Tag Archives: APR

Plastics Recycling-Where Did We Go Wrong Mentally?

 

Ok before the recycling folks and their allies come Para Trooping into my office and try to seize my computer, I need to get out right away that recycling IS good and should be pursued to every extent possible.  This rant is about how best to accomplish this without essentially putting our heads in the proverbial sand!!!

I came across an interesting article in Waste & Recycling, “Coffee makers wrestle with recyclability of single-serve pods” where it speaks to the challenges with recycling single serve coffee pods made by Keurig which was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.  Apparently since 2009, the company Terra Cycle has been able to capture 25 million of similar discarded single-use cups, and has been attempting to make good use of them, but it sounds like it is very difficult to nearly impossible to recycle them.  Also, the article says that, “approximately 13% of the U.S. adult population drinks coffee using these single-use cups.”

So let me get this straight:  Approximately 40 million (13% U.S. Population) of these containers are discarded EACH DAY, and the recycling efforts over a 2 year period to recover these cups has amassed a whopping 25 million?  Of which there has not been any useful value found for these lucky cups?  Am I the only one that sees a problem here?  In 2 years it has taken a noble attempt by Terra Cycle (I have much respect for this organization, awesome innovators!) to get nearly half of ONE days worth of consumption of cups, to then turn around and make a useless pile of cups, all in the name of recycling!!!???  Is there no other way to approach this end of life issue?  Is this the best thing we can do with this issue right now –today?  Why does recycling feel so good for the marketplace?  I repeat; 1/2 days’ worth of material collected over the span of 2 years, with no outlet in sight, yet we turn a blind eye to this complete failure because it is labeled “recycling”…so many questions and comments.

So at this point, I should proclaim the easy answer -after all it is easy to be a critic and to point at what is not happening -or flat out failing.  But I do not propose to have an easy answer or “silver bullet” to cure all, but I do have sense enough to see that we need to quit being so brainwashed into thinking recycling is the silver bullet as well.  It is clearly not working alone in that only 7-9% of all plastics are being recycled.  And lets not forget that a vast % of our recycled plastic WAS going to China, and now may not find a home as China’s “Green Fence” is clearly revealing.  We need to incorporate a multifaceted approach to our waste issues and material resources.

What if these cups were made to biodegrade in a landfill where they most likely belong?  75.8% of all Municipal Solid Waste goes into landfills that capture the biogas created by biodegradation.  There has been unprecedented growth in utilizing Landfill Gas to Energy (LGE) in the U.S. recently as the experts now understand that it is better to promote and capture this alternative source of energy, rather than try and stop nature taking its course and entomb or dry landfill our waste.  The “no smoking” signs on an old landfill turned golf course has to make one nervous and draw some obvious conclusions-we cannot stop nature from taking its course. (:

Lastly, the Utopian Societyists say we need to move to 0% landfills.  I say that this is wrong and absolutely impractical.  We should rather be saying we need to achieve 0% waste.  If composting is considered Organic Recycling (which by the way creates 0% energy and captures LITTLE to no emmissions) then similarly, LGE is a valuable alternative to creating useful end of life values towards 0% waste.  Picture that huge pile of unusable “lucky because they were recycled” coffee cups and tell me I’m wrong.  Can we PLEASE do more than bury our heads in the sand and actually address today and tomorrow and not let “best” practices get in the way of the good we could do NOW?  If the total recycling rate of all plastics is 7-9%, that means roughtly 91-93% of our plastics is going to a landfill where it has no further value.  If they were biodegradable plastics like the kind ENSO Plastics assists brands and manufacturing to create, they would slowly biodegrade and be an excellent feedstock to LGE.  If you are one that thinks that recycling is the only answer, I ask you to shift your mentality and question status quo, question what is popular as “best practices” with our waste and push for a multi-pronged approach to our sustainability.  People are smart if they open their eyes and minds to innovations and bury their head in a more progressive endeavor like answering the question, “What more can we do?  Today?”   

-Del Andrus

 

US states banned from exporting their trash to China are drowning in plastic

Article by Gwynn Guilford

Being green is getting a lot harder for eco-friendly states in the US, thanks to the country’s dependency on overrun Chinese recycling facilities. Recycling centers in Oregon recently stopped accepting clear plastic “clamshell” containers used for berries, plastic hospital gowns and plastic bags, as the Ashland Daily Tidings reports. Yogurt and butter tubs are probably next. In Olympia, Washington, recycling centers are no longer accepting plastic bags. California’s farmers are grappling with what to do with the 50,000 to 75,000 tons of plastic they use each year.

