Why we need to rinse or wash plastic before recycling.

wp-1526137310030696706026.jpg

This Starbucks beverage container found in Denver, CO is an example of contaminated plastic.

Have you ever purchased a car before?  Was the interior full of dirt, food crumbs and the debris of life from the previous owner?  How about your apartment or home?  Was the outside or floors covered in mud? The answer is likely, “No”.  When we buy cars, clothes, food or whatever – there is a general expectation that the item we purchase will be in good condition free of excess debris or dirt.  When most people are presented the same idea regarding the plastic and paper packages of waste from their food purchases, for some reason the idea doesn’t correlate.  However, this is a very real and basic reason that China set stringent conditions for contaminants in the plastic and other recycling that we create for processing overseas.

Reporting on a statement made to the World Trade Orginization in 2017 China, Waste 360 reported that US plastics are to dirty for use.

To protect China’s environmental interests and people’s health, we urgently adjust the imported solid wastes list, and forbid the import of solid wastes that are highly polluted. Protection of human health or safety; Protection of animal or plant life or health; Protection of the environment

These changes are causing the waste and recycling industries to look internally at the processes need to re imprint the culture. in order to create a cultural shift in our understanding. For now, the reality is that some states are telling consumers, this is garbage and you cannot put it in the recycling indicating that the inefficiency of our current system. In this January 2017 USA today article one single steam recycling faculty operator describes the problem-

“…all day every day there are plastic shopping bags (recyclable at a grocery store but not from a household), chunks of Styrofoam, diapers, syringes, food-contaminated containers … a nearly endless litany of things that residents throw into their curbside recycling carts figuring they are or ought to be recyclable.”

Contamination like straws, liquids and plastic bags are a daily problem for recyclers.

National waste management companies (USA) like Waste Management, Allied Waste as well as government and non government entities throughout the world are struggling with this problem as our populations continue to grow.

The problem in the US stems from the way beverage companies who oppose bottle bills or programs that ‘pay people to recycle’. According to the Container Recycling Institute, between 1989 and 1994, 14 billion was spent by the beverage industry to fight these laws.  This battle, fought by the beverage industry to deflect responsibility for the packaging materials they push into the consumption stream.  The fact that only 1/5 of the United States has a system of returning beverage containers in a deposit program says a lot about our basic cultural practices in considering the waste we generate.

In most industries, just like in recycling, the are basic standards. Those who are in the industry, including the scrap metal collectors who pick up appliances and metals off the roadsides and trash piles; understand that the “cleaner” the metals are, the more valuable they are. In my post, “Recycling household items- the fan, is it really worth it” I cover more on separating metals for increased value.  The cleanliness standards for plastic being set by recycling giant China, are too stringent to meet our cumulative  cultural understanding.  This means that when bales of recycling arrive in China, they can be returned to the US for being to dirty.

In the United States there is not a standardized national set of guidelines that are being taught as the proper process to organize and dispose of the ‘ things of life’.  Talking about our how we manage or process the ‘trash’ isn’t an exciting topic for most people.  This problem is one that organizations large and small alike struggle with.  How do I process this packaging so that its ready for the next step, and engage in the conversation so that company or community wide, people are working within the same standards.  Considering that for most people around the world, this isn’t a conversation that has ever occurred. The interaction between our consumption and its processing is currently, just beginning.  Because of these standards, as well as other struggles in ‘wishful recycling’ practices; Waste Management is among the entities driving the conversation. ‘Wishful recycling’ is putting things in the recycling that cannot actually be recycled via single stream. These include plastic bags, batteries, dirty plastic, Styrofoam (by community) and soiled food packages. Check out the video and hey, let me know your thoughts.

Advertisements

It’s all about the MRF (merf) unit, A look at the potential growth of recycling in Kauai, HI.

One of the blessings of this trip is being able to have educated conversations with one of the people responsible for recycling programs out here in Hawaii.  It’s been a great warm up on this journey to reengage in the discussions of waste management that I enjoyed in the classes and interviews leading up to my graduation from Metropolitan State University in Denver, CO.  In my conversations and visual touring of places around the island of Kauai, there have been several things that point in one direction – to the effective capture and separation of consumed materials as a key factor holding back increased recycling rates.  This is a bold statement, and one many readers won’t understand off the bat; so let’s take a minute to break this down.

This is an example of solid plastic recycling accepted in Kauaii County.  Because there is no separating unit, only the most valuable of plastics are accepted.

This is an example of solid plastic recycling accepted in Kauaii County. Because there is no separating unit, only the most valuable of plastics are accepted.

One of the first things I recognized about being in Hawaii is that the types of recycling accepted is far out of proportion to what I am currently accustomed to. In the majority of North America, recycling systems accept the majority of plastics, including Styrofoam products.  The reason for this ties into several global factors.  The first is a concern about the value of shipping things in adequate quantity.  When a manufacturer or point of sale location orders product, they generally follow principles of economics where the products will be delivered ‘on time’; or when they will be needed for the purpose of the specific operation.  These quantities are required to fill demand, in this case the second concern – sufficient quantities of source separated product.  For post-consumer plastics there are many aspects of the brokerage requirements, including minimum packaging requirements, generally at minimum – one shipping container of source separated product.  This requirement is the same in Denver as it is in Kauai.

