Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Those Oddball Plastics

Most of us faithfully sort our number 1 and 2 plastic bottles and put them in the correct container at the local recycling drop-off. But in the process, we wonder about those other plastics we have to throw in the trash. You know, things like foam cups, yogurt cups (number 5), and number 2 butter tubs. What about the number 3-7 plastics; can we recycle them? The definitive answer is yes…and no. The whole situation is confusing because different places accept different combinations of plastics, often with restrictions.

You may have a single stream subscription where a hauler gives you a big tub, and you fill it with all kinds of materials, including 3-7 plastics. Most of this goes to the Lycoming County Resource Management Services in Montgomery, where they have a system for processing single stream.

The Selinsgrove drop-off has a container for 3-7 plastics, which are taken to Lycoming County. However, only Selinsgrove residents can use the drop-off because they pay a $12-per-quarter fee for recycling. Our other five drop-offs only take 1 and 2 plastics, meaning mostly bottles. We’re looking at putting in a container for 3-7 plastics at one of our other drop-offs, but the market for them is down, so we’re waiting for prices to rebound before we proceed with it. Lycoming County currently stockpiles bales of it because they can’t find a market for it.

To say drop-offs and processing systems take 3-7 plastics is actually a misnomer. They can’t take number 6 polystyrene (foam) because it’s too light and blows around on the conveyors that handle it; you can take that to HandUp Foundation in Milton because they have a system for melting it down into bricks. They can’t take number 3 LDPE because plastic bags get caught in the shafts in single stream conveyors. They can’t take number 4 vinyl because it’s usually too big, like a long piece of siding or window shutter. While you may be able to put these materials in a container, the single stream processing system will have to pick them out for landfilling. In the end, 3-7 actually boils down to number 5 (polypropylene) and 7 (other).

On the good side, these systems do take non-bottle number 1s such as food containers and number 2s such as butter tubs (as an exception, don’t include black PETE food containers such as clamshells). Even though these are made from the same PETE and HDPE materials as bottles, they use a different molding process that changes the materials’ characteristics, so the same recycling process won’t work on it. However, single stream has more flexibility to handle different materials because it relies heavily on photo sensors, which can be trained to sense many materials by shape and size.

The issues with plastics came to light recently when an article in the Daily Item told how the Sunbury Transfer Station temporarily gave up accepting 1 and 2 plastics because they couldn’t find anybody to take them cost effectively. They recently reached a deal with Trigon Plastics in Newmanstown to take 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics. Trigon is a unique entity that makes plastic lumber, which they in turn use to manufacture plastic furniture. They set up a recycling facility to collect plastics, and they pull out natural-colored HDPE to use for making lumber and bale and sell the rest on the open market.

With this in place, Snyder County residents can now take their 1, 2, 5, and 7 plastics across the river to Sunbury. Just pay 75 cents to raise the arm to let you in. So at least we do have some options, and hopefully, we’ll have more in the future.

See how well you know your plastics. Here’s the numbering system:
1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE; soda bottles)
2 – High-density polyethylene (HDPE; milk jugs, detergent bottles)
3 – Polyvinyl chloride (PVC; pipe, siding)
4 – Low-density polyethylene (LDPE; plastic bags)
5 – Polypropylene (PP; yogurt cups)
6 – Polystyrene (Styrofoam; coffee cups)
7 – Other

Notice: The authority is looking for a volunteer to fill an opening on its board. Join a good cause in advancing recycling in Snyder County. Contact Tom Gibson at tgibson@snydercounty.org or 570-374-6889, ext. 115.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Cartons Take Their Place in Recycling

If you’ve spent any time in a grocery store, you know about cartons and see them all the time. The ubiquitous boxy containers are used for myriad types of juice, milk, broth and other beverages and foods. Yet, when it comes to recycling, they take a back seat to the more prominent materials such as plastics, paper, cardboard, and metal cans.

But that’s changing, thanks largely to the Carton Council, a trade group of carton packaging manufacturers who have united to grow carton recycling in the United States.

Why do we even need cartons if we have all kinds of plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and bimetal cans available? With an average of 94 percent product and only 6 percent packaging, cartons use the least amount of material. Their composite structure of plastic and paper gives them a high strength-to-weight ratio. That means they require less energy to transport.

Cartons come in two types: shelf-stable (or aseptic) and refrigerated (gable-top). Shelf-stable ones are for products such as fruit juice, soy milk, soup, broth and wine found on the shelves in grocery stores. Refrigerated cartons are for products such as milk, orange juice, cream, and egg substitutes found in the refrigerated section. Both types are made from paper with thin layers of polyethylene plastic, and shelf-stable cartons contain a layer of aluminum as well.