“The problem is we don’t have a market for it,” Jeff Hardwood, an Olympia-area recycling center manager, tells Washington state’s KIRO-TV. ”China is saying we are only going to accept the high-value material we have a demand for now.”

Hardwood is referring to China’s “Green Fence” campaign banning “foreign garbage” (link in Chinese). China has rejected 68,000 tons (61,700 tonnes) of waste in the first five months of 2013, when the program was officially launched. The Green Fence initiative bans bales of plastic that haven’t been cleaned or thoroughly sorted. That type of recyclable material, which costs more to recycle, often ends up in China’s landfills, which have become a source of recent unrest in the country’s south.

Instead of investing in the sorting and cleaning technologies required to process soiled and unsorted recyclables, which both China and the US have been reluctant to do, China’s Green Fence policy blocks the import of those plastics. As a result, US recycling centers that once accepted scrap plastic for recycling are being forced to send it to American landfills.

As we’ve discussed before, Americans generally don’t recycle their plastic; they export it. And more than half of the $1 billion a year business goes to China.

​​The full-year projection for 2013 is based on January-June data.

Green Fence has contributed to the 11% decline in export value of US plastic scrap in the first half of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012. China’s customs data reflect that too. It imported 20% less plastic scrap in Q2 than the same quarter of 2012, a value of $300 million less.

And yet, Chinese processing factories desperately need US plastic. Once reprocessed, it’s used to make everything from polar fleeces to stadium seats. China imports around 40% of the world’s plastic scrap, collecting the rest domestically. Now that China’s plastic scrap supply is being squeezed by Green Fence bans, plastics smuggling at ports and in cities (links in Chinese) is on the rise.

For every ton of reusable plastic, China has received many more tons of random trash, some of it toxic. That has helped build “trash mountains” so high they sometimes bury people alive (link in Chinese). For a country facing environmental crisis after environmental crisis, this is no longer tenable.

Discarded plastic bottles imported from Australia are seen at a plant in Hong Kong’s rural New Territories August 24, 2011, before a process which separates plastic waste from them. The “Plastic Waste-to-Fuel System” is designed to provide a practical and cost effective solution to plastic waste management with energy regeneration. A prototype machine can process three tonnes of plastic waste into 1,000 litres of fuel oil per day. With further refinement, the fuel oil is suitable for diesel engine usage, said Ecotech Recycling Social Enterprise Managing Director Ming Cheung. Picture taken August 24, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Because US trash exporters haven’t been forced to spend on technology or labor to sort and clean trash piled up at its recycling centers—Chinese laborers have handled that part—those shipments have been profitable for US exporters. But Green Fence is shifting those economic incentives; It costs the US around $2,100 per shipping container to return rejected trash to California ports.

Those high costs may drive the US to expand its own recycling capacity. Until then, American pollution will no longer be piling up in China; It will be festering at home.

To view the full article:
http://qz.com/117151/us-states-banned-from-exporting-their-trash-to-china-are-drowning-in-plastic/

China does not want our trash.

China puts up a green wall to US trash

Written By:
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2013 Beijing

US recyclers are nervous about losing their largest market after China began enforcing new environmental laws this year.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the soda can that you toss into a recycling bin? Chances are high that it ends up in China – like 75 percent of the aluminum scrap that the United States exports. Or 60 percent of its scrap paper exports. Or 50 percent of its plastic.

But a new Chinese edict, banning “foreign rubbish,” has thrown the international scrap and waste trade into turmoil and is posing a major new challenge for US recyclers.

Operation Green Fence, a campaign by Chinese customs to strictly enforce laws governing the import of waste, “could be a game changer,” says Doug Kramer, president of Kramer Metals, an international scrap dealer in Los Angeles. “A lot of companies have used China as a dumping ground, getting rid of … substandard scrap and trash,” Mr. Kramer says.

As China’s government seeks to raise environmental standards, he says, “I understand China’s need to take a hard look” at its imports.

That hard look, involving stepped-up inspections of containers filled with scrap metal, paper, and plastic at Chinese ports and a merciless application of the rules, has intercepted more than 800,000 tons of illegal waste since the campaign began in February, according to the customs agency.

Now nervous traders are refusing to ship consignments of recyclables that might contain unacceptably large amounts of unrecyclable materials (anything from unwashed items to the wrong kind of plastic to random bits and pieces of garbage that get mixed in with the recyclables). And cities and towns across the US and Europe are finding there is no longer a ready market in China for their poorly sorted and often impure bales of plastics, paper, and other waste.

