There might yet be a widespread future for mixed waste processing, an approach to capturing recyclables whose merits have been debated for years.
Mixed waste processing, where recyclables are harvested directly from the waste stream, holds the potential to capture plastics and other recyclables that are still finding their way into the nation's landfills, according to a new report.
The report, “The Evolution of Mixed Waste Processing Facilities, 1970-Today,” by solid waste and recycling consultants Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc., examines the issue.
The Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council commissioned the report.
“The goal of diverting more materials from the waste stream to higher uses compels us to explore all options,” said Craig Cookson, director of sustainability and recycling for the Plastics Division, in a statement. “As the waste stream continues to evolve, we must consider new strategies and innovations that could help us to meet these challenges.”
While many people separate their recyclables, the report indicates that the typical municipal solid waste stream still can contain a significant amount of material that could be captured before garbage trucks head toward landfills.
New technology is making mixed waste processing “different and in many respects better” than previous facilities, according to the report's authors. These sites were once called “dirty MRFs,” but that is now considered what the report calls a pejorative.
“Based on its roots in single-stream sortation, today's MWP technology appears promising. The results in terms of outputs, net revenue, and reduced collection costs could be attractive for some communities. The combination of recycling with energy recovery for non-recycled materials is an excellent approach to managing post-use materials more sustainably,” according to the report's authors.
Creating mixed waste processing facilities in conjunction with existing materials recovery facilities, or MRFs designed solely to handle recyclables, might be a way to help increase diversion rates.
“GBB finds that combined MRF and MWP systems have the potential to significantly increase both the volume and total revenue from recycling materials. The potential exists to divert 180 percent more high value metals and plastics from landfill than are diverted today,” the report states.
The consulting firm says there needs to be more research.
“Despite MWP's positive attributes, some very important questions remain, including costs, recovery capabilities, and the potential lack of markets and value for recovered materials,” the report states.