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Illustration by Kelsey King

Illustration by Kelsey King

Waste to Energy (WTE) plants have been a viable waste reduction tool for quite some time. But they have still produced waste in the form of ash. Now that ash can be recycled.

Covanta, a leader in sustainable energy, and TARTECH eco-industries, a German firm, have joined forces to launch the first metals recycling project reclaiming ferrous and non-ferrous metals from WTE ash. Appropriately, the project has been launched in Massachusetts, which is a national leader in U.S. recycling policy and sustainability efforts.

A few of the benefits that are expected to result from this collaboration:

  • Recovery of thousands of tons of metals from the Peabody Ash Monofill
  • Reduction waste deposited in landfills
  • Reduction of greenhouse gasses
  • Energy savings
  • Creation of new high-paying jobs 
  • Increased revenue opportunities for the town of Peabody

While these benefits would seem to make this project a no-brainer, WTE is still highly controversial, and has met with significant opposition in many parts of the country. Incinerators are banned in many states based on concerns that the burning process releases toxins such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, the acid gases, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen chloride, ordinary smoke and soot, known as particulates, which can contain dioxins and solid metals, and mercury. However, modern WTE technology operates at much higher temperatures than their older counterparts, and they operate at close to zero emissions. This is prompting many states (including Massachusetts) to reexamine their bans and take another look at WTE technology.

Another opposing view claims that WTE undermines recycling efforts. If trash can be burned away then consumers can continue to dispose of unwanted household materials and buy new. And the manufacture of virgin materials puts a higher burden on our natural resources. This claim, however, is not borne out by the evidence.

According to the European Environmental Agency the five European nations with the highest recycling rates (Sweden, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria) recycle at least 50% of their waste stream, and virtually all other waste is used in WTE plants. Austria is recycling 70% of its waste. This means that at worst these countries are still recycling 20% more of their waste than we are in the U.S. (currently our recycling rate is approximately 34%).  

We should also recognize that recycling is not a waste-free activity. Even with the newest MRF plants using advanced fiber optic technology about 10-15% of the material that goes in comes out as landfill matter on the other end. Likewise, WTE produces ash waste. The ability to reclaim metals from the ash answers one more of the opposition’s questions.

 

Covanta TARTECH Commences Metals Recycling Project in Peabody, MA (via MarketWired)

SOURCE: Covanta Energy November 14, 2013 15:59 ET Project to Recover and Recycle Ferrous and Nonferrous Metal From Ash Monofill PEABODY, MA–(Marketwired – Nov 14, 2013) – Covanta TARTECH, LLC, a joint venture of Covanta Energy Corporation, a world…


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  • Sustainable Style for Kitchen and Dining

Nov
12

Bathroom Recycling: A matter of convenience?

bathroom

Many consumers who are avid recyclers don’t practice recycling in the bathroom. The following article posits that the reason is a matter of convenience; most people don’t have recycling bins in the bathroom.

Granted, this is true. I don’t have a recycling bin in the bathroom either, and I admit that it is a bit of a hassle to collect my recyclables and bring them down to the household container. But I think the problem goes further than a mere issue of whether or not to add another container to the household. 

Many bathroom plastics are difficult if not impossible to recycle. Toothpaste tubes, for example, are usually made of recyclable plastic, but they rarely have a recycling symbol stamped on them, and in order to recycle them you usually have to cut them apart and clean them out (or make craft projects as reported in our post, http://tipsforrecycling.com/2012/01/07/tips-for-recycling-in-the-bathroom-toothpaste-tubes/ ). Deodorant tubes are rarely recyclable due to the composite composition of the plastic used to construct them. Shampoos, conditioners, body wash and lotion bottles are usually recyclable, but their caps usually aren’t. And cosmetics? Don’t even get me started!

Perhaps the issue is as much about the packaging as the inconvenience when it comes to bathroom recycling.

Recycling in the Bathroom – Why Don’t We Do It? (via http://www.tradewindsimports.com/)

Why is it that that only 1 in 5 Americans recycle in the bathroom in comparison to nearly 7 out of 10 who recycle around the house? A study commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies was recently conducted by Shelton Group. The…

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VDOT worker loads deer carcass into vessel composter

Composting 101…DON’T put meat, fat or bones in your compost bin. But now we’re hearing that the third largest DOT (Department of Transportation) in the country is planning on composting the thousands of animals that end up dead on the roadside every year.