“A butterfly in China has caused a tornado in Europe,” Surendra Borad, chairman of Gemini, the world’s largest collector of waste plastic, told the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), an international federation of recyclers, at its annual convention in Shanghai last month.

Why China needs the West’s scrap

However, China is not bringing down the hammer on every kind of scrap (and “scrap” is the preferred term of art). The country has few resources of its own, and its fast-growing industry relies heavily on reprocessing other countries’ plastic soda bottles into fabrics, or their junked metal into machinery.

“Making proper use of this scrap supplements China’s resources, helps save energy, protects the environment, and boosts economic efficiency,” Li Xinmin, a former pollution inspector at the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, told a recent meeting of the China Metals Recycling Association.

But in China, much of the imported plastic scrap, for example, is recycled in primitive, family-owned workshops with no facilities to treat waste water before it flows into local rivers. And Chinese recyclers “have got used to expecting 20 percent trash” in the bales of mixed plastics they buy from the US, according to David Cornell, technical consultant to the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers.

That trash has to be sorted from the recyclables, then buried or burned, further degrading China’s environment.

Though Chinese regulations have long banned excessive levels of contamination in imports of recyclables, they were rarely enforced until Green Fence was launched, traders say. “Before, we were able to import dirty materials and bottles, but not any longer,” explains Sun Kangning, who owns a small plastics recycling plant in the village of Laizhou in Shandong Province (see sidebar on the industry’s woes).

Since February, he says, 24 shipping containers of plastic waste that he had bought from the US have been turned away by customs – about 20 percent of his business.

Because the government finds it hard to control all the mom and pop makeshift recycling workshops, it appears to have chosen to enforce environmental standards on imports at the pier.

Those imports have been skyrocketing in recent years. Scrap was America’s top export to China by value in 2011 – worth $11.3 billion, according to US trade figures. (Last year, record soybean sales knocked scrap and waste into second place.)

Also in 2011, the US exported 23 million tons of scrap (a little less than half of everything that was collected for recycling). Two-thirds of it went to China, according to figures from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in Washington. ‘We don’t have the capacity’

The international trade has boomed partly because the US cannot dispose of all the waste it generates; the country has neither enough recycling facilities nor sufficient manufacturing demand for all its scrap.

“If the US border were closed, most of the scrap that is exported today would go to landfill,” says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “We don’t have the capacity to absorb it all.”

The rising overseas sales of paper, aluminum, copper, plastics, and steel also have to do with the nitty-gritty economics of America’s trade deficit with China.

Because China exports so much more to America than it buys back, the shipping containers from Shanghai that are full of computers, mobile phones, and TVs on the journey to Long Beach, Calif., risk returning empty for the trip back.

Shipping companies, seeking to cut their losses, offer bargain rates on their westbound freighters: It is cheaper to ship a 40-foot container full of iron scrap from Los Angeles to a Chinese port than it is to send it by train to a foundry in Chicago. US and Chinese scrap merchants have not been slow to take advantage of the deals.

At the same time, sorting and recycling is a lot cheaper in China, where wages are a fraction of US levels. At Mr. Sun’s courtyard processing plant, for example, women using box cutters to strip labels from plastic soda bottles before they are ground up earn about $15 for a day’s work.

Such factors have made the world “over-dependent on China” for scrap recycling and vulnerable to sudden changes in the rules, such as Green Fence, worries Mr. Borad. “That is a matter of concern.”

Some traders say the new policy in China has forced them to sell their scrap in different countries, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia, where it is either reprocessed or simply sorted and cleaned to the new Chinese standards and then shipped on to China.

“We’ve seen a pretty good uptick in shipments to Southeast Asia,” says Joe Pickard, ISRI’s chief economist. But capacity there “is not sufficient to take up the slack from China,” he adds.

Nor are the new destinations likely to tolerate being the planet’s trash can indefinitely, predicts Kramer, who sells American scrap iron and nonferrous metals in several Asian countries. ” ‘If you can’t send it anywhere else, send it here’ is not the kind of message anyone wants to send,” he says. How long will this last?

Some businesses do not expect Chinese customs officials to go on being so zealous for long. Indeed, previous similar crusades have petered out in the past, and the General Administration of Customs in Beijing has announced that its current campaign to “reinforce inspection and prevention work in key areas” will end in November.

