Sin­gle stream re­cy­cling pos­ing prob­lems

The Citizens' Voice - - Local / Region / State - BY JON O’CON­NELL STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: jo­con­nell@timessham­rock.com; 570348-9131; @jon_oc on Twit­ter

Think twice be­fore toss­ing that yo­gurt cup in the blue bin.

It’s re­cy­clable, yes, but any goo left on the bot­tom is taint­ing a global in­dus­try.

In­dus­try ex­perts say sin­gle stream re­cy­cling, or mix­ing alu­minum, glass, pa­per and plas­tic in a sin­gle bin, is con­tam­i­nat­ing huge chunks of valu­able ma­te­rial.

“It’s sin­gu­larly the worst thing that ever hap­pened to the in­dus­try,” said David L. Kirt­land, pres­i­dent of Di­a­mond K Inc., a ma­jor pa­per re­cy­cler in Scran­ton. “Un­equiv­o­cally, it’s a ter­ri­ble move.”

Last spring, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional Sword 2017 pol­icy set tighter rules on what the world’s largest re­cy­clable ma­te­rial im­porter will ac­cept.

The pol­icy also sets a high bar for ma­te­rial clean­li­ness in an in­dus­try al­ready sub­ject to dra­matic price swings.

Kirt­land said in the time pe­riod around June to De­cem­ber last year, the price for some pa­per prod­ucts could rise and fall by $100 per ton in a month’s time.

“That’s not the norm, but it’s really a com­mod­ity busi­ness, and 49 per­cent sup­ply and 51 per­cent de­mand sends the price up,” he said.

His com­pany packs and ships 10,000 tons of pa­per and cardboard ev­ery month. His bro­ker­age com­pany, DK Trad­ing Cor­po­ra­tion Inc., buys and sells about 25,000 tons a month.

The prob­lem comes down to clean­li­ness.

With sin­gle stream, un­washed yo­gurt cups and beer cans get stirred in with high qual­ity white of­fice pa­per, one of the most valu­able of re­cy­clables, and ru­ins it.

“Do­mes­ti­cally, sin­gle stream, for all in­tents and pur­poses, is al­most ren­dered use­less be­cause there are so many con­tam­i­nants in the prod­ucts,” Kirt­land said.

In­dus­try ex­perts are at odds about whether the ben­e­fits of sin­gle stream out­weigh its harms.

Ad­vo­cates say it makes res­i­den­tial re­cy­cling eas­ier be­cause you need fewer con­tain­ers, said Beth DeNardi, Luzerne County’s re­cy­cling co­or­di­na­tor. It costs less for towns, es­pe­cially if they pay pub­lic works em­ploy­ees for curb­side pickup, she said.

“There’s a flip side to that — con­tam­i­na­tion,” she said. “If the ma­te­rial that’s col­lected is be­ing thrown out be­cause it’s too con­tam­i­nated, then it de­feats the whole pur­pose of do­ing sin­gle stream.”

It’s hard to com­pare one county to another, she said. Each town has a dif­fer­ent bud­get, pop­u­la­tion and re­quire­ments from the state.

Berit Case, the state De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion’s re­gional re­cy­cling co­or­di­na­tor, said all towns in Lack­awanna and Luzerne coun­ties un­der a manda­tory re­cy­cling rule are in com­pli­ance. No towns in the sur­round­ing coun­ties meet the 5,000-res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion thresh­old for manda­tory re­cy­cling pro­grams.

The 11 coun­ties in the DEP’s North­east re­gion gen­er­ated nearly 3 mil­lion tons of re­cy­clable ma­te­rial in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent data from the DEP.

Bran­don Wright, spokesman for the Na­tional Waste & Re­cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion en­cour­ages sin­gle stream re­cy­cling be­cause it in­creases par­tic­i­pa­tion. He also rec­og­nized that re­cy­clers have a harder time sell­ing it un­der China’s Na­tional Sword.

“Where some of our mem­bers have been able to find other mar­kets in In­dia and In­done­sia, and even some do­mes­ti­cally, you’re just not go­ing to re­place the con­sump­tion that was go­ing to China,” Wright said. “They were just too big of a mar­ket for prod­uct to make it up else­where.”

In Di­a­mond K’s 125,000-square-foot bal­ing and pack­ag­ing op­er­a­tion in Scran­ton’s Prov­i­dence sec­tion, crews use skid steers to push shred­ded pa­per onto a heavy con­veyor belt.

The shred­ded stuff rides up to a chute to the baler, which packs it into neat

cubes weigh­ing 3,000 pounds apiece.

He buys his waste ma­te­rial from pub­lish­ers and fac­to­ries, but much of it ar­rives from sources where it ac­cu­mu­lates one slice of pa­per at a time. Those sources are more likely to de­liver con­tam­i­nated ma­te­rial than in­dus­trial sources. He’s told many of his ven­dors that he’s not in­ter­ested in their scrap if they switch to sin­gle stream.

Bar­bara Gio­vagnoli, Lack­awanna County’s re­cy­cling co­or­di­na­tor, en­cour­aged

com­pa­nies to write their own good-stew­ard poli­cies, for ex­am­ple, sep­a­rat­ing pa­per from cans and plas­tic. She also rec­om­mends those in of­fice set­tings to put trash cans in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion and re­cy­cling bins at ev­ery desk.

“The bot­tom line is that it’s up to each one of us in­di­vid­u­ally,” Gio­vagnoli said. “If we cre­ate that waste, it’s up to us to prop­erly chan­nel it to be re­cy­cled and re­newed and made into new things.”

JAKE DANNA STEVENS / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ja­son Kresge empty pa­per prod­ucts onto a con­veyor that loads into a baler at Di­a­mond K Inc., in Scran­ton last week.

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