MSW Management

“You Think You’re Helping, But You’re Not”

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Snow and ice storms have recently hit the Midwest. When I scan through the pictures of snow on front lawns and roads and highways, I remember when I was growing up and became old enough to shovel snow off the driveway. I did it for a couple of years by myself until my little brother was old enough to help. By that time I had a method of clearing our walks and driveway which maximized efficiency and productivity.

When my brother got involved, it just created headaches. He would haphazardly jump around from spot to spot whenever he got tired or bored with one particular pile of snow. He would shovel in areas I had already cleared. He stopped to make snowballs which made a mess in a freshly shoveled section. He thought he was helping.

It wasn’t just the snow that reminded me of those younger days. An article in the Los Angeles Times came to my attention in which the paper was reporting e-tailer Amazon was the root of problems at recycling centers.

Not long ago, Amazon started packaging smaller items in plastic mailing bags. The idea was that they would be able to fit more packages into delivery trucks which would result in more efficient delivery routes, thus reducing their carbon footprint with fewer deliveries.

The problem is that the plastic bags being used by Amazon are not easily dealt with by those who have to sort plastic waste.

According to the LA Times:

“Plastic mailers escape the notice of sorting machines and get into bales of paper bound for recycling, contaminating entire bundles, which experts say outweighs the positive effect of reducing bulky cardboard shipments. Paper bundles used to fetch a high price on international markets and had long sustained profits in the recycling industry. But mixed bales are so hard to sell—because of stricter laws in China, where many are sent for recycling—that many West Coast recycling companies must trash them instead. (Packaging is just one source of plastics contamination of paper bales bound for recycling.)

‘As packaging gets more complex and lighter, we have to process more material at slower speeds to produce the same output. Are the margins enough? The answer today is no,’ said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling for Republic Services, one of the largest U.S. waste haulers. ‘It’s labor- and maintenance-intensive and, frankly, expensive to deal with on a daily basis.'”

Not only that, the plastic delivery bags are getting stuck in sorting machines. The sorting machine has to stop and the bags are disentangled from the machinery by hand.

The LA Times article also says:

“For now, those padded plastic Amazon mailers can be recycled once consumers remove the label and bring the mailer to drop-off sites found outside some chain stores. Clean, dry, and in aggregate, such plastic can be melted and made into composite lumber for decks. Cities with plastic-bag bans, like Amazon’s hometown of Seattle, contain fewer drop-off sites.

Only 4% of plastic film accrued by U.S. households is recycled through collection programs at grocery and big-box stores, according to a 2017 Closed Loop report about U.S. recycling. The other 96% becomes garbage, even if put into curbside recycling, and ends up in landfills.”

I applaud Amazon’s efforts to reduce waste. But when it comes to their plastic packaging for smaller items, this might be the case of a little brother trying to help and, in the end, creating another mess to be dealt with.

I’ll leave you with video of plastic bags causing problems in Chicago, IL. MSW_bug_web


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  1. Arturo – thanks for this blog. I’ve forwarded to the City of Livonia’s Sustainability Commission for information. The Chicago video was very helpful – if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video is worth even more.

    Paul Sgriccia

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