Garbage Can Be Gold The Benefits of Recycling

 It's hard to believe that not so long ago, recycling was a pretty novel concept, especially for cities and municipalities. In the 1970s and '80s, local governments started to establish recycling programs due to rising energy prices and a growing concern for the environment. Little by little, in the last 40 years, more and more Americans have made recycling a regular part of their daily lives. When you take out the trash, you also sort the recycling—they're part of the same routine.

Don’t Get Trashed

In the last few years, the recycling industry has seen new technologies and political energy that are creating some of the largest shifts in how people and cities handle their trash in recent memory. Simply recycling glass bottles and newspapers isn't the goal anymore. Garbage hauling has become a greater and greater expense for towns and cities. Citizens are more defensive of their surrounding areas, and don't want landfills made in their respective communities. In South Florida, the availability of new land to be turned into landfill is not as common, thanks in part to the state's population boom in recent decades. Some of South Florida's towns like Deerfield Beach have implemented policies to decrease hauling costs, and follow the lead of other recycling-heavy cities like San Francisco and Toronto, which have introduced a slew of programs that have found ways to cut down how much refuse gets thrown into landfills.

There are essentially two aspects of recycling that are needed: compliance from residents and businesses, and the infrastructure that collects and sorts the materials. Thanks to new technologies, municipalities are adopting several new systems for dealing with recyclables. Traditionally, paper and plastics have always been kept separate in collection, since they are ultimately broken down and re-purposed separately. But, that is changing. “'Single-stream' systems allow all designated recyclables—papers and containers—to be collected together. It has the benefits of making it easier for residents to participate, which is now well-documented, and cheaper to collect,” says Kendall Christensen, senior consultant to InSinkErator, a garbage disposal manufacturer, and former assistant director to New York City's recycling program.

Without the hassle of keeping paper and plastic separate, the whole collection process is simplified, and just as important, it's less work for residents to sort recycling. But there is a downside to the single-stream method. “The improvements in processing technology at recycling centers makes it possible to sort and separate various materials, but not without a slight increase in contamination, which can affect marketability of some materials,” says Christensen.

Glass bottles become especially problematic in single-stream systems because the sorting technology that separates paper from plastic containers uses size to sort them. It crushes up all the recycling, and in the process glass bottles shatter and shards find their way into the paper or plastic piles unintentionally. Single-stream recycling is becoming more common in Florida but not yet to multi-family homes such as condominiums.

Is that yogurt container a 1 or a 5? Florida has set the goal of a statewide 75% recycling rate by 2020, and expanding what plastics and paper materials can be put in the recycling bin plays a large role in getting to that goal. Plastic bags and other flimsy non-rigid still cannot be handled by sorting plants, but more and more recycling facilities are starting to be able to take in more materials and sort them accordingly. “Adding mixed plastics to recycling programs eliminates confusion and encourages diversion. Markets are still figuring out how to sort and use all of those materials, with some promising new technologies like converting plastics back to oil,” says Christensen.

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