trash. Enticing, no?)

(The photo above is from King County's Master Recycler/Composter program).

There will be 7 classes on Tuesday evenings starting April 12 covering solid waste, recycling processes, organics and waste-to-energy, residential, commercial, multi-family and event recycling and source reduction/waste prevention and climate change as it relates to waste. The program is open to Hennepin County residents and those who work in Hennepin County. The cost of the 7 classes and 2 optional tours? Just 30 dollars. In return you agree to volunteer 30 hours of your time teaching others about recycling, waste reduction and composting.

Just think about the impact you could have! You can show others how to reduce the amount of trash they generate! Volunteer activities include staffing booths at events, creating educational resources and displays and designing and implementing waste-reduction plans for special events, schools and the workplace.

Sign up here!

(Photo below's from Portland's MRC program)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The waste sort that almost wasn't

If there's anything I've learned in the last few years, it's that garbage is controversial. Halfway through our waste sort at Breck school last month, it was halted, but the reason caught me by surprise. Let me explain.

The two waste sorts I'd done before this one had been arranged by state, county and/or city staff and most of the people doing the sorting are professionals, who well know what they're getting into.

The Breck school sort was different because it involved parents and students (in addition to knowledgeable adult volunteers). Sorting trash is extremely educational, so it was believed this would be a great hands-on lesson for students. Two classes of about 8 students came through with their teachers and were briefed on what we were doing and then given aprons and gloves. The kids thought it was really cool to be sorting trash. But in one bag, retrieved from an outdoor trash can, there was a dead mouse and a bag of dog poop. A parent raised concerns about kids catching diseases, and the waste sort screeched to a halt. So here we were with a day's worth of work, and half the organics, recycling and trash still to sort.

Here're pics from Day 1:
The spreadsheet for recording all the data

The area starts off so clean.

Lots of stuff to sort
Emily Bowers, fellow GreenCorps member comes to help out.

Students line up to get their sorted material weighed and recorded.

A hard-boiled egg found among the restroom paper towels

Sorting organics is messy.

We held a meeting with school staff, and it was decided that if we finished the sort, no students would be involved. But then weeks went by and Day 2 of the sort didn't materialize. Meanwhile the organics were sitting outside, and because it's winter in Minnesota, everything froze.
Three weeks later, we got the green light, and then we discovered that if you freeze organics for that amount of time and then thaw them, they're in pretty good shape, not smelly and still sortable.

This time there were only four of us sorting.

See? The organics are still sortable.

So everything worked out in the end, and we've got some good data for the school.

At Breck, each trash can is paired with a recycling bin and an organics bin, so students and teachers are always able to sort all their waste. Do they do a good job? The waste sort data will tell.

Breck recycles a lot of plastic bags and film. The school's head of building services really goes the extra mile.

In the cafeteria, you drop your reusable tray, dishes and utensils at the dish room, and sort your trash and organics.

And our reward? A delicious lunch in the school's cafeteria. And yes, I ate every bite.