A new study suggests recyclers can recover enough good plastic from a second sortation of curbside material to make it worth their while.
The secondary material recovery facility concept would gather material that's already been sent through initial sortation efforts at primary MRFs and give the material another pass through sortation equipment.
Collecting the back-end material from MRFs on a regional basis would give a secondary MRF the needed volume to pull out enough quality recyclables to support operations, according to the study performed by Titus MRF Services of Danville, Calif., for the American Chemistry Council.
Titus took samples from six MRFs located in the Northeast to serve as a basis for the report's findings.
ACC funded the study as plastics continue to face a low overall plastic recycling rate — one popular estimate from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has it at 9 percent — amid the ever-growing demand for post-consumer resin by brand owners, consumers and packaging makers.
"Secondary material recovery facilities aggregate low-volume and difficult-to-sort materials, along with machine yield losses, from a network of existing primary MRFs. This allows for material to reach the critical mass necessary to justify the types of investments in automated technologies for detailed sorting that may not make sense at the individual MRF level," the report reads.
MRFs are designed to take in material collected at the curbside, which are now commonly mixed into a single stream by residents using one recycling cart. While single-stream recycling has increased participation and boosted recyclable tonnage, the approach does provide additional challenges for recyclers who then have to sort plastics from paper from metal from, sometimes, glass.
Traditional MRFs employ a variety of equipment to do that work, but the nature of the business means that some perfectly good recyclables end up getting missed and sent out the back end in a residual stream to landfills.