EREF Blog

Analysis of Organic Waste Diversion Efforts in Canada Shows Room for Improvement

Click here for a PDF of this release.

This press release was drafted for the Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada.

Ontario, Canada (August 5, 2021) – As Canadian provinces and territories set more aggressive organics diversion and waste reduction related goals, additional organics management infrastructure will be needed to achieve those goals.

That’s one of the conclusions reached in a recent analysis conducted by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada (EREF-Canada), a science-based research organization that focuses on solid waste.

The diversion of organic municipal waste materials has been a growing focus throughout Canada, primarily at the province and local levels as policies and collection programs have become widespread. But the collection and access to reliable data has been inconsistent. The results from the EREF-Canada study fill in a number of informational gaps.

Researchers looked at all 10 provinces and 3 territories to analyze each in order to (1) get a clear understanding of the organic waste policies and approval/permitting regimes in each one, (2) the organic waste diversion program availability across the country, and (3) the number of operational organic waste processing facilities, along with their capacities and tonnes processed.

For the purposes of the study, organic waste was defined as food waste that is uneaten and discarded, as well as inedible wastes such as scraps, agricultural waste (e.g. manure), biosolids (organic material recycled from sewage), and leaf and yard waste (including grass clippings, yard and garden debris). The report also focused on residential, industrial, commercial and institutional organic waste diversion. It did not take into consideration organic waste that might be applied directly to land, backyard composting, or waste stabilization methods such as lime stabilization, fermentation, and pasteurization.

The analysis found that most provinces (with the exception of the Territories and more remote areas) have adequate processing capacity to manage more basic degradable materials like leaf and yard waste. For example, collectively there is enough processing capacity for 2.66 million of these basic degradable materials at static pile and windrow facilities (facilities with an open-air process that places material in long piles that are rotated regularly) in Canada.

However, most provinces do not have sufficient processing capacity to address larger volume and more complicated materials like source-separated organics. Based on the 3.08 million tonnes of available processing capacity for in-vessel and anaerobic digestion facilities, they are at capacity or have relatively small amount of buffer capacity.

Compost facilities were predominately responsible for managing the organic waste being generated. Of the 4.83 million tonnes of organic waste processed in 2019, 72% of it was processed by compost facilities. EREF-Canada calculated that on average compost facilities processed 10,611 tonnes of organic waste. However, this reflects a wide range of facility sizes and processing capabilities with facilities processing from 50 tonnes to 150,000 tonnes. The anaerobic digestion facilities (facilities that degrade organic waste without oxygen) were responsible for processing 1.35 million tonnes of organic waste.

Collectively, the 387 facilities can process as much as 5.74 million tonnes (excluding Quebec) of organic waste annually. The total processing capacity reflects processing capacity for both easily degradable organic waste like leaf and yard waste as well as the capacity to degrade materials that require more intensive infrastructure like source separated organics.

According to EREF-Canada’s analysis, there is a shortfall of about 1.1 million tonnes of total capacity when compared to the quantity of food and yard and garden waste generated annually. This shortfall in capacity becomes even more pronounced considering that the majority of this waste is more complex food waste which can require more intensive infrastructure like in-vessel and anaerobic digestion systems. EREF-Canada found that there is 3.08 million tonnes of capacity for in-vessel compost and anaerobic digestion facilities, resulting in a potential 3.72 million tonne shortfall in capacity for processing more complex organic wastes

The 128-page report also highlights how the organic waste sector in Canada has grown since the early 1990s when the first curbside and depot municipal leaf and yard waste programs were implemented. EREF-Canada’s research identified that as of 2019 there were a total of 328 compost and 59 anaerobic digestion facilities active in Canada.

Researchers also found that there is widespread implementation of organic waste management programs at the local levels. Ninety-one percent of all Canadians live in an area that has a residential organic waste management program. Furthermore, curbside programs are wildly available, with 83 percent of the population living in an area with access to curbside leaf and yard waste programs and 71 percent with access to curbside source-separate organic programs.

