Some probably hoped this series of articles was a trilogy. But, as in Hollywood and Washington DC, every next day is an opportunity to change what you did and said yesterday. Therefore, for those just getting up with the sun, the background is as follows:
In Part 1, “If At End of A Diving Board. . .Should You Take the Next Step?“, we raised the question of how to increase materials recovery rates and at what cost.
Part 2, “Drowning in Non-Collected Recyclables. . .Where’s the Life Vest?“, presented cost data from residential waste collection and the current cost/ton for several municipal residential curbside waste diversion programs.
Part 3, “Let’s Get Honest. . .MWP Has a Place in the Big Pond With All the Alligators!“, reviewed the author’s identify criteria to consider in evaluating the place where a mixed waste processing facility (MWPF) for recovering more materials from residential municipal solid waste (MSW) stream may be applicable.
This is the fourth article in the series. I will now pull the high points of the three previous articles together and include a look at the current state of MWFP around the country, and provide a few points of comparison of a hypothetical community: (1) using a single-stream materials recovery facility (MRF) and landfilling the rest, versus (2) a MWPF (with a “one-bin” collection program) and landfilling the non-marketable materials.
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Based on published information earlier in the 2015 calendar year, several interesting written or stated factoids, and the authors response to each, needs to be kept in perspective as the reader considers the information in this article:
- According to the EPA June 2015 annual waste summary report, in 2013 Americans continued to generate MSW, and the percent recycled was generally flatlining at 34%. (FYI: This counts both recycled materials and a healthy percentage of grass/yard waste.) Thus, the 34% is not exactly our trash-based recyclables materials per-se . . . that number is about 25% of the total.
- As noted in an Earth Day-related press release issued April 2015 by the National Waste and Recycling Association, the Executive Director of the NWRA notes that many interviewers (reporters, that is) thought that all of the services associated with recycling materials from our MSW was free. I ask: Under what rock in the Hudson River Valley have these reporter folks been sleeping?
- Who, if anyone, is really making money serving the “recycling” industry?
- Does the free enterprise system have a place anymore in the solid waste field, or are the citizens and communities just another financial piggybank available to be used to assure stockholders of companies their “guaranteed” returns?
So let me provide an opinion on each of those four issues.
First: EPA and the Statistics—Are We Stuck in a Holding Pattern on Recycling Percentages?
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It is not surprising to the author that we appear to be stuck. The basic backbone of the industry is not “divine intervention,” but rather “human intervention.” Except for the process of “extracting taxes”, when you set up a system that is fully dependent on people doing something the way the government wants them to do it, it cannot be sustained. People have short memories. In today’s world, we are very busy folks. Therefore, the constant drumbeat of “you need to recycle this, and you need to recycle that,” is often a lost message when too many people don’t read the newspaper or watch TV news. There is so much unwanted “junk mail” delivered to homes these days, even positive recycling-based flyers and TV-paid advocacy messages become lost among the food and restroom breaks between some TV show or computer game.
While the former elementary school children that were indoctrinated with “pro-recycling” messages are now the millenniums, the fast-paced live style of their majority is, in my opinion, not focused on differentiating the actual trash from the potential recyclables. Or if it is, maybe by now, and after 20 years of hearing “recycle, recycle”, they feel that more of the generated waste, if not all, must be of a recyclable nature by now. This just adds to the non-recyclables in the recycling carts, and the frustration and higher costs for the actuals MRF processors.
Let’s think about that situation. The MRF operators complain about all the junk and non-recyclables in the recycling carts. But that, and more, is specifically the expected feedstock for the MWPF operator who has no such complaints! Imagine, a world without complaints—so boring, eh?
Second: Recycling Is Free . . . Isn’t it?
The encounter of Sharon Kneiss of NWRA with the multitude of press reporters a few short months ago is solid evidence of one of our industry problems. We “of the industry” know the facts, but the other 300 million or so Americans outside the “inner circle” do not. Maybe in the ninth grade high school math class, after learning about recycling and the environment for eight years, the students should have a lesson on “Recycling Economics.” Too often, the acclaimed benefits of many programs are being taught in schools and even appearing as case studies in the national solid waste journals for the pleasure of us older “students-of-waste,” and contain no cost or economic data to put such stories into proper perspective. It thus oftentimes becomes a story of righteousness and let’s feel good, without the balance of costs and relative economics to allow for appropriate consideration into the decision-making process.
Third: Who—If Anyone—Is Really Making Money Serving the “Recycling” Industry?
