China’s decision to accept only the cleanest of waste recyclables has put the recycling industry in a significantly difficult position.
Louie Pellegrini, president of Mission Trail Waste Systems in the San Francisco Bay area of California, notes that he’s been in the business of recycling waste for 45 years.
“It’s always been a roller-coaster ride on the value of the commodities and the ability to move the commodities,” he says. “We’re almost back to the days we were 30 years ago. It could get better, it could get a lot worse. The tolerances of the residual that China is trying to deploy on everybody—most of the battle is won right at the collection point with the waste generator.
“Everybody has to participate, be re-educated, and proper care needs to be taken with the product in the beginning. It will give better returns to keep the overall costs down because you’ll always be able to move that product and get the best value for it.”
Those who manufacture solid waste collection carts and containers are working to offer solutions in response.
Plastic cart makers “continue to develop carts in different sizes, colors, and with custom artwork to help residents and consumers visually sort, thus reducing contamination of different materials in the same cart,” notes Bob Petersen, vice president of marketing and new product development for ORBIS Corporation.
Self-sorting at the residential level “always improves recycling and diversion rates, since less processing is needed at recycling centers,” he adds.
“Technology we recently supported is for the initial distribution of food waste carts in a major metropolitan area. In cities with very large cart programs, this type of technology adds distribution efficiency, which means a city can start to see diversion rate improvements faster.”
“My experience and education on the effect China’s ‘National Sword’ has had on our industry is that it’s lifted the wool from over our eyes as a country,” says Kristen Riggs, marketing manager for Otto USA.
“We have a broken system in which automated collection has allowed the consumer to ‘wish-cycle’ to their heart’s content anything and everything they hope can be recycled,” she adds. “Pizza box? Sure. Garden hose? Yes! Today’s disposable lunch salad container? Why not?
“We need consumer education and we also need to increase the level of technology at the MRF. MRF technology can assist in catching contaminants that end-users fail to eliminate from the stream.”
Riggs points out that many haulers choose to mark their container lids with instructions for the end-user, such as “recycling only” as well as in-mold labels with a more visual approach to what is appropriate to place in the bin.
“Providing written word or pictures can help to educate and further reduce contamination,” she adds.
Municipalities in some areas are shifting their focus to organics or green waste removal in addition to a recycling stream where yard and food waste are combined into one stream, says Riggs.
“Otto recommends no larger than a 65-gallon container for this program, and we strongly recommend reviewing ANSI standards to ensure containers are not over-weighted,” she says. “We are throwing around the idea of reinforcing our containers to withstand the added weight of organic waste.”
Organic waste on average weighs 6 pounds per gallon, as opposed to general waste which is rated at 3.5 pounds per gallon, says Riggs.
“All Otto carts are currently rated to hold 3.5 pounds per gallon, as are most products,” she says, adding that ANSI compliance is a standard within the industry amongst container suppliers.
Municipalities in other areas are making decisions to revert back to dual-stream to reduce contamination, says Riggs. Otto supplies two-wheel containers as well as 14- and 18-gallon recycling totes to support those needs.
Daniel James-Vigeant, the marketing coordinator for IPL, says the company’s Splitcart is designed to collect two material streams in one cart with one truck without cross-contamination.
The Splitcart method is designed to boost collection efficiency by increasing organic waste collection, reducing food scrap contamination, and decreasing recycling contamination.
IPL’s injection process uses high-density polyethylene, is UV-stabilized, 100% recyclable, designed for maximum wind stability, and has a unibody design that requires no bolts or holes as potential leak points.
IPL’s Splitcart Series is offered in 64- and 95-gallon versions of different colors. The dual lid design acts as a deflector to prevent cross-contamination and keep insects and moisture out of the cart. The attached lids have a pitched, open-to-the-center design with a gutter system built in to drain water.
The carts feature multilingual user instructions as well as hot-stamping or injection molding labeling (IML) sequential serial numbers and barcodes. The IML is on the lid to identify the collection type. An RFID label and barcode option are available for quick identification.
