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Recycling – An incomplete solution Part 2: Contamination

Recycling is not a sufficiently robust enough waste remediation strategy for today’s economy

I was working for a larger regional waste hauler. I did an audit of a route. There had been a miscommunication between departments. Sales thought, ops thought, drivers thought… you get the idea, SNAFU. So, I hit the road and observed the route. I had to observe what type of container (dumpster), what route was it on, what did the customer contract stipulate? These were the basics I was looking for. In short, I determined if internal problems caused a service issue, or was there a customer that caused an issue?

These seem like simple things. When you deliver a container that says, ‘single stream recycling’ on it, and the customer pays for cardboard service. Plastic bottles begin showing up in the bailed cardboard. No big deal at the MRF – material recovery facility.  When this occurs at paper mill, it is not good for business. This kind of contamination occurs all the time. Employees that just don’t care; bad boss

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

At a fried chicken shop here in Louisville there was a single cardboard container that was ALWAYS open. Typically, customers lock containers. Most cardboard customers have a payback agreement. They provide X volume a month and the waste company pays-back X price per ton. So to have a container open is not good. It invites contamination. Contamination means there is unusable material. The company fails to generate revenue from recyclable materials and the customer gets no payback.

I can’t say for certain, but it looked like an employee had taken an entire grease fryer and emptied the waste grease onto the cardboard. This is exactly the type of contamination that would get through the recovery process and into a paper manufactures system. It would ruin batches of paper.

Paper is like plastic, the material degrades slightly with each reuse. New material must be used to make new recycled paper. If grease gets into the mix, it is bad news. The entire SEMI-TRACTOR TRAILER load would be rejected once discovered. The entire load! Where does it go?

It goes to the landfill.

And here is where I would like to be more creative with the recovery of materials. A bail of greasy cardboard may not be able to become more cardboard. It could become growing medium for mushrooms. Cardboard can still be composted. Compost is frequently run through screens which would remove the tape after the paper is broken down. The majority of paper could be handled this way. Trash is primarily paper, sounds silly, sounds simple, sounds crazy. However, creating this robust system will be very difficult. It will take time and effort, money and sacrifice. It will take making people think about waste differently.

And that is the goal of this company: to create this solution.


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