The past decade of ups and downs in the value of recyclables has proved speculative to some, others that share revenues to be embarrassed at their meager pickings, and many more to “lose their shirts.” If you were recycling textiles, that later situational phrase might be alright! But for the majority of municipalities and private companies, the processing of “deemed to be recyclable materials” as well as the market value if you were fortune enough to process and market some commodities, was as speculative as buying gold and silver based on a TV commercial.
However, before you become tearful, let’s consider a few other integral scenarios that might “make your day.” First, the equipment vendors that sell recycling bins and carts, or recyclables collection vehicles, are happy. The end markets going up or down is incidental, and we all need a good bin or cart within which to set out our recyclables, and trucks to collect same. Second, since the waste companies that actually collect the recyclables can charge what they deem appropriate, subscription or procurement service be as it may, continue to provide a business service-for-charge. So the recyclables collector should be isolated from end market value changes and be making money. But the readers know the next sentence must tweak that thought to note that the real issue is: What about the collector that is also the owner and/or operator of the MRF?… As the StarKist Tuna commercial used to say, “Sorry Charlie!”, a word of caution is added to a collection-only venture as a risk associated with materials market values is very problematic at this time although highly profitable in the past.
Fourth: Are Recycling Entrepreneurs and Risk-Takers in This Sector of the Industry a Dying Breed?
It used to be that I told my public-sector clients that they were not inherent risk takers and their citizens were not Las Vegas slot machines. They were willing to pay the private sector for assuming broad project responsibilities, including facility capital and operating costs. But the wild card with the final economics has always been, and still is, the value associated with the myriad of recovered materials streams produced at a MRF. Not too long ago, the average market value was $150 per ton processed through a MRF. Now, the average value might be $80–90 per ton, depending upon location, cleanliness of product, and one’s market connections.
Another recent economic hit mainly associated with single-stream MRFs is the unexpectedly high residue rate as more trash and non-recyclables are put into recycling carts. Thus the processed tons might be up, but the percentage of marketable product is being reduced and the net market value per ton processed through the MRF lowered. Additionally, this situation creates higher residue disposal costs than what might otherwise have been expected by the operator or responsible party, depending upon the business relationship.
Thus, times are a-changing, and the private sector desiring to shift risks and costs back to the public sector.
. . . And Behind Door No. 1 We Have?
In the June 9, 2015, edition of Resource Recycling, a summary of comments from Waste Expo in Las Vegas were presented that included Waste Management CEO David Steiner’s, and Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt’s comments below.
It’s the single-stream, high-volume residential stream that’s completely broken,” stated Steiner. “We all screwed it up; this is a crisis. Never have we had prices as down as they are today.”
Mittelstaedt said processing costs today average $80–100 per ton for his company, despite the fact that households typically only see a $2 recycling fee per month. Disposal, meanwhile, costs Waste Connections between $30 and $40 per ton, and residents pay about $25 a month for the service.
With all this gloom and despair about the recycling industry in its current state, maybe these leaders of the industry should serious consider technology options to improve both recovery rates and costs, instead of just giving the impression that the sky is falling. After all, don’t these same firms actually create the service prices they charge, and negotiate the deals they enter into? Nobody is twisting their arms when I last looked across the array of attendees at a pre-proposal meeting, or even a contract negotiation table. With any municipal RFB or RFP, companies are afforded the opportunity to bid or propose, they are not mandated to respond; and an RFP process provides plenty of leeway for a sound competitive proposal with justifiable and cost-effective alternatives.
A Current Glimpse at the MRF Scene in the US
Either dual-stream or single-stream MRFs have been used in the US for more than 20 years. They serve a purpose, and the history is well known. There are more than 600 specific MRFs around the US. Numerous case studies and opportunities to tour and watch them operate is part of the accepted industry recycling lure. However, as even EPA reports, recycling rates are stagnating. Over the past two years, the accelerated growth of using larger single-stream recycling carts, coupled with a somewhat “confused or ambitious” citizenry, has created a plethora of stories and incidents of “garbaged-recyclables” [Note: possibly a new industry phase for future use]. Additionally, the “current” lower prices for some key recovered commodities has also set off the public waste company’s ire as the primary service providers. So as I have occasionally recently asked the audiences at conferences: Are the old MRFs now becoming the haven for feeding of the US mixed wastestream?
If the citizenry keeps putting waste materials into recycling bins that they “hope for markets,” maybe the industry should just make it easier for all, and just process all of that mixed waste materials and use American ingenuity to create markets and/or products out of all of these discards. Sorry, I almost forgot, we have! But making fuels and energy out of the discards does not set well with some industry folks and political agendas, and thus we continue to fill landfills with millions of tons of “residue and non-recyclables” based on future dreams of magic pills and future recycling innovations. Rip Van Winkle would be very pleased with his long sleep and not having missed much in our industry in many regards.