As a result of the analysis, researchers say, in general, the country is highly motivated to increase the amount of organic waste diverted from disposal and reduce the amount of organic waste generated. Diversion from disposal was the most common goal used across the country with 10 provinces/territories citing diversion as a goal. Reduction of waste was the second most common goal with 7 provinces/territories citing this as a goal.

The specifics of the goals for each province vary. For example, while the overall Canadian government goal is to reduce organic waste by 30 percent by 2030 (or 490 kg per person), the Ontario government is shooting for a 50-70 percent reduction by 2023 or 2025, depending on the sector where the goal is applied. Similarly, Nova Scotia is targeting a goal of 50 percent waste diversion, as well as a target for waste disposal of no more than 300 kg/person/per year. Quebec and British Columbia have been more aggressive goals. Quebec wants to recycle or recover 70 percent of all organic matter by 2030 and reduce the quantity of waste sent for disposal to 525 kg per capita. Meanwhile, British Columbia has a target of diverting 95% of organic waste for agricultural, industrial, and municipal waste.

EREF-Canada’s analysis suggests that as provinces and territories set more aggressive organics diversion and waste reduction related goals, additional organics management infrastructure will be needed. The country has the capacity necessary to collect additional materials, as many residents already have some access to an organic waste collection program. However, researchers say it is also necessary to ensure that these programs are routinely and properly used by residents. Many provinces and territories have already developed policies and programs that are driving progress towards their organic waste goals. Their continued progress will require supporting existing policies and programs, while also supporting improved access and availability of organics management infrastructure.

To download the complete report, click here.

The Environmental Research and Education Foundation of Canada is a registered charity with a designation of Public Foundation. Its mission is to advance education by conducting and funding research on all aspects of the Canadian solid waste management industry to achieve greater sustainability, higher process efficiency and increased knowledge and making the results publicly available.

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager

Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109

Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

EREF’s 2021 Auction Allows Foundation to Further Advance Solid Waste Research and Education

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Raleigh, NC (July 29, 2021) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) proudly announces that its Annual Charitable Auction broke records to generate the highest gross and net revenue of all time, enabling the Foundation to fund additional solid waste science.

Revenue from the Auction is channeled into EREF’s mission to advance scientific research and create educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. This mission is accomplished through a number of core programs: Research Grants, Scholarships, Data & Policy and Education.

Kameron King, a PhD student at Old Dominion University, is a recipient of an EREF scholarship. She acknowledges that a number of experiences and opportunities throughout her life have led her to where she is today – one such opportunity is her EREF scholarship.

“A heartfelt thank you to you all for supporting EREF who in turn supports people like me who are trying to do our part in making the world a better place!” Kameron wrote in a thank you to Auction participants.

When the EREF Auction breaks records, it’s more than just a record set. It’s more funding to graduate students and solid waste research projects. It’s more educational opportunities and groundbreaking data aggregation and analysis.

The Auction, which was held entirely online through EREF’s online bidding platform, took place June 16 – 30, culminating with the end of WasteExpo. While the Auction was held online, EREF had a presence on the WasteExpo show floor.

EREF’s booth featured a putting green on Tuesday and Wednesday and an open bar on Tuesday. The open bar offered attendees a much-missed networking opportunity, and provided a chance to introduce EREF to those who were unfamiliar with the work the Foundation does.

The success of the Auction would not have been possible without the generosity of the Board of Directors, donors, bidders, sponsors and the Auction Committee.

“During what has been an incredibly uncertain and unique two years, we’ve seen the industry rally around the Auction and EREF’s mission,” said Martin Mattsson, EREF’s Auction Committee Chairman and Director of Key Accounts at Volvo Construction Equipment. “It’s amazing to see the level of support – support that led to the best performing Auction of all time. I couldn’t be more proud and appreciate everyone’s generosity and hard work.”

EREF staff would like to thank everyone who made the Auction a success. Winner information is available here.

Thank you to our donors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit https://erefdn.org.

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager
Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109
Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

EREF to Hold Two Co-Located Educational Events Related to Landfill Management

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Raleigh, NC (July 22, 2021) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) will hold two educational events related to landfill management in Columbus, OH on August 31 and September 1.