Other features include a molded anti-wear strip, a standard tip for American and European grips, snap-on wheels, and a corrosion-resistant zinc-plated steel axle.
IPL Splitcarts are being used in a number of pilot programs in California.
In Santa Clara, CA, a specially retrofitted truck keeps the garbage waste separate from the food scraps.
Dave Staub, Santa Clara’s deputy director of public works, notes that the driving force behind the pilot residential food scrap recycling program was California’s Senate Bill 1383 that establishes short-lived climate pollutant regulations, which includes targeting the reduction of statewide disposal of organic waste from the 2014 level of 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2024.
The city has an exclusive franchise agreement with Mission Trail Waste Systems for the collection, transportation, and the disposal of refuse. An amendment to the agreement was executed in 2016 to expand the scope to include food scrap recycling services, which includes the commercial business food scrap program and a provision that enabled the establishment of a single-family residential food scrap program during the term of the agreement.
Organics collected through specialized collection vehicles and containers are processed at the Sustainable Animal Feed Enterprises facility in Santa Clara for pre-processing into mash, which is then dehydrated at the production facility and recycled into a dry feed product conforming to USDA guidelines for non-ruminant animal feed; reclaimed water; and 25 gallons of clean fats, oils, and grease that are captured per ton of mash processed.
In May 2017, the city council approved the pilot residential food scrap recycling program which was implemented in October of 2017 on two of the eight single-family garbage routes servicing 4,856 households.
Residents within the pilot area were provided with a Splitcart divided into two compartments: one for food scraps, the other for garbage. Using the previous container bodies, the carts were retrofitted with new lids, dividers, and inserts. Pilot area residents also were provided with a kitchen pail and a starter supply of compostable bags for the collection of food scraps.
In any municipal solid waste effort, public buy-in is crucial.
Karin Hickey, environmental program manager in Santa Clara’s Department of Public Works, says that program outreach included community meetings, a dedicated web page which includes a food scrap collection video, and in-home technical assistance for residents having challenges with the program.
Two surveys were conducted to gauge resident satisfaction. A December 2017 survey indicated that 53.3% of pilot households were satisfied or somewhat satisfied, 37% were somewhat dissatisfied or dissatisfied, and 9.7% were undecided.
The second survey conducted in June of 2018 showed an uptick in satisfaction, with 57.1% of pilot households indicating they were satisfied or somewhat satisfied, 34.5% were somewhat dissatisfied or dissatisfied, and 8.4% were undecided.
“The most widely reported challenges include difficulty fitting larger items in the garbage side of the cart, the weight of the new cart, and not being sure of which bags to use for food scraps,” says Hickey. “Another issue that was brought up was the food scrap side of the cart being too large, therefore sacrificing garbage space.”
Mission Trail Waste Systems utilizes Splitcarts in some of its service area for the collection of curbside material. The regional waste hauling company runs nearly 200 trucks daily.
“The term we use on the West Coast is dual-stream collection,” says Pellegrini. “In some of our service areas, we’ve had dual-stream collection using a split cart back to 1990.”
Pellegrini points out that in the split cart dual-stream collection of curbside recycling, the cart is usually split 50/50 with the proper signage so the waste generators can properly deposit all fiber on one side and bottles, glass, cans, and plastic on the other side.
As the cart is collected using an automated side arm truck, the material is dumped into the truck and flows into two separate compartments, compacted, and ultimately dumped at a material recovery facility.
Pellegrini points out that many MRFs have been designed to function as single-stream MRFs.
“A dual-stream MRF doesn’t need to function any different,” he says. “The fiber that you run over the line is cleaner. When you run that fiber over the single-stream line, right off the bat, you’re going to get a better end product to the market. We believe that value and that ability to get it into market offsets that minuscule capital investment in the equipment to achieve the dual stream. The highest and best use will always get you the best return.”
The prime focus is on the waste generator, Pellegrini points out.
“If you take care of the commodities and materials right from the generator at a higher quality, it pays off in the long run,” he says.