So, what is the problem associated with today’s recycling programs? A list of potential issues in the summer of 2015 that comes to mind could include one or all of the following:
- EPA’s published annual recycling numbers are flat.
- States keep increasing recycling goals/mandates.
- There’s too much garbage in single-stream recyclables.
- Too many recyclables are being put in the garbage carts.
- Citizens’ need to be continually educated increases costs.
- Recyclables collection costs are very expensive.
- Recyclable material markets are volatile (currently low).
- Reality needs confronted by all: Recycling is not free!
- Corporate “agendas” are everywhere, confusing the decision-makers.
- Some are hoping for a better mousetrap with the MWPF Alternative.
Thus, as well employed “the same-old,” Scenario 1 establishes a baseline with an approximate setout of the level of recyclable recovery, along with materials recovery at a single-stream MRF.
Alternatively, Scenario 2 considers the use of a complete “one-cart (bin)-for-all” MWPF system. It is important for clarification that this collection system is one cart for all trash and recyclable materials, and exclusive of yard waste, where such is collected separately or from curbside ditches, for example. This is an important clarity, as the “negative and less-objective interests” usually want to portray that one-bin programs would have all of the yard waste put in with the trash/recyclables and this just adds more organics into this messy situation. But this is not part of the programs that are being proposed by MWPF vendors around the country. [Several tables illustrating and comparing the scenarios can be found in Part 3 at https://foresternetwork.com/?p=27946 .]
Thus, the “one-cart (bin)-for-all” MWPF system assumes the trash, plus the recyclables, are part of the curbside collection regime, and a one truck collection system is used. It is acknowledged that certain food waste and limited yard debris might still find its way into the combined residential MSW stream as a mixed organics component, and this feedstock is incorporated into the design capability of the modern MWPF.
As noted earlier, options that are just MRF-based are subject to significant human decision-making and intervention. Once the home owners decide what quantity and type of recyclables are placed in their carts for curbside collection, no other “diversion ability” enters into the program. However, with a MWPF, the entire residential MSW stream is subject to a series of mechanical separations with only human quality control (QC) review after processing.
With the MWPF, 100% of the residential generators wastestream materials is subject to inspection and potential separation and recovery if appropriate as a recycled material. Thus, all of the home owners are both feedstock generators and indirect participants in having all their residential MSW streams undergo a series of recovery steps for identifying, separating and aggregating recyclable materials for marketing.
As the Sustainability Manager for the City of Indianapolis, IN, noted, with the MWPF the city would have 100% household participation in their MWPF program now being developed by Covanta.
All MRFs and MWPFs have an inherent efficiency of recovery, thus not all the recyclable material is actually recovered. Additionally, the age of the MRF and equipment available and utilized at that time will also impact recovery rates and thus residue rates. The modern and new automated systems (both MRFs and MWPFs) generally have a very high efficiency, and many equipment vendors are guaranteeing these recovery percentages, although they are commonly not published due to competitive advantage and confidentiality agreements between equipment vendors and their private customers.
So Why Consider Building a MWPF?
The main reason to build a MWPF is to improve the quantity of overall recyclables separated and marketed in the region covered by the program (that is, increase landfill diversion). Interestingly, for many communities that have implemented single-stream recycling programs, they have not seemed to have their net program costs as a primary concern! Oftentimes, they don’t even publically present their net recycling and net landfilling costs. So the average citizen may not be aware of their costs, and are rather just presented diversion statistics. Cost information should be more forthcoming and be based on evaluating their competitive costs per ton when looking at the entire system costs including collection, which is, after all, part of the system. Unfortunately, it has become a “diversion chase” and not a full cost disclosure concern, in too many cases.
Ironically, when looking objectively at all of the program solid waste management costs, realizing that collection is typically 65% of the overall cost, a MWPF could potentially be built at a more competitive cost than a new MRF, or the current contracted collection/MRF processing economics, and lead to a significant reduction in the amount of waste going to a landfill, thus increasing diversion and reducing landfill costs.
In this regard, Table 1 has been compiled from a theoretical community generating 200,000 TPY of MSW (excluding Yard Waste quantities) to illustrate the projected increased tonnages that are forecast to be delivered, recovered for recycling, and not landfilled from each of the two. It is important to note that all of the non-recovered materials indicted in Table 1 are assumed to be landfilled at this time. Thus, the additional benefits of the back-end recovery at a MWPF from an anaerobic digestor (AD) system or a WTE plant, for example, like the WTE in Indianapolis and the AD system proposed in Montgomery, AL, are not included as diversion benefits in this review.
