Materials Management - A Year in Review

International Waste Crises

If you heard about “China’s Green Sword” lately, that is a reference to the campaign against contaminated bales of materials that are imported to China from various countries with single-stream (aka zero-sort) recycling. A policy is under review of the World Trade Organization that would significantly reduce imports of many solid waste materials such as plastics and paper. According to Waste360, “China took in roughly 25 percent of US recycled paper exports in 2016 and anywhere between 20 percent and 33 percent of recycled plastic, depending on the type of plastic.”

Already, expectations of costs rising have influenced what recycling facilities can sell materials for. With such a large portion of the market predicted to be rejected, the bales of materials are in surplus and will only sell for very cheap prices. In some cases, the transportation costs are higher than the value of the bales, which results in inadequate disposal of recyclables in the landfill. In turn, recycling facilities must raise the cost of collecting the recyclables. In Vermont, recyclables are required to be free to dispose of by residents, so that cost falls on the towns and solid waste management entities that pay for the removal of recyclables. Businesses that pay for their own recyclables to be hauled away may see an increase in that cost as well.

The main purpose in creating this ban is to reduce the amount of poor-quality materials that contaminate bales from going into landfills in China. They also plan to increase their own recycling rates, since only 2-3 percent of waste is recycled in China. The best way to avoid trashing all these recyclables is to decrease excessive consumption and poor material management on the production of goods. Then by  increasing sorting and recycling in the United States, there will be a more efficient closed-loop economy.

Meanwhile, hurricanes that caused loads of destruction to islands in the Carribbean Sea have created a need for more areas to dispose of all the damaged materials. In Puerto Rico, soccer fields are being turned into landfills because the official landfills are backed up from all the trucks removing items from all over the islands. Wood from trees, homes and other infrastructure, along with trash is all being packed into the same place and covered up, since there is an estimated 6.2 million cubic yards of debris. As if losing power wasn’t enough, now they must lose the space to play a sport that so many rely on for expression and exercise. While there is monetary aid being sent from the U.S. government, it will take much more to restore the infrastructure and help the island residents thrive.

Vermont Waste Reduction Initiatives

While there may be some international setbacks to materials management, Vermont is constantly moving forward to help conserve resources and turn “waste” into useful products. Earlier this year, there was a bill introduced to the Vermont General Assembly that would ban the provision of single-use carryout bags at stores. Instead, stores will be able to offer reusable or compostable bags at a cost. This bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife, and reviewed with testimonials four times in 2017. If passed during the upcoming legislative session, the ban would go into effect on July 1, 2018.

This year also marked a milestone for Act 148, the Universal Recycling Law that was passed in 2012. On July 1, 2017, all transfer stations in Vermont were required to begin collecting food scraps from residents. In Rutland County, most transfer stations have absorbed the cost and began offering food scrap collection for free. Some transfer stations, such as the Rutland Regional Transfer Station, have a minimal charge of $0.20 cents per gallon. The scraps are delivered to a compost facility near Bennington, or an anaerobic digester in Bridport, VT, depending on which hauler collects from the transfer station. Residents have been using this service, and it is still gaining momentum with the amounts of food being recycled. On July 1, 2018, the requirement is that all trash and recycling haulers will also collect food scraps from residents. This is up for debate within the legislation, so ask your hauler if they will collect food scraps next summer.

While some materials are still going to the landfill, there’s a lot we can all do personally to reduce the strain on our resources and promote efficiency in this industry. You can stay up to date by visiting the Rutland County Solid Waste District website or contacting us at (802) 775-7209. Have some happy holidays and a wonderful new year!
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