The idea may sound morbid…grotesque even…but the benefits of composting these carcasses instead of landfilling or incinerating them are both environmental and financial.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spends approximately $4.1 million per year on road kill disposal. Currently those animals are brought to a landfill to be deposited as general refuse. And the numbers of animals are significant; the insurance industry estimates that there were 52,400 deer-car crashes in Virginia last year. The economic issue is the cost of disposal. The environmental issue is that these animals are organic waste. In a landfill, that means methane production.

VDOT began experimenting with animal composting in 2012 at their Hanging Rock facility. The Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR), a subdivision of VDOT, tried several different compost bin configurations before seeking help from Advanced Composting Technologies LLC, in Candler, N.C.  The initial experiment involved converting three metal roll-off trash containers, installing large blowers in the floor to force air into the system at a cost of $48,000. When that experiment proved to be a success, VDOT workers retro-fitted three concrete material storage bins at a cost of $28,000. Those units became operational in July, 2013.

Partially loaded bin with recent roadkill

Partially loaded bin with recent roadkill

The method of using large, open-topped bins and using air forced into the pile from the bottom to fuel decomposition is known as vessel composting. A simple system, such as the ones built at VDOT, can reduce a full load of deer carcasses to compost in a month. Advanced Composting Technologies claims that their systems can reduce ‘huge’ quantities of organic matter to clean compost in a matter of days by maintaining pile temperatures around 160°F. It requires no chemicals. Water and air feed the microbes that decompose the waste and produce the pathogen-killing heat in the process.

Based on the success of the current project, the agency has contracted four more composting units at $115,000 apiece. Composting units have now been added at VDOT’s Bethel and Fishersville facilities. VDOT expects to realize the following benefits from expansion of the animal composting program:

  • Significantly reduce cost of animal carcass disposal, realizing savings that will enable each composting unit to pay for itself in approximately 5 years. VDOT estimates these savings at half a million dollars per year.
  • Save 252,000 road miles traveled each year transporting carcasses to landfills.
  • Produce high-quality compost material that can be used on eroding slopes and in state-owned gardens, further increasing savings in the form of lower material costs.
Finished compost after removal from ACT compost bin

Finished compost after removal from ACT compost bin

While VDOT is the first state DOT to pilot vessel composting technology to address their road kill issue, composting animal carcasses has been a viable solution for livestock mortalities for more than a decade. For more information on animal composting see the following resources:

Composting Dead Livestock: A new solution to an old problem, Iowa State University Extension, November 1999

Whole Animal Composting of Dairy Cattle, New Mexico State University, August 2013

Composting Animal Mortalities, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, May 2009

on-farm composting of large animal mortalities, Washington State University Extension, May 2008

Video Animal Composting Part I

 

References:

Advanced Composting Technologies, LLC., http://advancedcomposting.com/our-benefits/

Sturgeon, J., The Roanoke Times, October 12, 2013, Composters transform roadkill into landscape

VDOT Employee News, The Weekly Report, October 17, 2013, We’re Composting What? Pilot Program Studies Deer-Carcass Composting

Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation & Research, June 2012, Composting Animal Carcasses Removed From Roads: An Analysis of Pathogen Destruction and leachate Constituents in Deer Mortality Static Windrow Composting


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Oct
14

Tips For Recycling and Reusing Glass Bottles

What’s infinitely recyclable, completely reusable, comes in many colors and contains no BPAs? The glass bottle!

Importance of Recycling and Reusing Glass Bottles (via greenliving4live.com)

One of the best methods to save environmental pollution is by recycling glass bottles and jars. Environment pollution is aggravated due to landfills and the problem is increasing day by day. Recycling and reusing of glass, plastic and other materials…


Posted in Home Recycling Tips & Tricks | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

When I speak to people about recycling their cell phones and electronics, the most common objection I hear is that it’s a scam and everything gets landfilled anyway. The second most common concern, and the one that is most valid, is that these personal electronics are being sent overseas to be disassembled and have their component parts and materials reclaimed by what amounts to slave labor.

E-waste 'recycling' in Guiyu, China - 01

Image courtesy of www.alexhoffordphotography.com

Many of the workers in these overseas recycling facilities are children.  The toxins that they are exposed to during the recycling process are enough to make any of us cringe. Cyanide, nitric acid, lead, mercury and cadmium are just a few of the substances the workers come into contact with on a daily basis.

Now there is evidence that these toxins are extending beyond the humans that work with them to the water and food supplies in the communities that have electronics recycling plants.  It’s hard to claim you’re doing the right thing when you recycle your old smart phone if you’re causing irreparable harm to other humans and the environment at large in the process.

Thankfully one smart phone manufacturer has recognized the harm that’s being done and is now manufacturing their phones with eco friendly materials. Unfortunately this is not an American supplier, but there is hope that this will be the beginning of a new trend in green cell phone manufacturing. With the average American replacing their phone every twelve to eighteen months this would be good news indeed.