To illustrate this higher “Diversion Rate” and landfill abatement issue, a 20-year summary of the key throughput and performance parameters for the two options described in this article are summarized in Table 1.
- Trash plus recyclables only; not yard waste
- Assumed 25% of MSW placed in recyclables carts
- Assumes in-place density average of 1,500 pounds per cubic yard
In addition to the costs estimated, there are also certain other cost benefits that are expected to accrue based on either the “one-cart-for-all” collection system or reduced usage of the landfill. These potential cost saving areas, when looking at a fully integrated system, are identified as follows:
- Reduced overall direct collection costs (single collection system versus two services)
- Less collection truck O&M as dumping on concrete versus landfill
- Quicker unloading time with dumping at MWPF versus landfill
- Reduced landfill usage
- Reduced waste hauling costs to landfill
- Potential elimination of transfer station (if one exists)
- Delay of landfill closure-post closure costs
- Delay of landfill cells construction
- Reduction in landfill gas generation
- Reduction in leachate generation (potential for less cell space open)
One-Cart-For-All and the Potential for Significant Savings on City Collection Costs
Waste collection costs are almost 65% of the overall waste management costs for a community. Therefore, the efficacy of this system, and the purposes to which it is design and equipment expensed becomes critical to the overall budget for the services rendered. Over the years, many different types of collection vehicles and materials to be collected have been decided to be in the best interest of the community and the number and costs of collection systems, and trucks on the road within neighborhoods, has increased.
One collection cost saving measure could be associated with the analysis of the efficiency and operation of a typical Automated Side-Loader (ASL) fleet load size. During a recent detailed municipal waste fleet review, GBB’s analysis of trash load sizes found that the all of the ASL’s averaged 11-ton loads approximately 50% of the time. Of this, truck loads above the average, 50% of the loads are 11 to 13 tons and the other half were between 9 and 11 tons.
The analysis shows that the ASL trucks have the weight capacity with their two loads to handle a single MSW wastestream. Also, it should be pointed out that MWPFs have not had operational issues with processing of compacted loads affecting their ability to separate materials. Therefore, the compaction ratio for the trucks would not be expected to hinder load size and customer performance.
While the total collection weight does not seem to be an issue, a detailed study at the household level will be needed to determine if cart size, number of routes, or other adjustments would need to be made at the curb. The actual setout situation would demand additional review and significant generators may need two carts for the MSW, which is actually the number most homeowners have now with a trash cart and a recycling cart.
A decade ago there would have been a better argument that there is not sufficient volume in a 95-gallon cart to hold a single combined waste stream. However, the push has been to have manufacturers reduce their packaging material, and this, in part, has shown contributing to the downward trend of recyclable volumes along with increasing use of electronics reducing paper volumes. If needed, large cardboard accumulations would need to be broken down to be set inside the cart as ASL truck styles, for example, do not allows for material to be conveniently hand loaded.
In summary, the route times spent collecting may not increase as the ASL trucks would still service one cart per household like they typically do for trash now. However, collection costs may slightly increase if the location of a potential MWPF, as disposal distance, could increase from that mileage to the county landfill. By adding both the MSW and recyclables streams together, which is a key consideration with a MWPF, the community would eliminate the need for the separate recyclables collection service, which can be quite expensive.
Overview of Current MWPF Projects
As Sargent Jack Webb, from the TV show Dragnet, used to say: “Just the facts ma’am.” The following overview brings the reader up to date on several MWPF projects/procurements that might be of interest.
Infinitus Project: Montgomery, AL, Facility
- “Waste Feedstock Supply Agreement,” dated 6/4/13 between the Company and Solid Waste Disposal Authority of the City of Montgomery (MSWDA). “Direct Payment Agreement,” dated 6/1/13 and signed between the City, MSWDA, and the Trustee for 25 years: $233,333 per month, which equals the minimum tip fee payments.
- The initial tip fee of $28 per ton and supply of a minimum of 100,000 tons per year (TPY)
- 82,000-square-foot facility built on 14.5 acres (Building costs and site costs about $8 million.)
- Design at 185,000 TPY by BHS (equipment costs about $15 million)
- BHS Process Guarantee is a minimum of 30 tons per hour (TPH). (But Infinitus anticipates it can do 35 TPH.)
- O&M Subcontract with ZWE for 10 years
- IREP MWPF Acceptance test dates: May 5–9, 2014
- Recyclables from this Infinitus project include: mixed paper, OCC, tin/steel cans, aluminum cans, scrap metal, HDPE (natural and colored), LDPE (film plastic), PET, and mixed plastics and aseptic containers.