Mission Trail Waste Systems’ collection practice increases route productivity, says Pellegrini, adding that “with both compartments filling up equally with the use of compaction, you’re not coming off of the route because one side is filled up before the other one. Single-stream proponents will say they put it all in, it gets compacted, and there’s no inefficiency on the route collection statistics, but we’ve proven out that with a split in the truck with compaction, that we’re not losing any efficiency on collection.
“We get an average of eight pounds of food scrap material a week per household average, which translates to a substantial diversion of 20% per week,” says Pellegrini. “That’s a quantifiable number that we can’t quantify when we allow the residents to add the food scraps with the green waste because you can’t really see it, and when you go through the processing of it, you can’t really quantify it.”
In addition to collecting for Santa Clara’s pilot program, other pilot programs with the Splitcart also are being conducted in San Jose and Sunnyvale.
Pellegrini says there is “a little more capital costs on the split cart and split body on the truck” in instituting the collection program. The collection truck bodies with two separate compartments are built to specifications by major manufacturers, he adds.
Pellegrini says he noted advantages in dual-stream waste collection before China’s current decision regarding recycling.
“From the get-go, the fiber isn’t touching any glass or any liquid in the containers. It isn’t touching any food residual that might be in the containers that you’re collecting. Keeping that fiber separate in the compaction process versus a single stream where all of that contamination happens and even in the cart at the waste generator’s home,” he says.
Bigbelly designs and manufactures smart waste and recycling receptacles to help end-users track and measure their solid waste collection. The lineup features single station and double station containers, some of which have compactors. There also are units that do not have compactors.
All units feature sensors that communicate through the cloud through Bigbelly’s web-based platform to inform an end-user the status of the fullness of a particular station.
Leila Dillon, vice president of marketing and North America distribution for Bigbelly, cites Manhattan as a case in point.
“Manhattan has hundreds of Bigbelly stations in the downtown area. They used to do traditional bin collections three to five times a day to keep up with the waste. After they deployed our Bigbelly, some of those are compactors that give them about five times the amount of capacity of one of their traditional bins and therefore they are able to reduce their collections significantly,” says Dillon.
With the stations being enclosed, “essentially, once you put something inside of the Big Belly, it stays in the Big Belly and you don’t have to worry about things like wind-blown litter, pest access, or people getting into the waste or recycling,” says Dillon.
“It really is meant to create a very enclosed atmosphere where the only people who get in there are the actual collectors themselves that have come to pick them up.”
Many of those who utilize Bigbelly products in their recycling efforts usually deploy the company’s double stations, which offer waste collection on one side and recycling on the other, notes Dillon.
“A key to having clean recycling is always offering the person who is disposing of an opportunity to either put something in the trash or in the recycler,” she says. “Having that consistent interface no matter where you are in a city, on a college campus, or on a corporate campus lends itself to a much cleaner recycling stream.”
Those who are utilizing double stations tend not to have a problem with contaminated recycling, Dillon adds.
Bigbelly also offers options for those who want to pull out different streams or do compost based on how they collect and operate, says Dillon.
The majority of those using Bigbelly containers collect single-stream recycling, but there are a number of college campuses and private sector end-users who have them in a cafeteria-type setting or food courts that break out their streams, so they might have a triple or quad Bigbelly station where different streams can be pulled out, such as bottles and cans in one, paper in another, and compost in another, says Dillon.
“A big driver for what we’ve heard from our customers is wanting to have a measurable recycling program,” says Dillon.
Since the Bigbelly containers are “smart,” it enables end-users to measure the capacity of all of the bins before they are collected and demonstrate diversion rates and recycling ratios automatically through the cloud and into their web-based platform.
“They can log into the system at any time and know they’re at a 40 or 50% diversion rate, whatever it is,” says Dillon.
Bigbelly’s smart containers in conjunction with end-users labeling them for proper solid waste disposal yields cleaner recycling, says Dillon.
“If you carefully put on the outside of these bins what they can take, then you tend to get a very clean and thoughtful recycling program in place,” says Dillon. “We have some customers that have their own recycling logos and put those on the bins whether they be on stickers, wrap format, or message panels.”
