State and local governments are becoming worried with the news about China banning lower quality commodity imports and are looking for new methods to deal with their solid waste issues.
The problem is that there is a lot of confusion as to what this
all means and it has opened the door for the spread of misinformation leading
to some outright irresponsible decisions by local government.
Why does this matter?
commodity recyclable material is being swept into collection systems that
ultimately end with incineration and not recycling.
- With landfill costs
with the costs of curbside recyclable collection, many waste-to-energy
advocates and companies are stepping in to offer what government wants to hear
but what industry knows is too good to be true.
A state senate leader from a
U.S. western state recently told ISRI of his visit to a German waste-to-energy
facility whose owner claimed to be able to solve essentially all of the solid
waste problems in the U.S. without any government subsidies.
The company sold the senator
on its proprietary technology that separates solid waste from recyclable
material, which it claims can then be “sold as a genuine high-quality raw
material” for the manufacturing process.
The senator was convinced and
indicated he felt the U.S. recycling industry would not be impacted at all if
this technology went mainstream in the U.S. as he was led to believe it is in
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck,
is not a form of recycling. Collecting and burning recyclables is
not recycling in practice or intent.
These are waste-to-energy
proposals being mislabeled as recycling in order to generate public support by
citizens who want to recycle.
offers critical economic and environmental benefits, which incineration
Once the commodity is
incinerated, it is gone forever never to be reused again, thus increasing the
need for virgin material. This is simply irresponsible.
is a series of activities in which material is processed into
specification-grade commodities, and consumed as raw-material feedstock,
in lieu of virgin materials, in the manufacture of new products.
The series of activities that
make up recycling, include the collection, processing, brokering, and
subsequent consumption of industrial, end-of-life and obsolete scrap, as well
as the process of transforming used products, whole or in part, into reusable
- Waste-to-Energy proposals that claim to
remove recyclable materials typically focus primarily on extracting metal
commodity materials after the incineration process, at a much reduced
value than would be obtained if sorted prior to being put into the
Why it’s important:
waste-to-energy technology serves a specific purpose in limited instances, it
is not the solution to localities’ troubles with solid waste and low quality
reason China is misclassifying some recyclables as solid waste in its import
bans is a problem of quality.
want to recycle and government needs to invest in its public education and
How can ISRI Members Help?
You can help by being vigilant in your communities and
speaking up when you hear of proposals to invest in waste-to-energy facilities
and programs. Simply burning the problem away is not the solution.