Athens Disposal Project in Sun Valley, CA (Los Angeles Area)
- Privately owned/operated project: opened October 12, 2014.
- MWPF = 1,500 TPD (300,000 TPY).
- 80,000-square-foot building with 200-kW rooftop solar
- 70-TPH BHS equipment processing and recovery system
- Capital price est. $50 million
County of Santa Barbara, CA, Project
- Developer selected for design, build, and operation was Mustang Renewable Power Ventures LLC.
- MWPF = 800 TPD (250,000 TPY)
- Est. 90,000 TPY of recyclable materials (36%)
- AD Facility = 73,600 TPY (from MWPF and source-separated organics)
- Landfill now expected to last until 2036, extending closing from 2026.
- Currently in the EIR Review
Monterey, CA, Regional Waste Management District
- Current Disposal Fee is $51.75 per ton for district waste.
- Planned/evaluated MRF improvement plan for 6 years
- RFP issued for new MWPF: combination facility (2 lines at 40 TPH)
- 80,000 TPY of mixed waste and 16,000 TPY of single-stream recyclables
- 70,000 TPY C&D Line
- Expected Diversion Rate = 65–68%.
- Selected equipment: BHS ($13 million for the 2 lines)
- Expected full operation in August 2016.
Developer: Covanta (Advanced Recycling Center) Project in City of Indianapolis, IN
- Capital investment = $45 million by Covanta
- MWPF feedstock = residential MSW+ (est. 250,000 TPY)
- Produce: recyclables (claim 80–90% recovery of paper, cardboard, plastics, and metals); remaining <1 inch fines to landfill and the residue as WTE feedstock
- Technology: Van Dyk Recycling Solutions = 45–50 TPH.
- On 4/6/15, court judgment against two paper companies + a private citizen who sued the City
Van der Linde Recycling Inc., Troy, VA
- Privately owned and operated (MSW since November 2009)
- Has 400-TPD MWPF and a 400-TPD C&D system.
- Processes MSW and S-S; looking to add AD to RNG in future.
- Building 18,000 square feet with pre-sort off floor and initial conveyor
- Principal recovery equipment
- McCloskey Bag Breaker: Trommel Screen
- Machinex OCC screen Sherbrooke OEM fiber screen
- BloApCo Air Fans suction of film plastics and other items for QC
- CP (MSS optical sorter) for three-grade plastic separation
Emerald Coast Utility Authority/Escambia County, FL, MWPF Project
- Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA) collects 20,000 TPY of SSR, and Escambia County Landfill receiving 270,000 TPY.
- RFQ (developed in part by GBB) issued on 11/18/2014; qualifications received 12/18/2014.
- Project: to design, permit, finance, construct, and operate new MWPF. MWPF processing requirement is 250,000 TPY.
- Selected Developer: Mustang Renewable Power Ventures approved 6/25/2015 for negotiations.
- Tipping fee proposed: $42 per ton
- Mustang’s proposed operator: Sims Recycling
- Mustang’s proposed equipment: Van Dyk
New Providence, Bahamas
- First state-of-the-art MWPF in the Caribbean Islands
- Selected developer: Renew Bahamas.
- Location: adjacent to New Providence landfill.
- Two lines at 40 TPH (80-TPH system): first line installed
- Began operations May 28, 2015
- Equipment supplier: Machinex
Summary of Review and Potential Feasibility of a MWPF
This article attempts to put in perspective an opportunity of potentially changing the current solid waste management system. As part of any evaluation, it is important to make sure that there is a clear understanding of the actual costs of the current program. The author knows that it is hard to be exact when discussing such a far-reaching system makeover. A detailed review of all costs centers for potential savings and/or reconfiguration should be undertaken if the concept of a MWPF advances to the stage of a feasibility study. As with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, continuing to pull strings and ask probing questions, to challenge the status quo, will expose it for what it is!
Finally, there are other benefits that could potentially accrue from the implementation of a MWPF including:
- Reduced GHG emissions produced in the region from the recycling, versus continued burial, of the waste in the county landfill;
- Reduced collection trucks—less wear and tear on city and county roadways, increased safety, and less dependence on fossil fuels;
- Convenience—no more homeowner separation of recyclables, or items thought to be recyclable;
- Only one waste cart set out to deal with, which increases homeowners space and trips to the curb;
- Less waste going into the landfill extended the life of the very strategically located site;
- Achieving a higher level of recycling with minimal public relations and 100% participation in the program; and
- Possibility of MWPF acting as a catalyst for a shared collection service plan between regional participants and act as one entity achieving economy-of-scale benefits and further reducing overall costs.