Pennsylvania DEP conducts statewide waste and recycling study

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is conducting a statewide waste and recycling composition study with a goal to create a targeted recycling program, optimize collections and provide guidance and assistance to local municipalities, haulers and material recovery facilities (MRFs).

Larry Holley, manager of the division of waste minimization and planning for the Pennsylvania DEP, says one of the biggest challenges the state is facing is contamination fees. He says facilities that have eliminated materials, including paper and plastics, from recycling programs also have been rejecting loads and charging municipalities and small and medium-sized businesses with penalties for contamination.

Holley says data from the study will help the DEP “adjust our funding and prioritize grant programs” and “help local governments focus their programs on what material is in the stream.”

Holley says local governments and waste and recycling facilities have been subject to the same challenges as the rest of the nation, including rising recycling costs and changes in the marketplace; however, MRFs in the state have been able to withstand programs because they were depending on domestic markets, he says.

While Crawford County ended its recycling program last year, many other Pennsylvania municipalities have made changes and adjustments to their recycling guidelines in terms of what materials are accepted to maintain programs.

Penn Waste Inc., York, Pennsylvania, revised its recycling guidelines in 2017 to eliminate Nos. 3-7 plastics and paper, says Amanda Moley, director of marketing at Penn Waste. Penn Waste built its first facility in 2008 and currently operates a 96,000-square-foot single-stream processing facility, which was built in 2015. The facility has undergone several upgrades in the last four years, including a retrofit and the addition of a robot on the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) sorting line.

“Contamination continues to be an ongoing issue,” Moley says. “We’ve responded to the changes by investing heavily in equipment, adding team members and slowing down our equipment. Our focus continues to be on lowering contamination in inbound material. We’ve invested significant dollars in educating the public on what not to put in their recycling bin.”

Holley says many municipalities have eliminated glass from programs to increase the quality of the recovered paper. He says the DEP has observed the emergence of drop-off locations for glass in Pittsburgh.

He says Lancaster also has implemented a “comprehensive” drop-off program to augment its curbside recycling program.

Holley says about 12 waste facilities and six to 12 recycling facilities will participate in the statewide audit. The study will look at six geographic regions of Pennsylvania and include more than 1,200 samples of waste and recycling.

The DEP is in the process of selecting a vendor to conduct the study. After a vendor is selected, the DEP will reach out to industry and local governments to “facilitate the support and cooperation” in the study, Holley says.

He adds that this study will allow the DEP to “focus our grants on those targeted materials and materials we need to increase in the recycling stream.” He adds, “We need to develop a comprehensive education program to assist businesses, recyclers and consumers in creating a higher quality recycling stream.”

Prattville, Alabama, rolls out new recycling program

Prattville, Alabama, is revamping its recycling program through a new partnership with RePower South (RPS), Montgomery, Alabama, hoping to capture and divert more material from landfill and make recycling easier for residents and businesses.

Before, Prattville, along with other cities in Autauga County, provided large recycling bins throughout the city and county. Inmates from the Alabama Department of Corrections then sorted the material from the bins and the city’s recycling drop-off center. The service was free to the city.

“The DOC came to us about two months ago and said we’re shutting the program down,” says Dale Gandy, public works director in Prattville. “The program was not feasible anymore. When the DOC said we’re shutting the program down, it was perfect timing.”

Within the last year, Prattville has been looking at ways to improve its recycling program. The city’s sanitation department began a curbside pickup program for mixed paper and cardboard about a year ago. The city sells the paper collected through the program, along with metals collected at the drop-off center, to Mount Scrap Material Co., Montgomery.

Through the new partnership, residents will be able to commingle waste and recyclables in one bin, which will be collected and transported by the sanitation department to RPS for processing.

In August, the city signed a three-year contract with RPS, which processes municipal solid waste (MSW), recovering recyclables, to produce a fuel feedstock. RPS employs a variety of technology at the facility, including disc screens and infrared sorters, to recover and sort polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), steel, aluminum and mixed paper from the waste stream before it’s sent to landfill.

The new program will reach the city’s 35,000 residents as opposed to the 12,000 households and businesses that were participating in the curbside and drop-off recycling programs.

“We have a large portion of our community that is committed to recycling. The partnership with RePower South makes recycling easier for our citizens and enables 100 percent community participation,” says Mayor Bill Gillespie Jr.

Gandy adds, “The city owns and operates the sanitation department. We weren’t under any contractual obligation with an outside entity, which allowed us to be able to do this.”

Prattville also has modified the recycling bins used across town to accept only mixed paper and cardboard and plans to roll out more of the collection bins across the city in the future.