The company notes that more US cities are seeking to deploy public space recycling for their downtown areas, parks, transit systems, and school systems as they seek to use data to measure their waste collection efforts over time, says Dillon.
Dillon notes that beachfront communities also seek not only to have measurable recycling but a total containment of the waste and recycling so there are no concerns about windblown litter getting into water bodies and a focus on keeping a clean beachfront.
“There is this general awareness that not only do we have to recycle, but we also need to do it thoughtfully and we want to make sure that it is not contaminated recycling because at the end of the day, that’s a futile effort and it’s not beneficial for anyone,” she adds.
The main barrier to adopting a container system such as that offered by Bigbelly is whether a community is going to decide to go “smart,” says Dillon.
“It often can be budget issues and they’re not prepared yet to make an investment in smart technology,” she says.
An analysis of savings after deployment of the Bigbelly system demonstrates that the ROI comes in various ways, says Dillon.
End-users benefit from an 80% reduction in collections in the first week or two if the system is used appropriately, she adds.
“More importantly, you don’t need to collect,” says Dillon. “When you think about hundreds of bins over a city or a downtown area, reducing those collections significantly frees up all of those labor hours to do more meaningful work.”
Bigbelly deployment programs are customized to end-users’ goals that may include the highest possible diversion rate, the least number of collections, or to keep the streets clean so there is no litter at the base of the bins.
An example of recycling diversion over 12 months is 42.3% trash, 56.7% single-stream, and 1% bottles and cans with a total diversion of 57.7%.
There is a great deal of waste generated in Albany, CA—a city located on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay—resulting from a large volume of residents and visitors drawn to its community events, arts and entertainment presentations, and an active commercial district.
The city comprises 5.5 square miles, including 1.8 square miles of land and 3.7 square miles of water, and has a population of more than 18,000.
Since 2012, Albany has been engaged in an effort to keep its waterfront, parks, and commercial areas clean and pest-free by employing the Bigbelly system.
The city collects three streams: solid waste, recycling, and compost.
Albany chose to deploy 15 Bigbelly bins configured as one component per location in its commercial districts and parks to manage the waste and prevent overflows, windblown litter, and attraction of pests.
In the more than six years the system has been in place, city officials note a significant reduction in vermin, litter, overflows, and windblown trash due to the containers’ enclosed design.
The system also has reduced the required time spent on litter cleanup and the overall environmental footprint of waste collection.
Claire Griffing, Albany’s sustainability and resilience manager, says the Bigbelly units have been “very successful” in the commercial areas and in city parks.
“We have replaced all existing receptacles in our parks and our main walkable commercial strip along Solano Avenue with the enclosed Bigbelly bins,” she says. “This has made our public spaces more inviting.
“The Bigbelly system has also helped to further many of the Albany City Council’s strategic goals, including maintaining inviting parks, advancing economic development and business vitality, and fostering a healthy and sustainable urban village.”
Gale Rossi, Albany’s facilities and maintenance manager, notes that the city has found the Bigbelly units “particularly useful in our parks to reduce litter and overflow issues. Without accessible and open waste bins, vermin do not have a food source to feed on. We’ve eliminated our rat problem and no longer receive complaints from park users.”
Since it first placed 15 smart waste bins in select parts of the city in 2012, the city has increased the number to 92 clearly-marked units at 47 locations configured in a mix of one, two, and three components per location, providing residents and visitors opportunities to dispose of trash, recycling, and organics.
The system captured 225,206 gallons between April 2017 and April 2018, of which 56% was diverted from landfills.
Albany’s public works department uses Bigbelly’s CLEAN software to track usage, assess metrics, and receive automatic notifications when bins are ready for collection.
Reducing waste and increasing diversion supports the city’s Climate Action Plan and goals related to Alameda County’s StopWaste program, providing education on wasting less and recycling more, and using resources more efficiently.
To attain the cleanest waste possible, “everybody has to contribute,” points out Pellegrini. “The waste generators need to be educated that it’s not the way it was a couple of years ago and that single technology can’t fix all of the problems. Education is paramount. Any retooling of existing infrastructure could be expensive. You’ve got to look down the road.”