Recycling Waste – What’s it Worth?

So Much to Recycle!

Everyone everywhere struggles with the same problem day-in and day-out. That problem is what to do with all the waste humans produce day-in and day-out. For decades, waste materials have been buried in the ground, dumped out at sea, and treated with a disregard for the long-term effects it can cause. Thankfully, humans have learned how to remediate waste and, in many cases, recycle the waste into usable products. By recycling waste, communities and their inhabitants can not only improve their local environment, but they can also create economic opportunities for themselves.

Which Waste is Recyclable?

What materials are able to be recycled

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is what people put into the landfill. It contains every kind of material imaginable – plastic, glass, metal, paper, Styrofoam, rubber, cardboard, vinyl, wood, ceramics, and dozens of different chemical compounds, liquids, gases, and other pollutants. Additionally, there are the biological contents which can range from cat feces to kitchen vegetables and chicken soup. The mixture of all these materials is defined as MSW and all of it can be recycled in one way or another.

It is interesting to note that waste materials in landfills can now be remediated along with “fresh” waste materials. That means it is possible to not only take care of waste produced now and into the future, but also the waste from decades ago can now be dug up and processed. As technology improves and processing protocols are developed which can separate waste materials and process those materials into saleable goods, the economic impact of recycling will become more valuable. Research and development efforts are underway worldwide that will further enable the recycling of more materials, including harmful and toxic materials.

Curbside Recycling or Recycling Center – Which is Best?

Curbside recycling vs recycling centers

Metal – Iron, steel, tin, aluminum

Glass – Clear, dark, colored, safety

Paper – Newsprint, magazines, mail, toilet & towel rolls, sheet, cardboard

Plastic – Milk containers, juice bottles, beverage bottles, water bottles, nylon, display packaging

Liquid – Cooking oils, motor oil, acids, other water, oil, and emollient-based compounds

Wood – Trees, bark, furniture, raw lumber, fence material, plywood, wood chips, sawdust

Recycling centers can also accept items like automotive batteries, paint, fertilizer, medical waste, and toxic chemicals, however, many of those items are not eligible for recycling and are disposed of in different manners. Businesses and commercial waste producers can provide recyclable materials to collection centers like drywall, cooking oils, concrete, and a variety of other materials that can be recycled using specialized machinery and processes.

Who Picks Up Recyclables?

When recyclable materials are separated out of the main garbage produced by homeowners and consumers, they can be handled in one of four ways.

1) Curbside collection service. Many municipalities offer curbside pickup of recycling materials that is a part of collecting all the waste.

2) Smaller municipalities utilize vendors that contract directly with home and apartment owners for curbside pickup service.

3) Recycling drop-off centers in most metropolitan and larger municipal areas can accept (and in some cases pay for) recyclable waste materials. These recyclers are independent businesses that sell the materials to various recycling organizations and plants for use in their production processes.

4) Recycling plants that accept specific types of material and process the materials into saleable products operate in some large metropolitan areas. These plants use the materials to manufacture products that are sold.

5) Junk removal companies also recycle materials whenever and wherever possible. Visit our Junk Removal Page for more information.

What Happens at the Recycling Center?

Sorting materials at a recycling center facility

Each recycling center utilizes various procedures to process waste material. Recyclable waste products contained in MSW can be separated by hand or by machine before being further processed. Pre-sorted waste materials like plastics, paper, glass, and other “cleanable” materials are often washed to remove unwanted residue before processing. As each waste stream is prepared for processing, it can go through several cleaning processes to eliminate unwanted chemicals or residues from contaminating the processing machinery. Much of the unwanted residue and chemicals are burned off in the processing of the waste. The waste gases produced by the processing are burned off before entering the atmosphere and polluting the environment.

What is Recycled Waste Made Into?

Waste paper collection and bundling for recycling.

Since the 1960’s, many governments, businesses, organizations, and waste producers have researched ways to turn garbage into useful products. Due to the amount of MSW located in landfills, dumps, and other sites, there is an unlimited and renewable resource that lays untapped all around. Modern technology combined with accelerated research and development efforts has created some significant new processing capability. The economics of recycling waste has become attractive because of the new technologies and processing systems. At present, recycled materials can be transformed into the following end products:

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) General contents – Synthetic Natural Gas, Synthetic Diesel Fuel (Low Sulfur), Electricity, Purified Water, BioChar fertilizer, Carbon Nano-tubes.

Plastic Materials – Synthetic Diesel Fuel (Low Sulphur), Reusable Pellets, Clothing, Carpeting, Packing Material, Film, Sheeting, and Plastic Bottles.

Paper – Cardboard, Newsprint, Office Paper.

Wood – Landscape Mulch, Paper Pulp, Synthetic Diesel (Low Sulfur).

Glass – Glass products

Metal – Refined and alloy metals.

Where Do Recycling Manufactured Products Go?

Diesel fuel from recyclable materials

The end products manufactured by recycling plants go to consumers, businesses, and farmers in large part. Many of the products are sold to distributors and then re-sold to consumers. Synthetic Diesel fuels produced through recycling have lower sulfur content than traditionally refined petrochemical diesel and are preferred by trucking companies and heavy machinery operators due to the reduced emissions as well as achieving better engine performance and longer life. Railroad ties made from waste plastic are used by the railroads, landscape contractors, building designers, and gardeners. Due to better construction techniques and plastic base-materials, plastic railroad ties don’t deteriorate like wooden ties and they don’t have to use creosote to prevent infestations.

