Monday, January 30, 2012


A question has always perturbed me for the past twenty plus years: how much of that recyclable stuff we’ve saved & selected to get picked up by the green Waste Management trucks actually gets recycled, how much just ends up in the same landfills as the rest of the trash?  Our local paper just had an article, “Filling the void,” which discussed diminished drop-off bins & curbside pickup for recyclables, and cited the 1100 tons of recyclable material collected at Smith Creek Landfill in one recent year, but no mention of how much found a way to get re-used, how much was [after its local-government-paid ride in a recycle truck] dumped back in a landfill.  Nor was there a total for all recyclables, including curbside, collected in the county, and what tonnage was really recycled.  These figures are not easily obtainable.  [See references below]
1-21-12 Times Herald article--"Filling the void"--photo by Mark Rummel

Deciding to do some research, I started with whether we could throw green glass, as per wine bottles, in our curbside bin for effective recycle.  The photo in the Times Herald article showed a stationary collection bin with the port---GLASS, clear, windowpane—as the only labeled glass option.  Yet a county recycle webpage states---GLASS, clear, color, windowpane.  The Port Huron city public works office referred questions to Waste Management here in the county.  Their receptionist was friendly, and said she believed any clear and colored glass could be sent {not much is truly opaque}, and that she puts her wine bottles in the curbside tub, but that the fate of glass and the rest of it was unknown.  All their recycle trucks [and with them the stationary large collection bins it can be assumed] don’t stop in St. Clair Co. but go straight through to Great Lakes Recycling in Roseville, MI {sold to national entity ReCommunity Recycling last fall}.  She referred me on to GLR.

The secretary at GLR informed me that glass prices have gone down, and so even though they have a single stream system that sorts metal plastics glass & paper etc., they too now punt the glass, all kinds, down the road to some place in Dearborn, and its recycled usability remains a clouded mystery to GLR also.  No phone number for the next step was readily available, so I gave up the search for now.  In perusing websites I did come across complicated patented processes for chemical extraction of the color from recycled glass, so this expense may be prohibitive now for wine bottles & other glass.

his quest was for a small bit of information, while the larger question of percent actually recycled from total tons collected by the recycle trucks, remains more deeply buried.  I assembled an overview.   The major components that are variably valuable --metal plastics glass & paper-- are trucked to Roseville which has a MRF, materials recovery facility [a huge sorting machine], separating each type of material out—a single stream [in] process.  That’s why all our different materials go into a single tub at curbside now.  A certain unknown percent of that selected out of the single stream is for resale & reused, and a certain percent is plain refuse--sent to a landfill.   Some may be dispatched on to a solid waste incinerator, as this is a common practice, and Detroit’s is the biggest in the country.  [Over half of what it burns is from outside Detroit.]  Almost every year there’s an attempt by Sierra Club and others to permanently shut it down, but this foul-fumed phoenix arises again each time, a controversial method to solve solid waste problems.
City of Warren's own trucks dump at GLR in Roseville, and get paid for the recycled material [costs vs income to Warren, ytd]---From 10 article, "Warren's curbside program exceeds expectations"  - macombdaily

There is much more to delve into, in this recycled waste business.  I ask reporters, city officials, Waste Management and ReCommunity Recycling engineers for some help in getting to the bottom of this Port Huron barrel.  Where o’ where do our green bin recyclables go?  Please be specific.  The system is obviously complex and the market for materials, shifting.  But are we getting what we pay for?  True recycling? 

In the end, recycling is costly.  Containers & packaging are the major forms of MSW [municipal solid waste].  Better to find reusable ways to carry things home from the marketplace.   And MSW is dwarfed by larger categories not part of MSW---industrial, construction, and hazardous wastes.  Best for society to not produce, what can’t be economically reused.
Chinese recycler

See this most recent annual report, State of Garbage in America, from BioCycle magazine, for good overview that includes actual landfill data.  Pay special attention to “final note” on p. 4 which explains how their figures differ from EPA’s.
For the EPA’s annual report.  = GEEP, Global Electric Electronic Processing, --- for your computers & cellphones etc.  Michigan has it at GLR.  How is it practically functioning?

For a positive local note on another aspect of recycling see:
12-6-11 “DTE Biomass Energy landfill gas project begins operation in US”—features our Smith Creek Landfill’s operation of one of the first commercial-scale septage injection landfill gas systems in the US, whereby material extracted from septic tanks is applied to the landfill to speed the decomposition of organic waste—and the gas used to generate enough electricity for 3000 homes, if project successful.

1 comment:

  1. really love those pictures.. i find them amazing.. good work..