I have been pleased with the interaction I have been able to have with the Kauai Solid Waste Management representatives and the level of presence they have attained here in Kauai.  I have found many aspects of the recycling program quite interesting.  The first is that there is a Bottle Bill in place, and actually it is the last one passed in the US, “celebrating over 6.6 billion containers in the last decade”, according to the official government’s info website.  That’s a lot of plastic!

In addition to the idea that only #1 and #2 plastics are currently processed through a recycling stream,  at the county’s government building in Lihue, HI for example there are 4 separate recycling containers! They are for: a) 1 and 2 plastics only (no black plastic allowed), Glass and Aluminum, Cardboard, and Steele.  This system is designed to allow members of the community access to drop of materials should they so decide.  For businesses, this type of separation will prove cumbersome.  In order to increase the overall effectiveness of closing the loop between purchase and capture of consumable packaging single stream recycling will have to become available for this island nation.

For many, the culture of recycling on the island is becoming one that has the look and feel of a natural process.  Throughout the communities are recycling drop of stations where HI5 and other materials can be dropped off.  There are accessible containers in many parts of the community and overall the towns I have been to all have minimum micro trash issues.  It may be due to the lack of single stream systems, but I have noticed that the majority of business spaces do not have public recycling.  Businesses like the ABC Stores, banks and restaurants may have in house systems for their employees to use in the back of the house, but the access to the common public is sorely lacking.  Municipalities will find this struggle to be one that cannot be won unless the process is easy to manage – like single stream recycling offers.

In order to build this type of facility, there are going to be many steps to the process. Fortunately for the citizens, many steps of the process are well under way.  To have a closed community with both a plastic bag ban and a bottle bill is a wonderful thing to find.  Unfortunately there are battles that still have to be fought.  Corporations seeking to sell mass incineration systems regularly press municipalities attempting to convince government officials that purchasing this incineration management system is the solution to their problems.  We already know that burning anything leads to excess greenhouse gasses, something that is bad.  ( If you want to know more – check this page out – it’s great for your whole family!)

For more information on recycling programs in Kauaii, HI please check out this awesome page!

http://www.kauai.gov/Government/Departments/PublicWorks/SolidWaste/RecyclingPrograms/TheKauaiResourceCenter/tabid/108/Default.aspx

Dead white corral and no sea shells – a first observation

On September 6, 2015 I left for the “other side of the world”, to places I have never been but have read about in books and online.  The anxiety and angst of leaving the comforts of home, exhaustion from spending the last week packing over and over again, and the stresses of being in a horrible automobile accident where the at fault party could have very well lost his life had all taken a toll on me, but life and time move forward.  The process of experiencing change is very important to me.  To be in the midst of changes in the global processes means that the battlefront is exactly where you and I are at this moment in time.  According to many including 5 Gyres, our first challenge is to REDUCE the amount of manufactured goods we consume on a daily basis.  Here are some important words from “The Dude” – Jeff Bridges about this specific issue via his partnership with the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Having arrived on the island of Oahu and have been on the island for 24 hours, I have had the pleasure of touring the island, seeing many beautiful locations.  The beaches we swam in were beautiful, but turbid (cloudy/murky)   from recent tropical storms and hurricanes that have been traveling through to Pacific Ocean.  There were not large quantities of plastics or any waste on the beaches I went to.  Much of the beach had storm debris and dead corral that has come in from the storms that have been occurring. Based on tidal patterns, the north shore of Kauai is relatively immune from ocean plastic.  Today I anticipate going to see some of those beaches.  I was quite intrigued to learn about the hurricanes and had to do some research of my own this morning.  This brief article by Mother Jones will provide some greater insight to both the weather and an some of the leading agencies indicating why this trend will continue to grow. In addition to going swimming and snorkeling in the Pacific Ocean, we took a tour of some of the places on the North Shore like animal sanctuaries, recycling drop off locations including places where Jurassic Park was filmed like this scene!

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the island’s civil servants, one whom is responsible for much of the island’s recycling efforts.  With effective recycling at about 40%, with directional movement towards 70% – I enjoyed an insightful, and very tired, conversation about the issues and struggles facing creating regulations to require effective solutions that are integrated into all parts of culture.  Many of the classroom discussions from the last 2 years have popped into my head over this time.  The visits and interviews with the operators of MRF units in Denver like that of Alpine Waste.  MRF Units are where single stream recycling occurs.  This system is not currently available on most islands, but is a type of facility that more and more communities are developing, as the greater demands for reclaiming natural goods instead of filling landfills.  Here is a quick video about how these units work.

As I awoke today, I spent some early morning time to meditate on the things I have experienced.  The strongest of all yesterday’s activities was the fact that while swimming and snorkeling, I recognized lots of bleached, dead corral in the water and on the beach.  This occurs when the acidity of the water, CO2 concentrations and other factors cause corral reefs to die.  In addition to the dead corral, I noticed the lack of sea shells.  We did find 3 yesterday, ones that were on the inland side of the beach, at the farthest reaches where waters could come ashore.  The real and lasting impact of carbon emissions, waste management and agricultural processes and tourism are visible already, and the vision of the dead corral awakens me.