Actually, a typical carton consists of five layers. The innermost is polyethylene to form a liquid barrier, and then comes aluminum for light, odor, and oxygen protection. The middle layer is another polyethylene coating, and then you have paperboard for stability. The outer layer is another polyethylene coating for a liquid barrier. A typical shelf-stable carton averages 74 percent paper, 22 percent plastic, and 4 percent aluminum. The refrigerated cartons usually consist of 80 percent paper and 20 percent plastic. You may see other products that look like cartons because they have a wax coating, such as ice cream and take-out containers, but these are not included in the definition of cartons.

Unfortunately, we don’t take cartons at our recycling drop-offs in Snyder County. But you can put them in single-stream recycling if you subscribe or otherwise have access to it. Hometown Disposal and Waste Management are two haulers that offer it in our area. Single-stream materials go to Lycoming County Resource Management Services, just like our other recycled materials.

To prepare a carton for recycling, first make sure it’s empty; there’s no need to rinse it. Don’t flatten your carton; optical sorters used at material recovery facilities sense 3D shapes better than flat ones. And place the cap securely on the carton if you still have it.

At the materials recovery facility, cartons get separated from other materials, and from there, they get shipped to paper mills. Here they are mixed with water in a giant blender called a hydra-pulper to separate the paper from the plastic and aluminum. Once this is complete, the paper fiber is transformed into products such as tissues, office paper, and even building materials like ceiling and roofing tiles. The plastic is often used to make shipping crates and building materials. (The ultimate question: Why not more cartons?).

However, the plastic is sometimes left combined with the aluminum to create a material called a poly/al mix. Some mills use the material for generating energy, while others sell it to plastic manufacturers that use it to make plastic lumber. In some cases, the material ends up in a landfill.

For building materials, the whole carton can be used, and the carton’s plastic becomes the binder that holds the boards together. Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, The ReWall Company is a manufacturing company that converts plastic coated paper waste into what they label “healthy, high performance green building materials through a low energy, eco-friendly recycling technology.”

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Recycling Better Than Landfilling

Note: This ran on the editorial page of the Daily Item newspaper in January, 2018

In his two 12/18/17 articles on solid waste disposal and recycling in the valley, Joe Sylvester painted a revealing picture of what happens to our trash. He told how most of it goes to the Wayne Township Landfill in Clinton County or the Lycoming County landfill in Allenwood. Many folks in Sunbury and Northumberland, Union, and Snyder counties take their trash to the Sunbury Transfer Station, which then conveys it to the Clinton County landfill and also has extensive recycling operations. Sylvester goes on to say that the statewide recycling program has kept a lot of paper, plastics, glass and metal out of the ground, reducing the amount of trash going into landfills. But while I commend this effort to shed light on our solid waste and recycling situation, as a recycling advocate, I’d like to clarify and expand on a few things.

The article says Sunbury’s transfer station trash business breaks about even each year, while recycling is projected to show a $50,000 loss this year, citing the fact that the market for recyclables has been down. The article also says that both landfills have ample room for future expansion, with the Wayne Township Landfill having 23 years of additional disposal capacity. These two facts would lead you to believe it’s acceptable to landfill our materials rather than recycle them. We beg to differ and feel recycling is always the preferred option, for several reasons.

Indeed, the markets for recycled materials have been down for awhile, making it difficult to make a profit or break even on them. We look at recycling as a glass-half-full scenario; when markets are good, you make money, and when they’re down, it becomes a utility that you pay for, like sewer, trash, or electric power. The problem is, it’s hard to charge residents for recycling like municipalities do for other utilities, making it difficult to generate revenue. Recycling gets treated like the proverbial step child when it comes to economic analysis, as not all the costs and externalities are accounted for to create a level playing field.

As perhaps the main argument, recycling saves huge amounts of energy, water, and virgin resources over landfilling materials. As the prime example, recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to produce virgin aluminum. Even at the low end of the spectrum, recycling glass saves 20 percent.

In addition, recycling reduces landfill space required, and this is significant because landfills are complex and costly. Thinking long term, we’re running out of land as our population grows; 23 years of landfill space is not much in the overall sustainability equation (think seven generations).

A look at the status of recycling in this country shows that we have a lot of work to do. The overall U.S. recycling rate has been stuck at around 34 percent for the past decade, and it has actually dropped slightly the last year or two.

In Snyder County, we have a network of six recycling drop-offs spaced so most county residents have easy access to one. Two boroughs, Selinsgrove and Shamokin Dam, offer curbside pickup. Materials are source separated, meaning residents sort them by hand at home before they bring them to a drop-off. Some residents subscribe to a single-stream service, where you just throw all the materials into one container. Surrounding counties have similar setups.

The article said that in 2016, Snyder County recycled 1,748 tons of materials. By our numbers, we actually recycled 4,961 tons, including 803 tons of single stream, 182 tons of glass, 3042 tons of paper and cardboard, 158 tons of plastics, and 776 tons of metals (mainly bimetal cans). The difference stems from the fact that much of it comes from big-box stores and other industries along the Shamokin Dam strip recycling cardboard, which doesn’t go through Lycoming County.

