Waste Management Inc. captured more than 431,000 tons of plastics among the 15 million tons of recyclables handled by the firm in 2013, according to new company statistics.
The Houston-based waste and recycling company, the largest in the nation, said the company is “well on its way to achieving our goal to manage more than 20 million tons of recyclable materials per year by 2020.”
While the amount of recyclables handled by the company has increased dramatically in recent years, CEO David Steiner signaled problems with contamination of non-recyclable materials in the single-stream recycling approach that's driving that growth.
“For our recycling business to remain sustainable, we need to address the economics of recycling. We have focused on operational excellence, and on asking our customers to improve the quality of the material that we receive at our recycling facilities,” he said in Waste Management's latest sustainability report.
“It's also become clear that better consumer education on how to recycle is sorely needed,” he wrote.
Waste Management's recycling facilities were designed to handle about 80 percent paper and 20 percent bottles and cans. But the mix is more like 50-60 percent paper and 40-50 percent bottles and cans these days, the company said.
This has increased the company's processing costs and decreased revenues, Waste Management said. Despite reaching the 15 million-ton mark, the company said its percentage of revenue from recycling decreased.
“We receive more nonrecyclable plastics, liquids and food-contaminated containers than ever before,” the company says it the sustainability report.
“We also receive odd and awkward nonrecyclables, such as bowling balls, garden hoses and electrical cords. The loads coming into our MRFs [material recovery facilities] now average 16 percent contamination,” the report states.
“Plastic films and bags are another key form of contamination,” the company said, for its equipment. “They get tangled in our equipment, and our crews must stop our machinery six to eight times a day to cut them out — a waste of time and money.”
Bags and film wrap around rotating disks designed to separate paper from other recyclables. Instead of putting film and plastic bags out for curbside collection, the company said those materials would be better off going to retail collection sites.