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home : news : news Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2/13/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Industry changes, cost play role in reduced recycling

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Despite a lack of statewide data on recycling, the Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency (CCASWA) has been tracking data on its recycling and waste diversion programs for a number of years.

The numbers show the total amount of materials recycled at the Clinton County landfill decreased 279 tons between fiscal years 2008 and 2012, with a total of 1,089 tons of recycled materials last year.

CCASWA director Brad Seward said the decrease can be attributed to a number of factors, specifically shrinking newspaper sizes, the decline of glass used in packaging and the loss of the glass recycling market.

The size of newspapers, which make up the majority of paper product recycling, has decreased in recent years, and more people are turning away from printed products in favor of electronic media, Seward said.

CCASWA recycled 1,000 tons of paper in 2008, but the amount has decreased each year, falling to 682 tons in 2012. Seward estimates 600 tons of paper will be recycled in Clinton County in FY 2013. He points out CCASWA was recycling 1,200-1,300 tons of paper per year as recently as 2001.

Glass is an even bigger factor in the numbers, Seward said.

In 2001, CCASWA recycled 600 tons of glass in a single year. By 2008, the amount dropped by a factor of 10 to 60 tons of glass, and it shrunk in 2008 to just 9 tons.

2008 was the last year CCASWA consistently was paid for glass in the recycling market, Seward said.

"Now, people want us to pay them to take glass," Seward said.

Without a buyer to cover the cost of labor used in processing glass containers for recycling, the material ends up going into the landfill and is subtracted from CCASWA's recycling figures, he said.

Despite the glut in the market, Seward said he's reluctant to stop accepting glass at the recycling center, a step the city of Dubuque already has taken, because he wants residents to stay in the habit of recycling in case market conditions change.

History shows it's difficult to train residents to new recycling habits when items are added or eliminated from the program, he noted.

In addition to the disappearance of the recycled glass market, glass usage in general has declined, Seward said.

He pointed out many products that used to be packaged in glass jars, such as ketchup and mayonnaise, now are packaged in plastic.

"There just aren't as many glass containers out there," he said.

"Packaging has changed and has become lighter and more plasticized."

Another factor is the cost of producing glass from raw materials. Seward said industry experts tell him it currently is cheaper to make new glass from raw materials than to make it from recycled materials.

Despite the decrease in the volume of materials being recycled, CCASWA's recycling program is more profitable now than it was 10 years ago.

CCASWA made $120,000 selling recycled materials in 2001, when approximately 2,000 tons of materials were recycled. In 2011, CCASWA made $180,000 with just around 1,200 tons of recycled materials.

Lack of access hinders recycling

Seward agrees with Joe Horaney of the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency a lack of access to recycling is a major obstacle.

People who live in apartment complexes and mobile homes typically are not served by curbside recycling and instead have their waste picked up by private haulers.

"We're continuing to evolve with the changes, and I think people want to recycle, but when you get to the multiple-resident dwellings, it becomes difficult," Seward said.

Private waste haulers don't seem interested in handling recycling unless it is required under a municipal contract, Seward said.

"It's a huge issue. How do we handle multiple-unit dwelling recycling?"

The same access issue exists in rural areas, where there is no way for residents to recycle aside from taking materials to the recycling center on their own time and at their own cost.

Barriers to business recycling

Lack of business recycling is another significant barrier in Clinton County, Seward said.

CCASWA charges businesses $22 per ton for recycled materials, a fee Seward said was instituted before his time as director in order to recover at least a portion of the cost of processing large loads of recycled materials.

"One reason that was instituted was it was getting hard to handle the material," Seward said, noting one business was delivering 2-3 semi loads of glass per week.

Seward said he has considered a pilot program for business recycling that would reduce or eliminate the $22 per ton fee.

"We're looking at businesses that would be interested in bringing that waste to us at a reduced rate or no charge, but we need a guinea pig," he said.

"We are trying to make some inroads with some companies, but we have yet to find a willing participant," he stated.

Cost aside, there are logistical barriers as well.

Unlike municipal waste facilities that have their own fleet of trucks, CCASWA has no way to transport large loads of recyclables from off-site locations.

Seward said there are businesses who likely would participate if CCASWA could pick up the materials but aren't willing to lose productivity by sending workers out to the recycling center.

Seward said Northeast Community School District is the only area school that brings recycles to CCASWA.

However, he said some school districts, such as Central Community Schools, send their recycling to private companies such as Community Care Inc., which has a pickup program.

Agency meeting waste diversion goal

CCASWA is well above the statewide average of 35 percent for waste diversion and is one of few solid waste agencies to exceed the goal of 50 percent or greater diversion by the year 2000.

The diversion percentage is based on the amount of waste landfilled in 1988, when diversion goals were set.

CCASWA landfilled approximately 80,000 tons of trash in 1988. In comparison, 24,008 tons were landfilled in Clinton County in 2012, just 30 percent of the 1988 amount.

The amount of material landfilled at CCASWA jumped to around 37,000 tons in 2009 and 2010 because of a large number of construction and demolition projects taking place in the county, Seward noted.

Recycling programs have helped divert a substantial portion of the waste from the landfill, as has the creation of regional collection centers (RCC) for household hazardous waste.

The RCC program helps divert items such as tires, electronics, paint, motor oil, antifreeze and other toxic materials.

CCASWA for the last 10 years has also used its bioreactor for waste diversion.

Although currently inoperable due to a mechanical failure, the bioreactor takes in 1,200-3,000 tons of waste each year and reduces the refuse volume by up to 50 percent, Seward said.

The compost produced by the bioreactor is mixed with dirt and used as an alternative daily cover at the landfill, and Seward said it can remove 500 tons of waste from the landfill in a slow year and as much as 1,500 tons in a busy year.

"That's not a huge amount, but it's a little bit," he said.

Substantial changes in industry practices can't be overlooked either, Seward said.

"I would say a good chunk of that number is waste not being generated in the county anymore, or that waste is being handled differently," Seward said.

Major industries that used to generate substantial waste for the landfill, such as Clinton Corn (now ADM) began changing their practices in the 80s and 90s to recover usable materials, he said.

Other industries have disappeared entirely from the Clinton area, Seward said, such as a paper company and a garment factory.

"We've got a smaller population. We've got a smaller manufacturing base, and not only that, the manufacturing base is being a lot more efficient," Seward said.

Seward said the attitude of 30-somethings and the generations following them will force private waste haulers and governments to continue to increase recycling access.

"Municipalities and haulers are going to face questions about what is going to be done about the growing generation of folks in multi-unit dwellings," he said.

"The 20- and 30-somethings are saying, 'We have to take care of this. The status quo isn't good enough.'"

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