In the U.S. we still face many obstacles to requiring companies to ‘green’ their manufacturing processes. There is a lack of policy leadership on the topic of recycling and the environment in general. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws would force manufacturers to be responsible for the end-life of their products, but such laws have received only limited support at the federal level. Many legislators are concerned that such laws are too costly for businesses and will hurt the economy. However, where EPR has had success in making it through the legislative process it has primarily been in the area of electronics and batteries, and many manufacturers and suppliers already have take-back programs in place. So there may be hope the EPR could become the law for cell phones as well. Unfortunately, until the products are made with more eco-friendly products  to begin with, this won’t prevent those items from being sent overseas to be recycled at the peril of the people who live and work there.

 

Is your phone smart enough to not poison the people recycling it? This one is (from YES! Magazine) (via www.ourdailygreenlife.blogspot.com)

Our throwaway electronics harm people overseas, but new trends in responsible design are not just smart—they’re kind. by Chris Sweeney posted Oct 11, 2013 When Ted Smith looks at a smartphone, he doesn’t see a multipurpose gadget. He sees faces…

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Oct
11

Are K Cups Recyclable?

The Keurig K Cup has become extremely popular over the last couple of years. But their use is cause for concern when it comes to recycling them.

On the surface the K Cup is a great idea. One K Cup brews a single perfect cup of coffee (using Keurig’s patented design brewer of course). They are particularly conveient for hotels, conference centers and snack bars. They produce less coffee waste since only one cup is brewed at a time, and the coffee is higher quality than most coffee brewed by the full pot.

Anatomy of the K Cup

The K Cup is made of three layers:

  1. The outer plastic cup which doesn’t allow oxygen, moisture or sunlight to penetrate, thereby keeping the coffee fresh.
  2. The ‘sophisticated’ filter.
  3. The sealed foil cap.

Because these layers are melded together to form a single unit they are difficult to recycle.

Are K Cups Recyclable?

Yes….and no. In their original form they cannot be recycled. There is not a single stream facility capable of separating its components, and manual sorting systems won’t find the effort worth the reward.

Keurig reports that the K Cup is 2/3 recyclable. The foil lid can be recycled with your other aluminum and the filter can be recycled with your paper. BUT you have to go to the effort of disassembling the cup before you can recycle those items. The plastic used in the K Cup is not recyclable as it is not a #1 through #7 plastic, so even if you go through the exercise of separating the materials you’ll still be throwing the cup itself in the trash.

Alternatives to K Cups

Keurig claims that the packaging in their K Cups constitutes only a fraction of the environmental impact involved in the life cycle of its coffee. They also point out that the plastic cup is BPA free. However, they are continuing to research ways to make the K Cup more environmentally friendly.

As an alternative to the disposable K Cup, Keurig is now offering the My K Cup. This is a reuseable mesh filter that meets the size and capacity specifications of the original K Cup which can be used in Keurig brewers with any type of coffee.

Of course, another option is not to use them at all and go back to the standard coffee maker.

Ideas for K Cup reuse

  • K Cups are the perfect size for starting seeds indoors that will be transplanted to an outdoor garden later.
  • K Cups are useful in crafts, and some schools will accept them for classroom art projects.
  • The K Cup can be reused in the coffee maker by taking out the old filter and coffee and replacing them with another paper filter, such as regular coffee filters or paper towels cut down to size, and fresh grounds.

Keurig launches an EPR program for its K Cups

In 2011 Keurig launched the Grounds to Grow On program. Keurig will take back the K-Cups, but only from commercial customers (i.e. hotels, restaurants, etc.) and only in 22 states. Businesses must purchase the collection bins at $59.75 for five small containers that will hold 175 cups each, or $114.75 for a larger bin that holds 450 cups. The price includes the cost of shipping the containers back to the company.

It should be noted, however, that this is not a recycling program. Keurig composts the grounds, but the cup itself is incinerated in a waste-to-energy plant run by Covanta Energy. WTE plants are themselves controversial, so there is some debate over whether this option is any better than landfilling. But the pros and cons of WTE are for another post.

All images courtesy of hubpages.com

 

Follow up…

Now there’s a company that has a reusable eco-friendly alternative that will fit your Keurig brewer and save you money.
javajig Replacement Filter for K-Cup and Premium Coffee


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Oct
9

Recycling Creates Jobs in Delaware

At Tips for Recycling we’ve been big fans of ReCommunity since attending the grand opening of the Southfield, Michigan, facility. ReCommunity partners with local governments to provide the most advanced technology in materials reclamation, which in turn helps those communities develop robust recycling programs.