The first of the two events is an Electrical Leak Location (ELL) Workshop, which is hosted in collaboration with the Ohio Chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) as well as strategic partner, the Ohio EPA.

ELL is considered to be a highly accurate method to detect leaks. This relatively new technique runs an electrical current through the geomembrane liner using electrodes in the soil or water covering of the liner. Because the geomembrane liners do not conduct electricity when an electrical current is sent through the liner, the area(s) with a leak will indicate a higher current.

This workshop will provide introductory, regulatory and new information related to ELL. An agenda for the event is available here.

The second event, EREF’s Emerging Topics in Landfill Management Summit, is a full day of presentations related to landfill management including waste stability, elevated temperature landfills and aqueous waste co-disposal and liquids addition.

Both events will be held in Columbus, OH at the Marriott Columbus University Area. Reservations must be booked by August 13, 2021.

Brush up on electrical leak location before attending the workshop! EREF, in collaboration with the NWRA Ohio Chapter, hosted three ELL Training Sessions in May and June. Recordings of those sessions are now available for purchase on demand. Click here to view the sessions.

For the full agenda and registration for both events, click here.

Looking for brand exposure? Sponsorships are available for both the workshop and the summit! Please e-mail Kyle Kusterer at kkusterer@erefdn.org for more information.

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that advances scientific research and creates educational pathways that enable innovation in sustainable waste management practices. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit https://erefdn.org.

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager
Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109
Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) Launches Survey of Anaerobic Digestion Facilities

Click here for a PDF of this release.

Data will be used for tracking waste generation in the U.S., tracking resource consumption, estimation of emissions, and evaluation of waste management-related policies.

Raleigh, NC (April 22, 2021) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF), a non-profit organization that funds research, data and educational programs that advance the science surrounding waste, has launched a comprehensive survey to better understand the amount and type of waste being managed by anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities.

In previous EREF work on anaerobic digestion, 25 stand-alone AD facilities processing municipal solid waste (MSW) were identified across 13 states and 156 co-digestion of MSW facilities were identified across 27 states. EREF estimated that these facilities processed 784,037 tons of MSW in 2013, but researchers expect that number has increased.

“Anaerobic digestion plays a critical role in the present and future direction of solid waste management,” says Bryan Staley, Ph.D., P.E., EREF’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “It’s important to have a complete view of the entire waste management landscape, which includes AD.”

The project involves several stages.

The first stage will collect data directly from all types of AD facilities that digest MSW including: stand-alone, on-farm and wastewater treatment plants. Information to be collected will include the quantity of waste accepted in calendar years 2016 and 2019, waste sources (such as residential, commercial, etc.) and maximum processing capacity.

The second stage consists of aggregating and analyzing the data collected. EREF will aggregate data by state, region, and nationally. Data will also be analyzed for spatial (e.g. state, regional) and temporal trends in the U.S.

The survey of anaerobic digestion facilities is part of a larger effort by EREF to update its 2016 report on Municipal Solid Waste Management in the U.S.: 2010 & 2013. Throughout this effort researchers will be collecting data from landfills, waste-to-energy facilities (WTE), recycling facilities, composting operations, and AD facilities. Facility-specific data will be collected through state agencies and direct facility contact for waste collected in calendar years 2016 and 2019.

The non-profit organization is seeking stand-alone facilities that digest MSW and on-farm and wastewater treatment plants that co-digest MSW that accepted MSW in 2016 or 2019 to participate in the project.

If a facility is interested in participating, the survey is available at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GQWMMW3. If a facility representative would like to take the survey over the phone or learn more about the survey, please contact Suzie Boxman, Ph.D. at sboxman@erefdn.org.

About EREF
EREF has a long history of aggregating pertinent waste-related data and facilitating research. More than 25 years old, the organization has provided more than $16 million dollars in research grants and has conducted numerous data studies. For example, EREF’s annual Tip Fee report is widely distributed and used by a variety of entities, including financial analysts, municipalities, government agencies, and waste industry professionals.

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager
Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109
Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

Supporting Solid Waste Science through the EREF Auction

Click here for a PDF of this release.