But well-placed observers do not think that the old lax habits will reassert themselves. “Before Green Fence, both companies and customs officials were unclear about the laws and regulations,” says Wang Jiwei, secretary-general of the China Metals Recycling Association. “After the campaign, both sides will understand the laws better, and I think they will continue to be enforced.”

The first four months of the campaign have certainly hit the Chinese recycling industry – raising prices for some recyclable materials that are now in shorter supply. “Our industry is really facing a very big adverse impact from the stricter environmental standards,” complained Huang Chongsheng, chief executive officer of aluminum scrap smelter Ye Chiu Metal Recycling at last month’s BIR conference.

US recyclers, too, are beginning to feel the effects, especially those who collect, sort, or trade low-end materials, such as the cheaper sorts of mixed plastics often extracted from household waste.

“The market for mixed rigids [such as plastic yogurt containers, margarine tubs, or buckets] has gone to hell in a handbasket,” says Jeff Powell, publisher of Resource Recycling magazine. “Mixed paper and mixed plastics are being put into landfill” now that they cannot be sold to Chinese recyclers, he adds.
What next?

“We used to send garbage because it was the cheapest thing to do and because the Chinese would accept it,” Mr. Powell explains. The new Chinese policy, he says, will force US recyclers either to sort recyclables more carefully, or to recycle more material in the US, or both.

“We are going to find ourselves forced to be much more innovative” in dealing with waste, predicts Michael Schipper, a scrap trader with International Alloys in Mendham, N.J. “We will have to find ways of processing that material here in a much more cost-effective way.”

US processors “are beginning to dip their toes into” that future, says Mr. Schipper, but they are constrained by the cost of more sophisticated machinery.

Already, however, US businesses handling scrap are dealing with it more carefully, according to Steve Alexander, spokesman for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. “People who took the easiest route” before by baling and selling heavily contaminated material “may be running it through a second sorting step, putting it through optical sorters,” he says, because that is what the market now demands.

That means that more of the plastic ends up where it is meant to be, and less gets thrown away or burned, either in the US or in China. “Environmentalists love Green Fence,” says Powell.

“We are at a turning point in our business,” Gregory Cardot of the French waste management firm Veolia Propreté told the BIR conference. “We have to seize this opportunity … for a sustainable environment for our planet.”

If the new Chinese policy lasts, predicts Borad, “the fly-by-night exporters will be eliminated. Green Fence will be a blessing in disguise for our industry.”

Written By:
Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2013

Are you confused about recycling?

Are You Confused About What to Recycle?

When is the last time you asked yourself or someone else if something was recyclable?  It a common question and one that gets many different answers depending on what packaging or material you are asking the question about.

Most recycling programs will have information readily available to the public on what they will accept in the recycle bins.  This list however is quite small and becomes apparent that what recyclers are looking for is the cream of the crop.  If you are anything like me you put everything in the recycle bin and hope that it will motivate recyclers to start taking more material.

People in general want to do the right thing and truthfully speaking it’s a great feeling to know we are doing our part to help recycle when we do make the effort to recycle.  I suppose someday recycling will become a mainstream religion – to a very few it already is.  I often wonder what recycling would look like if people got paid for their recyclable materials?  After all for decades aluminum cans provided a source of additional funds to many and this resulted in very high recycling rates for aluminum cans.  It would sure make it a little more worth the effort to sort through and place materials in the proper bin.

The April 1st, 2013 issue of Plastics News had a great Viewpoint article by Don Loepp which addressed this very issue as a discussion point from the March Plastics Recycling Conference in New Orleans.

http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20130321/BLOG01/130329974/plastics-recycling-are-you-still-confused#

If we are going to have recycling be a big part of the environmental solution to the growing global plastic pollution issue we are going to have to get aggressive about our recycling efforts and recyclers will need to be a stakeholder in the bigger environmental mission as much as they are with the business focus of recycling.  All materials have the potential to be recycled, let involve state and federal programs to bring innovation to the market so that recyclers can accept all materials and have markets to sell those materials.

We’d love to hear what you think?

Plastics recycling: Are you still confused?

 

Recycling – Is it just a business?

This is a question that I’ve been mulling over for the past couple of weeks. Recently I’ve been reading books and articles that suggest that recycling is more of a business than an environmental solution. The articles claim that the majority of the recycling industry is not based on “helping the environment” but is about picking the easiest and largest money making bottles – #1 PET and #2 HDPE beverage bottles.

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