The Past, Present and Future of Recycling


The Past – We’ve Come a Long Way!

Past

Recycling has come a long way over the past few decades – in the US there wasn’t a single recycling program in place until 1973 (in The Hidden Past of Recycling you’ll read that the concept of recycling was widely used in the past, however only privately or individually). Now, there are over 8,000 programs in operation. The first ever curbside recycling program in Canada began in 1973, the program initially served 80,000 homes in the Toronto area and eventually curbside programs and recycling centers were all over the country.

While we’ve come a long way since the explosion of the environmental movement in the 1970s, our recycling programs still have a long way to go as a collective group. Keep reading and you’ll see how we currently reduce our waste today and how we can improve our recycling habits in the future.

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The Present – Strategies for Zero Waste

Recycling Blog

Currently the US recycles about one third of the municipal trash (waste generated in homes, schools and non-industrial businesses) and Canada recycles about 21 percent of what would otherwise end up in the solid waste stream. Here are some strategies you can do today that will immediately increase how much you recycle:

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Closing the Recycling Loop

Separating your trash from your recyclables is only one step in the recycling loop – in order to close the gap, manufacturers need to start making more products out of recycled material and consumers need to focus on buying these products. Creating merchandise from scratch is often very harsh and damaging to the environment, the more life that we can get out of a product made from post-consumer recycled content, the better!

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Compost, Compost, Compost!

The amount of organic waste that ends up in landfill or burned in an incinerator is a little alarming – 60 percent of household waste in the US is compostable but only 8 percent of Americans compost. Canada has done a fairly good job on the composting front – as of 2011, over half of Canadian households (61%) had participated in some form of composting. If you have a green thumb, composting is the way to go – you’ll never have a better looking garden in the summer!

And if you’re an enthusiastic early adapter to up-and-coming composting trends, be sure to take a look at The Humanure System, which you can guess from the name, involves recycling your poop—and no, it’s obviously not for everyone…

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Keep the Garbage Bucket as Empty as Possible

Recycling and composting are great ways to keep what’s going in the garbage to a minimum, but there are more ways to stem the garbage cans’ burly appetite. Pre-Cycling is a great way to reduce how much trash your house is sending to the curb – buying in bulk to reduce packaging, using reusable bags, having a refillable water bottle or coffee mug – these are just a few examples of how you can pre-cycle..

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The Future – Strategies to Boost Recycling Rates

Future

While recycling has increased in North America, the amount of trash produced has increased as well. The amount of material recycled today equals the total amount of trash produced in 1960. While recycling programs are a continuing success, experts say in future we should focus on limiting the amount of trash we produce to begin with, doing so will help lower the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the air.

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Updated and Expended Bottle Bills

Having a bottle bill in place is a very effective way to get people recycling. A bottle bill (or container deposit law), requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers ensuring they are returned for recycling. Ideally, every state should have a container deposit law, but unfortunately only 10 states have a bottle bill in place – many of which don’t include plastic bottles. If more states could enact and expand these laws, the amount of plastics ending up in landfills would drop drastically.

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Manage Electronic Waste

Technology is always changing, and with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops over the past decade, it has meant an increase in the amount of electronic waste that is being produced. In 2011, the US generated 3.41 million tons of e-waste, of which only 850,000 tons were recycled – the rest ended up in landfills or incinerators, the toxic chemicals that electronic components are made from end up seeping into our soil or up in the atmosphere. Businesses that sell electronics are beginning to take responsibility for the amount of e-waste produced, offering trade in programs allowing them to recycle unwanted gadgets – some even give you some money back!

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Stop Using Plastic Bags

This ties back to pre-cycling, but the numbers on how much plastic bags are thrown out versus how many are recycled warrant its own section – 380 billion plastic bags are used a year in the US alone and less than 5 percent are recycled! Plastic made with PET (polyethylene terephthalate, in case you were wondering why we needed an acronym for it) do not biodegrade, they do break down in UV light (photo-degradation), but that can take 10-100 years. That’s if exposed to sunlight, and since most garbage is buried at a landfill, the whole process takes even longer.

Currently, less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000—the recycled product can then be sold for only $32. We don’t claim to be the best mathematicians in the world, but we’re fairly confident we wouldn’t want to enter into the business of recycling plastic bags for profit.

Efforts are being done all over to get people to ditch the plastic bags, supermarkets offer reusable cloth bags and now charge you for plastic bags, and San Francisco has even flat out banned the distribution of plastic bags in the city. Fingers crossed that these measures are the beginning of the end of the dreaded plastic bag.

