Earlier this summer, Recycle today and Waste today teamed up to produce a survey that was administered by Readex Research of Stillwater, Minnesota, to assess the state of the municipal recycling industry in the United States. The findings were included in the state of the municipal recycling industry report published in the September issue of Recycle today. Respondents to the survey included participants from the public sector, carriers and operators of material recovery facilities (FRMs).

In addition to the survey, the staff of Recycle today organized three virtual roundtables in the spring: one with MRF operators, one with government recycling officials and one with representatives of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

Based on the polls and roundtables, the editors uncovered several trends related to the challenges of municipal recycling, contract changes and the development of the end market for commodities. Here are some key takeaways from september report.

The challenges of municipal recycling

The majority of FRM operators (74%) and carriers (67%) who responded to the State of the Municipal Recycling Industry survey indicated that labor availability and costs are either very difficult or difficult. For some MRF operators who participated in the roundtable discussions, labor is one of their main concerns this year.

David Friedman, CEO of Phoenix-based Friedman Recycling, said hiring has become a challenge for its MRF operations. “For the very first time, we actually lost two shifts because we couldn’t recruit staff on the line. He added that while the situation was resolved, “missing a few shifts was a big deal for us.”

Shannon Dwire, President of Millennium Recycling Inc., Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said her area has particularly low unemployment rates, making it difficult to find workers. She said the MRF must also compete for workers with big companies like Amazon.

“We have an Amazon building right now, and they are going to remove 1,000 more employees from the area,” she said. “We have been understaffed for over a year and it is increasingly difficult to find people. So we try to find ways to work without the people because they just don’t come. ”

MRF operators and municipalities have also been affected by changes in the production of materials, some of which were triggered by the pandemic. Some roundtable participants said they have seen a noticeable increase in the number of residential tonnes compared to commercial tonnes.

Shelby Lewis, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Tampa, Florida, Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management, said his community had seen tons of things move from commercial to residential during the height of the pandemic. This change in tonnes has been accompanied by an increase in contamination, she said.

“I would say our biggest hurdle right now is contamination,” Lewis said, citing “wishcycling” from consumers and “greenwashing” from brands as contributing factors.

Evolving contracts

Changes in material flows and the quality of these materials have affected municipal recycling contracts. As a result, local governments and carriers have indicated that they are reassessing the recycling contracts they have entered into.

Kyle O’Keefe, Director of Innovation and Programs for Central Ohio Solid Waste Authority (SWACO) in Franklin County, Ohio, said the pandemic has helped show the need for flexible contracts that allow for adjustments based on changing market conditions.

“We [have been] evaluate aspects of our contracts with our municipalities and the private sector to say, “How can we give our communities as much flexibility as possible? ” [How can we make it so] that if these problems arise in the future, they have more options and levers that they can pull so that they don’t have to break the contract, but they can give the carrier a little bit of flexibility, and we can do that d ‘in a way that is a win-win situation,’ he said.

With the evolution of commodity values, some FRM operators are adopting fee-for-service models. Lou Perez, project manager for the Larimer County, Colorado, Department of Solid Waste, said he suspects that this model will be the standard in the future for MRF operators.

“Years ago I think there was an attitude of [trash] get in the ball, it go out the door, let someone else take care of it, ”Perez said. “This has changed and big companies … and others will follow suit in their contracts and establish criteria for the registration of waste and penalize the people, counties or municipalities within the contract structure for trying. to recycle waste. ”

New end market developments

According to the Roundtable Discussions on the State of the Municipal Recycling Industry, collaboration among municipal recycling stakeholders is essential to the development of end markets for commodities.

“Everyone has a role to play,” said Brent Heist, director of packaging sustainability at Cincinnati. Procter & Gamble. “Everyone has their own area of ​​expertise. The important thing is that we all work together so that, for lack of a better term, we row in the same direction.

Recycling coordinators and government officials expressed the most optimism about Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills as key end markets for development.

Pete Chism-Winfield, project coordinator for the Office of Planning and Sustainability for the City of Portland, Ore., Expressed optimism about Oregon’s EPR legislation, SB 582, also known as Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization. Act, just a few months before its adoption. “I think we really need to shift our focus from the consumers to the actual producers of these materials,” he said.

In addition to legislative measures, some roundtable participants expressed optimism about public-private partnerships, grants and low-interest loans to develop new markets. Perez suggested that public-private partnerships could help bring end markets to where they need to be.

CPG companies also strive to design their products to be recyclable and to incorporate recycled content. Heist said his company aims for 100% of its packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030. Other companies such as Stamford, Connecticut, BlueTriton Brands, formerly known as Nestlé Waters North America, have target to use 50% recycled polyethylene. terephthalate (rPET) in its US portfolio by 2025.

Click here for the full report and research.