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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Recycling Refinement: moving beyond landfill diversion

Elemental Impact is committed to creating operating practices where integrity is maintained throughout the entire value chain, including material producers, users and destinations at disposal time. Diverting valuable material from landfills and back into the production process is the core of Ei’s foundation and expertise.

As the Zero Waste Zones steward, Ei served as a “zero waste cheerleader” educating the commercial consumer on the important role recycling plays in best business practices. Beyond environmental concerns, recycling programs often are profit centers, especially for larger generators, improve employee morale and are expected by customers.

With the late 2012 National Restaurant Association ZWZ purchase, Ei evolved from a cheerleader to working with zero waste veterans on refining recycling practices. The ZWA Blog post, National Restaurant Association Acquires the Zero Waste Zones, announces the program purchase.

In the early years, zero waste measurement was in diversion rates from the landfill without consideration of the final destination. Single-stream recycling, common as the only recycling service available, results in material contamination and a high percentage of the stream landfill destined. Note effective single-stream MRF – material recovery facilities – separation is limited by the contamination within the delivered material.

Ei Strategic Ally Container Recycling Institute's 2009 Understanding Economic and Environmental Impacts of Single-Stream Collection Systems white paper documents how single-stream systems achieve their goal of increasing "diversion rates" yet result in decreased actual recycling due to contamination. The ZWA Blog post, Single-Stream Recycling: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, summarizes a 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency webinar on single-stream recycling challenges and fallacies. 

In the ZWA Blog post, Beyond Landfill Diversion, material destinations are further explored to ensure long-term integrity is maintained as new recycling systems are developed. As documented in the ZWA Blog post, The Perpetual Spiral, extending a material's end of life is not recycling and is only one step away from landfill destination. An example of extending life, versus recycling, is sending waxed cardboard - not recyclable nor compostable - to "fire log" manufacturing.  Without diving into the possible toxins involved in manufacturing and burning the logs, the use gives a false sense of environmental stewardship.

At the core of Ei's Recycling Refinement platform is moving beyond a landfill diversion focus to maximizing material value. The entire supply chain must work in unison to create systems grounded in solid business sense and bottom line improvement. The ZWA Blog post, Supply Chains Critical Role to Zero Waste Success, discusses how zero waste pioneers work closely with their suppliers to ensure packaging and other product components are returnable, reusable and | or recyclable.

simple, on-site mini MRF
Intertwined within Recycling Refinement is Recycling Integrity - maintaining maximum material value with minimum energy expended. With an emphasis on source-separation at the material generation site, Recycling Integrity demands organizations understand the final destination, including the journey along the way, of by-products inherent within their operations. A common industry by-product is transport packaging. 

The ZWA Blog post, Source-Separation Key for Maximum Recycling PROFITS, highlights several industry leaders who created impressive recycling profit centers via their on-site mini MRFs.

Working with industry pioneers, the Ei Team is refining existing recycling programs to source-separate material at the generation point and sell it as a raw material to manufacturing operations. Plastic film is an easy win in Recycling Refinement; the valuable material is considered a contaminant in single-stream recycling programs and is in general landfill-destined. Decreased tipping fees coupled with rebate revenue from clean, baled plastic film show promise to cover the additional equipment and labor cost to bale plastic film on-site.

plastic film in mini baler @
SFCI - Shopping Mall Pilot
Concord Mills
An Atlanta Ei Team is developing a city-wide plastic film recycling template designed for duplication across the nation. In addition to assisting the industry pioneers with on-site plastic film baling, the Ei Team is creating local infrastructure and markets. Once the plastic film recycling template is built, the infrastructure is destined to expand to other materials with minimal time and resource investment. The ZWA Blog post, If it was easy, it would already be done!, announces the Atlanta city-wide plastic film recycling template pilot.

Recycling Refinement is an exciting frontier with promise to create systems where the entire value chain benefits along with the community and the environment. Stay tuned for more tales along the RR journey ...

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