The article also says Snyder County pays Lycoming County to pick up the materials from our drop-offs, currently $130 per container. While the county pays a large portion of it, the six individual municipalities that host our drop-offs pay many of the expenses incurred. Kudos to them for keeping our recycling operations flowing … and that much material out of landfills.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator

Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority

Monday, February 19, 2018

It's All in the Percentages

Quick, what material do you think has the high recycling rate in the United States? Aluminum cans? Newspaper? Cardboard? You’ll never guess. A report in Waste Advantage magazine says a study recently released finds that lead batteries, the type used to start our cars and myriad other vehicles, have a recycling rate of 99.3 percent, making them the top recycled consumer product. The report attributes this to industry investment in a state-of-the-art closed-loop collection and recycling system.
This report comes in the form of the National Recycling Rate Study released in conjunction with America Recycles Day in November by Essential Energy Everyday and Battery Council International. It goes on to say that on average, a new lead battery consists of more than 80 percent recycled material. Every part of the battery, from lead and plastic to sulfuric acid, gets used in manufacturing new batteries. This reduces the need for new lead mining, reduces waste, and helps keep lead out of landfills.
With the recycling rate for lead batteries so high, you have to wonder what the rates are for other recycled materials. EPA figures for 2014 have newspapers coming in at 63 percent, aluminum cans 55.1 percent, tires 40.5 percent, glass containers 32.5 percent, and PET bottles 32.2 percent.
Going a step further, the overall U.S. recycling rate has been stuck at around 34 percent for the past decade, and it has actually dropped slightly the last year or two. A good New Years resolution would be to get our recycling numbers up across the board, as we have ample room for improvement.
Immersed in the Christmas and New Year holidays, we have plenty of opportunities to recycle before the new year starts. You can also practice several of the other Rs, such as reducing and reusing. Consider reusing wrapping paper saved from last year and saving it for next year. I like to use newspaper for large packages, with a bow on top to add color. When wrapping paper has reached the end of its useful life, you can put it, along with Christmas cards, in the paper and cardboard container at one of our recycling drop-offs. With online shopping so prevalent, we see more cardboard boxes for shipping merchandise. These can be reused or recycled at a drop-off. We get occasional calls about how to recycle Christmas tree lights that don’t work anymore; scrap yards generally take them. As for your Christmas tree, consider composting it, as this would not only enrich the soil but also create habitat for critters (this works under water as well as on the ground). If that’s not an option, perhaps your municipality has a day for curbside pickup; they’ll grind them for mulch. And one of the most prodigious holiday materials to deal with may be leftover food. Consider donating it to a food bank or composting it.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Recent Events a Big Success

In October, we staged our two annual recycling events for collecting hard-to-recycle items such as electronic devices, refrigerators, books, and clothes. The first came at the Monroe Township shed and the other at the Rescue Hose Company in Beavertown. Both were well attended, as evidenced by the fact 544 cars came through the events, often waiting in line.

We took in two trailers worth of electronics at each event, and HandUp Foundation collected four truckloads of stuff. This amounted to 32.7 tons of electronics – that’s a lot of TVs and computers. HandUp counted 42 air conditioners, 51 microwave ovens, 25 boxes of books, 5 dishwashers, and 1 truck full of scrap metal they took in.

If you attended the Beavertown event, you noticed we held it in the parking lot behind the fire department instead of the grassy carnival grounds as in past years. This was because the ground was wet from recent rains, making it slippery. We could operate a forklift efficiently on the paved parking lot, and this helped tremendously in loading electronics into trailers (not to mention avoiding the aggravation of getting it stuck in wet grass).

At both events, you may have gotten a glimpse of what’s involved in loading electronics into trailers. In past years, Unicor provided its own prison labor and all the materials for doing this, so we didn’t have to worry about it. This year, we had to provide our own labor in addition to pallets, Gaylord boxes, and shrink wrap. At Beavertown especially, an army of experienced volunteers worked like beavers in loading big TVs onto pallets and then wrapping shrink wrap around them so we could stack them high and keep them in place. Smaller items such as computer towers, keyboards, and laptops went into Gaylord boxes on pallets. Then a forklift hoisted the pallet loads into the trailer, and a person in the trailer moved them around with a floor jack. Keeping everything on pallets helps to automate the operation and makes it more manageable and faster to load and then unload materials.

