Some answers to why Duxbury went to sorting recyclables.
The decision November 15 to separate our recyclables into corrugated cardboard, mixed paper, plastic/metal and glass came as a surprise to most residents who had become very comfortable with the single stream system that made recycling so easy. We at Sustainable Duxbury would like to paint a picture and give you “the story behind the story” in order to better understand why Duxbury made the decision they did.
Single stream allows for all recyclables to be co-mingled. Paper, cardboard, bottles, cans, glass and food containers are mixed together for recycling and helps municipalities recapture a higher quantity of recyclable materials. However, the quality of the material is generally poor.
Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) are responsible for sorting, baling and selling single stream recycled materials. This is achieved with mechanical sorting equipment and human staff on the sorting lines. When mixed together, single stream recyclables can form an amalgam of broken glass, wet paper and unwanted contaminants such as food and plastic bags. (MRFs do not want plastic bags mixed in with single stream recyclables as they “foul the machinery” and shut down the processing procedure. Better to not use these bags in the first place!). This process can reduce otherwise clean, marketable recyclables to low quality material that can eventually end up in the waste stream.
One of the benefits of recycling materials is that it generates a revenue stream through the sale of “clean” recyclables. (Other benefits to the environment include reusing our trash instead of burning or burying it. There are many reasons to recycle.) The town has to pay to remove the trash that goes in the blue bags; recyclables constitute income and trash constitutes cost. An upturn in recycling increases our revenue stream and therefore lowers disposal/tipping fees, leading to lower trash bills and a lower tax levy.
So what happened November 15? The key word here is “clean.” It is very difficult to sell single stream recycled materials right now. China has been the largest purchaser of this material and as of July, they placed very tight restrictions on the quality of imports. Processors have had to slow sort lines, run material through twice and hire more human sorters in order to improve the quality and make the bales more marketable. Our costs from Capital Paper Recycling increased for single stream from $47/ton to $65/ton which is more than our disposal cost.
What needs to be done:
Reduce contamination. Common contaminants include plastic bags, bagged garbage, bagged recyclables, food waste, hoses and other materials that people think might be recyclable but actually are not. We can do this by separating as much as possible at the source: Multi-stream produces a much better product that has more value and doesn’t have the high cost of sorting. Remember to Clean it up and Sort carefully!
The age-old saying “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” comes in that order for a reason. The ideal goal with trash is reduce, use less material. When you can reuse, do so. If all else fails, recycle.
Source of most of this information: South Shore Recyling Coopertive (ssrinfo.coop)