Many manufacturers prefer to use recycled materials in their products due to lower costs and the opportunity to advertise their concern for the environment. In the modern world, environmental responsibility is a high priority for many manufacturers. The use of recycled materials not only reduces the waste footprint it also advances production methods and materials engineering. More and more new recycled materials are being developed for use in every industrial and consumer market. Concern for the environment is the driving force behind recycling efforts but it is also proving to be a viable economic business model.

What Does Recycling Cost?

The cost of recycling

Traditionally, recycling waste material costs including hauling, dumping, and storing the MSW or other waste materials in a landfill. Every municipality and metropolitan area is different in the way they handle the waste material and the fees charged for having it taken to a landfill. The following are average prices for collecting recyclable household waste materials monthly:

20-gallon container – $20 – $35

35-gallon rolling cart – $25 – $47

60-gallon rolling cart – $37 – $59

90-gallon rolling cart – $48 – $72

35-gallon rolling cart (monthly service) – $25

Commercial collection of recyclable waste can vary widely due to collection practices, location of recycling centers or plants, and other conditions. In general, a 4-yard dumpster picked up twice a month will cost about $88 for service. The costs for collection are only a part of the picture. The costs for other aspects of recycling are hard to determine because of the differences in geographic regions, demographics, population, and other variables. However, many municipalities and metropolitan areas are considering the elimination of recycling services because the costs have increased dramatically over the last decade. According to a New York Times article published in March of 2019, many cities and municipalities are losing money collecting MSW and have decided to stop collecting and recycling altogether.

Economic Changes for Recycling Are Happening

For many years, large metropolitan cities paid foreign governments to accept their MSW. The foreign countries accepted MSW as cheap materials for producing energy like fuel and electricity. By processing the waste materials, the governments could produce energy on a large scale and sell the energy for low-costs. Unfortunately, due to changes in American consumer habits as well as failings in the proper handling of the waste material, many foreign governments have terminated their contracts to purchase MSW. That left those cities and towns that had at one time sent garbage away with the same old problem. The difference was that now the costs to deal with the MSW were much higher and instead of earning money from MSW, the cities now had to pay to get rid of MSW.

Ironically, many municipalities and large cities that once touted their waste recycling efforts as models to be followed are now putting recyclable waste directly into the landfill or burning it rather than pay the high costs to handle it. It is a sad reality to discover despite the efforts to make, use, and promote recyclable products and recycling technology, many venues are reverting to the old and more dangerous method of dealing with MSW than by investing in modern technology to better deal with the problem.

Good News for Recycling

New recycling facility built to assist in the ever growing need for recycling services

With the high degree of concern about Municipal Solid Waste and other environmentally damaging materials combined with advances in technology, there is good news about recycling. Across the United States and around the world, new factories are being built to process recyclable waste products while generating a profit from the business of selling the products. New recycling facilities are being built that will be able to remediate MSW, waste plastic, tires, and every other recyclable material turning them into money-making products. The difficulty many municipalities face can quickly turn into a for-profit business that employs citizens and alleviates much of the MSW being dumped into landfills.

For example, an MSW processing plant can take in 1,000 tons of Municipal Solid Waste and produce electricity at a cost of about $0.01 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and sell that same electricity for over $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. That’s a gross profit of over 600%. A waste plastic recycling factory can manufacture Carbon Nano-tubes at a cost of $100 per ton and sell those Nano-tubes to manufacturers and the US government for between $2,500 and $8,500 per ton. That’s an amazing return on investment! With a return on investment that outpaces many other manufacturing and production plants, the interest in waste recycling has increased dramatically. The result is over a dozen new waste processing factories are under construction with many more on the drawing board.

The Future of Recycling is Bright

The increased focus on the growth in the recycling industry

Like any other industry or business, waste recycling is going through many stages and emerging in many different forms. Some of the recycling technologies involve machinery processes and other methods use chemicals to break down feedstock material. Electro-plasma technology along with Pyrolytic furnaces and other energy-producing methodologies are being refined and streamlined to improve efficiency while increasing the number of useable waste products that can be included.

Many states offer subsidies and other support programs that enable new factories and development to get underway. Consumers have taken up the recycling banner with preferences for many grocery and other items incorporating recycled materials.

Over the last decade, the recycling industry has gone through tremendous changes. Advances in processes and technology have enabled what was once a money-loser to become a money-maker. More and more governments, business people, investors, and engineers have seen the light and are flocking to new plants and facilities. Educators are incorporating training programs and educational degrees that focus on remediation and recycling of waste products and materials. The cultural, environmental, societal, and economic demands of modern living require a solution to the ever-growing problem of pollution and particularly pollution in landfills and the oceans.

Fortunately, all the time, attention, and prioritization being given to recycling and its importance in the future can only result in living better with more opportunities for employment in an important industry. Growth is assured because the population keeps growing and producing waste. Finally, there is a reason and a purpose to what was once considered an abomination to be avoided. It’s time to pick up the recycling banner and run with it … everywhere.