Many partners throughout the county helped us with the events, and we want to give them a big thanks:
Monroe Township – Provided one of the sites and helped load electronics into trailers with their forklift
Rescue Hose Company – Provided the site in Beavertown
HandUp Foundation in Milton – Collected refrigerators, scrap metal, clothes, and books
Unicor in Minersville – Processed the electronics collected
Weis Markets – Loaned pallets for loading electronics into trailers
Coles Hardware - Loaned pallets and a floor jack for loading electronics into trailers
Wood-Mode in Kreamer - Loaned pallets and shrink wrap for loading electronics into trailers
Conestoga Wood Specialties in Beavertown - Loaned pallets, shrink wrap, and a floor jack for loading electronics into trailers
Beavertown Public Library – Collected books they sell for their fundraiser
Superservice Garage in Beavertown – Loaned a forklift for loading electronics into trailers at Beavertown
TTC Rentals in Middleburg – Rented tents for both events
Watsontown Trucking in Milton – Rented trucks for hauling electronics to Unicor in Minersville
Snyder County Community Services – Provided laborers

And we want to thanks all the residents who brought in items to recycle. By doing this, you’re doing the right thing and keeping them out of illegal dumps.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Grass Roots Battery Recycling

Source for battery recycling
In recent columns, we’ve discussed the challenges of recycling hard-to-recycle items such as electronic devices and alkaline batteries. In doing this, we typically speak in terms of the major players involved. But often in the recycling world, things happen at more of a grassroots level.

I was in a meeting in Lewisburg talking about recycling recently when the issue of recycling non-rechargeable batteries came up. Sam Pearson, president of the Lewisburg Neighborhoods Corporation and a community activist, mentioned that Mondragon Books (mondragonbooks.com), a used book store on Market Street in Lewisburg, has a box where you can deposit batteries for recycling. Turns out, they use Big Green Box, a company in Lancaster, Ohio that recycles several types of batteries and small electronic devices such as cell phones (www.BigGreenBox.com). This is a win-win, as you can shop for a used book and reuse it after you recycle your batteries.

You go online to purchase a Big Green Box, and they ship it to your home, office, or business.
The box comes with a set of plastic bags. As batteries and other electronic devices are spent, you place them individually in a bag and set them inside the box (bags prevent unintentional discharges or short circuits). Once your Big Green Box is full, drop it off at your local FedEx location or call FedEx to have your box picked up from your home or business, free of charge.
According to their website, alkaline batteries returned in the Big Green Box are sent to Retriev Technologies in Lancaster, Ohio. Here they are shredded to separate the steel casing from the zinc and manganese active materials. The recovered steel is sent to a mill for reuse in new steel products. The recovered zinc and manganese is processed through Retriev's patented hydrometallurgical process, which produces high-grade zinc and manganese products that can be used in many new products. The manganese is also used to make new alkaline batteries.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Recycling events coming up and Weis recycling efforts

Recycling events coming up

Back in the March column, we talked about the recycling events we normally have in May where we take in hard-to-recycle items like refrigerators, electronic devices, clothes, and books. We told how we were going to have to postpone them this year because of the situation with electronics. Our usual vendor for that, Unicor, was moving from the Lewisburg Penitentiary to Minersville, and things were up in the air.

Well, I’m glad to report that Unicor has resumed operations in Minersville and has agreed to handle our electronic devices. With that in mind, we have scheduled our recycling events for October 6 and 7 at the Monroe Township shed and October 13 and 14 at the carnival grounds in Beavertown. We will charge $5 for every vehicle or person/group coming in to recycle electronic devices and, like last year, $10 for every electronic device with a cathode ray tube (CRT) in it. This includes old TVs and computer monitors with the bulbous tubes in them. The $5 charge is to cover transportation costs for shipping the electronics to Unicor in Minersville, and the $10 fee covers what Unicor charges us to process CRT devices. There will be no charge for bringing in refrigeration devices, clothes, or books.

Weis recycling efforts

The folks at Weis Markets recently invited us in for a presentation on their sustainability efforts. We started at their headquarters in Sunbury and then stepped out for a tour of their store on Route 522 in Selinsgrove. It was good to hear that a major component of their efforts come in the form of recycling. In 2015, they recycled more than 33,850 tons of materials, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2014. This included corrugated cardboard, mixed office paper, and plastic bags, among other things. They have recently added rigid plastics, batteries, and cooking oil to their list of recyclables, which now includes more than 20 commodities. Plastic bags are recycled into various items such as lumber, playground equipment, patio decking, and park benches. Weis sells spring water in bottles made of 100 percent recycled PET plastic. Waxed corrugated cardboard goes to Enviro-Log, which turns it into fireplace logs that Weis sells.

But perhaps the most interesting display of recycling came at the Selinsgrove store, where Weis has a tank for storing food waste such as leftovers from the salad bar. A company they contract with comes by and unloads the contents and ships them to an anaerobic digestion plant in Lancaster where they are turned into energy.

It’s good to see a local corporate citizen committing to reduce its carbon footprint…and using recycling extensively to do it.

Tom Gibson
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority
570-374-6889, x-115