Sponsored Post – from Texas Disposal Systems
Last month, the Waste360 Recycling Summit was held right here in Austin. Texas Disposal Systems (TDS) was a sponsor and presenter at the event, but we also were excited to attend the educational sessions. Topics included sustainable materials management, food waste organics and recycling education, among others. We learned a lot and enjoyed hearing about the great work happening in the resource management industry.
Here are some key learnings and trends we identified during the conference.
- Embracing the Circular Economy: Sustainability and recycling are sometimes used interchangeably. However, sustainability encompasses the entire spectrum of reducing environmental impact. What do recyclers need to think about when considering sustainability with respect to materials management? For one thing, our current processes follow a linear model concept of eradicating waste fueled by mega trends. The circular economy is a new system approach to keep resources in circulation as long as possible. Research indicates that the circular economy could generate $4.5 trillion of additional economic output by 2030. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center (CCC) and its partners prepared Trash to Treasure: Changing Waste Streams to Profits Streams to educate the private sector about the business value of circular economy opportunities.
- Food Waste Management: Food waste is increasingly the focus of attention for those who are seeking to increase their diversion. Without managing food waste, it is impossible to achieve the very highest diversion goals. As a result, mandates for food waste and organics diversion are becoming more common. In fact, effective this month, the City of Austin is implementing the next stage in its Universal Recycling Ordinance, which requires food permitted facilities to establish programs to divert organic material (e.g., wasted food, yard trimmings) from landfills. TDS, a compost service provider, is helping businesses comply by offering specialized bins for maintaining cleanliness of the business and assisting with the compilation of their yearly diversion plan. TDS is also providing signage and education in the form of flyers, handouts and some in-person training.
- Impact of the Evolving Ton: Many naysayers have said that recycling is stagnant in the U.S. However, landfill discards are actually the same as in 1980, despite a 40 percent increase in population. Industry experts have pointed to the shifting material mix as a primary factor in the “stagnant” U.S. recycling industry, a phenomenon called the evolving ton where increasingly lightweight, sometimes plastics-based packaging is replacing heavier, more easily recyclable paper and glass packaging. In other words, a ton of recyclables today is harder to amass than it was even a decade ago. And though research indicates that we’re recycling more than ever before, our way of measuring materials – weight vs. volume – masks this.
- Optimistic Outlook for Recycling: According to Darrel Clemmons, general manager of FCC Environmental Services, we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future of recycling in the U.S. He predicts that diversion rates will increase and more recyclables will be available in the coming years. Clemons also noted that U.S. manufacturers are improving their capabilities to use recycled materials so we’ll see higher demand for recyclables. As a result, more modern MRFs will be built and recyclables separation will become more cost-effective. In Austin, the TDS MRF processes an average of 25 tons of recyclables per hour and helps to divert approximately 70,000 tons of material from the landfill over the course of a year. TDS has even started recycling cars. Creating steel through the use of recycled materials from a car body uses 74 percent less energy than starting from scratch, and TDS is helping to contribute to conservation efforts by recycling nearly 80 percent of car bodies that are brought to the facility and are then able to be turned into car parts, tools and more.
- Education Critical to Improving Diversion: As recycling increases, one of the biggest challenges facing the waste and recycling industry is how best to educate customers. It’s important for customers to understand what can and can’t be recycled, which requires an integrated approach and effective communication. TDS understands the critical role providers play in this effort and partners with communities by teaching businesses, schools and even government entities how to recycle and compost to preserve resources.