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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Remember: If it was easy, it would already be done!

single-stream recycling
delivered to MRF for separation
Within Elemental Impact's (Ei) Recycling Refinement platform a Total Materials Management Approach (TMMA) - evaluating the entire waste | recycling stream as one revenue / cost center - is used. The stated objective is true zero waste with a strong focus on ultimate material destination and the remaining "trash" within the stream. Materials with solid end markets (e.g. aluminum, mixed paper, certain plastics) subsidize more challenging streams generated in operations.
Until recently zero waste measurement was quantified as diversion rates from the landfill without final destination consideration. Known for high levels of contamination, single-stream recycling - often the only recycling option available for the corporate community - results in a high percentage of recyclable items landfill destined. Thus, “true recycling rates” are frequently inflated with single-stream recycling programs.
Note effective single-stream MRF – material recovery facilities – separation is limited by the contamination in the delivered material. Published reports substantiate curbside single-recycling programs often contain significant contaminates, which may then pollute the corporate recycling delivered to the MRF.

First source-separated aluminum
bale at Georgia Dome
In September 2013, the ZWA Blog article, If it was easy, it would already be done, announced the  plastic film recycling template that segued into the Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template (S-SMRT). With the Georgia Dome | Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), the Sustainable Food Court Initiative - Event Pilot, stepping forward as the template Lead Pioneer, Atlanta was designated for the city-wide S-SMRT pilot. 

S-SMRT targets moderate material generators whose current recycling option is single-stream recycling. 

In simplistic terms, S-SMRT encompasses the TTMA with the following steps:
  • Generators source-separate material on-site and compact into mini bales.
  • Hauler collects bales for transport to the recycling center.
  • Recycling center associates track material received by type | generator, re-bale into standard sized bales, and store in a tractor trailer by material type until full.
  • Hauler sells material directly to a manufacturing | recycling end destination and pays rebates to generators based on their respective percentage of the load sold.
  • Ei oversees the system to ensure the entire value chain makes a reasonable profit.
Financial template success is grounded in two factors: CLEAN MATERIAL & VOLUME. The template tagline is:

Contamination is a Mistake!

The ZWA Blog article, Total Materials Management Approach, gives an in-depth overview of the approach along with a S-SMRT update as of the early December publication. 

Andrew Lantz loading
bales onto box truck
On December 17 the S-SMRT team arrived at the Ga Dome loading dock with an empty box truck to collect the baled aluminum and plastic PET bottles generated during the 2014 Falcons Season. Destination: the Atlanta Penitentiary, the S-SMRT recycling center, to re-bale the material into standard-sized bales.

The trial run was seamless as the UNICOR - federal prison system employment arm - managers along with inmates greeted the team with enthusiasm. Pallets were weighed empty and then weighed again loaded with material bales; several individual mini-bales were weighed to estimate an average. Next the material was transported for compaction into standard-sized bales.

At the trial, the only significant challenge was the Penitentiary baler produced a loosely compacted aluminum bale that lost bottles as moved and was approximately 50 pounds underweight. Compaction issues are easily remedied via: 1> adjusting the machine compaction setting, 2> repairing the machine or final remedy 3> purchasing a new machine. It was rewarding to know the main challenge was one with an easy solution.

loosely compacted first standard
sized bale 
Other template challenges include shifts in Ei Partner staff and | or business model. Beyond Ei Partner associates flowing with empowering career choices, the designated hauler shifted their business model and will no longer serve at the template's core. Though a shock, the simplistic genius of S-SMRT is the hauler role merely requires a box truck, qualified drivers and a relationship grounded in trust with hauler management.

At the Georgia Dome, labor sources and division of time to source-separate material proved a challenge during the first pilot year. Though frustrating, the entire S-SMRT Team is committed to long-term success. Pioneers know immediate disappointments are necessary to create a flexible foundation built to endure many renditions while evolving into a proven format.

Tim shows the tremendous
mixed paper volume potential
In the first year, source-separation was limited to aluminum and PET plastic bottles. Next year the intent is to add the significant amount of mixed paper from event programs, marketing material and other sources. In addition, GWCC director of sustainability Tim Trefzer intends to explore including GWCC convention and event material in the source-separation process. As the nation's fourth largest convention center, evolving material management practices is a monumental task, one with significant impact.

By the Atlanta Falcons 2015 Season at the Georgia Dome the goal is to recruit additional Lead Pioneers within the downtown convention district. Route density is key for the hauler's financial success. 

The Ei FB album, Source-Separated Materials Recycling Template, building a city-wide network, is a pictorial recap of the template from its plastic film recycling inception to current work-in-progress.

Simplicity is the common thread throughout the S-SMRT. New operating practices are low tech in nature with a mini-baler in general the only necessary purchase. Additional labor is required to source-separate and bale material on-site; thus, "green jobs" are created with the overall bottom line improved - a multiple win!

Though simple, the S-SMRT is NOT easy. Yet Remember: If it was easy, it would already be done!