We have long promoted recycling as a way to create jobs, and ReCommunity is proving that philosophy with the opening of their new facility in Delaware. Their 20 year contract with the state will immediately create 35 new jobs. That may not sound like much, but those jobs will have ripple effects throughout the community.

Delaware opens state-of-the-art recycling facility (via NewsWorks)

August 29, 2013 By Nichelle Polston, @nichellepolston If Delaware could get a thumbs up for adding more jobs to the local economy, then it would get a green thumb!  ReCommunity, one of the largest recycling companies in the U.S. will join the Delaware…

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packaging_home_imageOne of the biggest obstacles we face in reducing trash in the U.S. is waste packaging. The concept behind extended producer responsibility, or EPR, is that if manufacturers are made responsible for the end-lives of their commodities they will design those products more responsibly and with less waste.

EPR is popular in other countries. Notably, Europe has made it a law. But it has been slow to catch on in the U.S. Many lawmakers fear that EPR policies will stifle the manufacturing sector, thereby hurting the economy. Furthermore, American’s are avid consumers of disposable, single-use convenience items, and we show no sign of stemming that appetite. As long as there is a market for these products manufacturers will continue to make them.

There are some very visible examples of EPR in the U.S. Examples include bottle bills, automotive battery core deposits and electronic buy-back laws. There is ample evidence that these policies result in far greater reclamation numbers in states where they exist. For instance, beverage container recovery rates in the 11 bottle bill states are 2.5 times higher than in the other 40 states*.

Despite evidence of this type many remain skeptical that EPR is effective…or at least cost-effective. To that end, Recycling Reinvented is launching a study to evaluate the cost-benefit ratio of EPR on product packaging and printed paper. While most of us in the recycling industry support EPR, there are few U.S. based scientific research studies to back up its effectiveness. I, for one, eagerly anticipate the results.

*http://www.bottlebill.org/about/benefits/waste-facts.htm 

 

Recycling Reinvented Announces Rigorous Cost-Benefit Study on Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Printed Paper (via MarketWire)

SOURCE: Recycling Reinvented March 19, 2013 09:24 ET Study Will Provide Objective Analysis of EPR Model ST PAUL, MN–(Marketwire – Mar 19, 2013) – Recycling Reinvented announced today it has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis study to provide stakeholders with a data-driven, fact-based appraisal…


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Mar
4

How to Recycle Electric Car Batteries

Electric and Hybrid vehicles are one way to help reduce our carbon footprint, but there are valid concerns about what happens to electric car batteries when they reach the end of their useful life. Honda shows us how to recycle electric car batteries and hybrid batteries.

Honda Recycling Rare Earth Materials From Used EV Batteries (via Clean Technica)

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more important to the future of a green planet Earth, with production and sales increasing

worldwide. Vehicle manufacturers the world over are making electric vehicles and electric vehicle hybrids a priority, and adjunct companies focusing on recharging and distance…


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When we consider recycling plastic bottles our imaginations tend to stop at recycling them once. But MicroGREEN, Inc. recycles them again, and again, and again!

IncycleMicroGREEN, Inc. is the technology and process behind InCycle cups, the first completely recyclable one-use coffee cups on the market. One 20 oz. plastic bottle can be turned into 7 12 oz. coffee cups. The best part is that the process doesn’t change the properties of the PET plastic used in the bottle, so those 7 coffee cups are recycled into 7 more coffee cups. Nothing is lost!

This innovative process closes the loop on plastic recycling. This is a huge step towards zero waste. Developing this type of process for other recyclables, and making the end-products cost-effective and marketable, could truly close the loop on the waste process. We buy products, we recycle those products, and we buy the new products made from the recycled material, and we recycle them again! It sounds so simple. So why aren’t we doing it?

For one thing, products made from recycled materials are often more costly than products made from virgin materials. Many consumers on a budget will have their environmental conscience overridden by their need to provide for their basic needs. There have also been many ‘green’ products on the market that haven’t performed as well as their non-recycled counterparts. Consider the first recycled tissue papers that came on the market.

As technology advances and processes improve, these concerns are diminishing. That leaves culture and perception as the overriding obstacles to a zero waste future.  Dr. Krishna Nadella, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of MicroGREEN, Inc., has some interesting perspectives to share on this subject. In this video he explains the process behind InCycle cups, and touches on some of the cultural factors that influence our waste habits in the United States.

 

 

*InCycle cups are available at Amazon.com. Click the Recycled Products link in the column to the right of this post and search “InCycle”.


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