This should most certainly be enough information to get your started on your way to recycling stardom. Stay tuned and we’ll fill you in on the sensible, not-so-sensible and downright strange recycling trends that you’ll start to see in the coming years—including, of course, recycling your #1’s and 2’s.

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Matt Bradbury

Written by Matt Bradbury – Sustainability Research Analyst

Information provided to you by WIH Resource Group, Inc

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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Renewable Portfolio Standards drive the waste-to-energy industry


There is one single, constant driver that can propel the WTE industry forward or hold it back, and that’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS). These RPS’s are policies in 29 states and Washington, DC to increase renewable energy, usually from wind, solar, biomass, and sometimes landfill gas and municipal solid waste.

USA Renewables by State

How much capital is allocated to each of these sources depends on what “tier” within the RPS it is placed. Tier 1 generates more revenue than tier 2, allowing WTE technologies in this higher category to compete with solar and wind, which are the energy-producing forerunners right now. While biomass, biogas, and other WTE grew by 15% since 2008, wind grew by 65% in 2014 alone.

Then there is a market driver at the federal level: the Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA). The law requires utilities to buy electricity from a qualified facility, but to only pay what it would cost the utility to produce that electricity.

“So they pay a relatively small amount, which rarely pencils out for renewable energy producers,” said Brian Lips, DSIRE project manager at North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center. “But the RPS places [renewable energy producers] in a position where they don’t have to compete with fossil fuels; rather they compete against other renewables.”

Sometimes biomass, one of the more widely used WTE sources, is in tier 1 on the RPS. But what counts as biomass gets tricky as there is no standard definition; so feedstocks under this umbrella vary but could include organic materials like trees, crops, and animal waste.

How Maryland pays out for trash-to-energy

One state standing out on the WTE front is Maryland, the only state in the country that places trash-burning incinerators in tier 1, according to Energy Justice Network Founder and Director Mike Ewall. This incentive drew New York-based Energy Answers International to Baltimore, where it got a permit in 2010 to build what would have been the largest incinerator in the country — one that environmentalists vehemently protested, arguing the emissions would threaten public health.

Just last week, following a long, hard fight between Energy Answers and its opponents, Maryland announced that the incinerator project is no longer valid, stating the permit became void after an extended construction delay.

Some states have left trash incineration out of the RPS altogether, such as New York, which only allows the burning of biomass. However, that state is subsidizing crop burning. “Rarely can you make it work to grow crops just to burn them; it’s too expensive. But New York and Iowa have burned grass and or trees for electricity,” said Ewall.

Meanwhile, commercial scale trash-burning incinerators seem to be fading from the landscape. One to be built in West Palm Beach will be the first such plant launched in 20 years, at least on a new site. Many others are shuttering or at risk of closing, with the number currently in operation having fallen under 80 for the first time in decades, largely because of their cost.

Introducing more energy sources to the playing field

In quest of new options, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia have put fossil fuels in their RPS, bringing a whole new category onto the playing field. “They are the first ones [and only ones] to do this,” said Ewall. He added that Ohio has put nuclear in their portfolio in addition to fossil fuels. And a fairly new industry direction is to pelletize trash and market it to existing boiler plants for energy.

Some of the growing options — and their price tags — are sparked by regulations mandating the amount of electricity that utilities must derive from renewable resources.

“In California where 50% of energy has to come from renewable sources, utilities may pay more. But in North Carolina where just 12.5%  has to be renewable, utilities have more bargaining power,” explained Lips.

The renewable energy market is particularly strong in New Jersey, and Hawaii has the most ambitious goal in the country: 100% renewable energy by 2045, he said. The island state has two motivators: outrageously high electricity rates as it burns imported oil, and its vast renewable energy resources.

How the Federal Clean Power Plan is driving state policies

More change may be on the horizon if EPA’s Clean Power Plan unfolds. It’s part of Obama’s push, claimed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel and coal-fired power plants, which would allow for natural gas and renewable energies such as biomass, incineration, and natural gas.

Analysts project this law will be a major market driver, and it’s already proving to be, at least in the natural gas front. There are about 300 proposals for gas-fired plants in the United States now, according to Ewall.

“Most were underway before EPA adopted the plan. But they were [further] fueled by the rule. So Clean Power would be a major driver to push for natural gas,” he said.

Source: Waste Dive

Published by WIH Resource Group

Visit our new website!   www.wihresourcegroup.com

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

WIH Website logo

More information on WIH Resource Group and its services can be found at www.wihrg.com.

Click on an image below to take you to WIH’s other sites!

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