The Environmental Research & Education Foundation’s (EREF) Annual Charitable Auction is back in 2021 to raise support for the Foundation’s mission to drive sustainable solid waste management practices forward.

This event, which moved virtual in 2020 due to COVID-19, is the Foundation’s largest fundraiser. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, sponsors, bidders and volunteers, the 2020 Auction saw its 2nd highest net in its more than 25-year history – a milestone serving as a catalyst for EREF to fund more research, students and education opportunities!

Due to COVID-19, the Auction will once again look different than it has in the past with the event being held virtually through EREF’s online bidding platform, GiveSmart. Bidders will have the opportunity to peruse items and register to bid online leading up to the start of the Auction.

EREF’s Auction consists of two parts: a Live Auction and a Silent Auction. The Live Auction features larger items including trucks, large equipment and outings with industry executives, while the Silent Auction features smaller items including experiences, electronics, sports memorabilia and more.

Auction Bidding and Schedule

While the Live Auction will be virtual this year, EREF will have a presence on the WasteExpo 2021 show floor where we’ll highlight the progress of the Auction. The Silent Auction will remain online as it has in years past.

Bidding for both the Live and Silent Auctions will begin on June 16, less than two weeks before WasteExpo, culminating with the end of the show on June 30. All bidding will take place on GiveSmart. More information on registration, bidding and items will be released as it’s available.

How can you participate?

  • Donate! Donors receive visibility via GiveSmart, e-mail promotions and social media.
  • While the event will take place virtually, EREF will have a WasteExpo presence; therefore, sponsorships can be virtual or in-person to provide visibility to your company.
  • Why not go home with one (two, or three) amazing items from the EREF Auction? More bidding information to come.
  • Spread the word. Take to social media to share the Auction or spread the word about your donation through our donor marketing kit.

Proceeds from the EREF Auction help to drive sustainable solid waste management forward. EREF accomplishes its mission through its core programs: Research Grants, Scholarships, Data & Policy and Education. Additional information on these programs and more are available at erefdn.org.

For just a snippet of the research and education opportunities that the Foundation is up to in 2021, click here.

Make sure to stop by EREF’s booth at WasteExpo to learn more about the Foundation and its Auction!

Donations are still accepted and sponsorships are available! Questions about how you can participate? Contact EREF’s Events Manager, Caitlin Conklin, via e-mail at cconklin@erefdn.org.

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that funds and directs scientific research and educational initiatives for waste management practices to benefit industry participants and the communities they serve. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit erefdn.org.

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager
Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109
Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

Breaking It Down: An Investigation into Accelerating the Degradation of Lignocellulose Material in Landfills

A long way from the antiquated “holes in the ground”, today’s landfills are highly engineered waste repositories with extensive liner systems, leachate and gas collection systems and more. Among the important facets of modern landfills, the gas collection system plays a valuable role in capturing landfill gas before it can enter the atmosphere. This collected gas can then be converted into energy, helping to dispel assumptions that landfills are the antithesis of sustainability.

As waste decomposes, it releases various types of gas, predominately methane and carbon dioxide. Decomposition of the waste plays a huge role in the amount of gas that is able to be captured. A number of materials, such as food waste and other organics, degrade rapidly, allowing for capture of the landfill gas. On the other hand, materials which do not degrade rapidly in a landfill often contribute to greenhouse gas emissions because there comes a point when it is no longer feasible to continue collecting the gas.

A LOOK AT BACTERIA AND ENZYMES TO INCREASE DEGRADATION

A recent study conducted by former EREF Scholar Dr. Muaaz Wright-Syed and Cardiff University, specifically investigated options for breaking down lignocellulose-rich waste (e.g. newspaper and wood), which does not degrade quickly leading to gas emissions. Fortunately, there are certain microorganisms that break down the lignocellulose – predominately white-rot fungi and some bacteria.

Researchers found that they could pull the enzymes responsible for breaking down waste out of the white-rot fungi and decided to use these enzymes and the bacteria that has been proven to break down lignocellulose as part of their study.

In an effort to circulate these enzymes and bacteria throughout the waste so they can do their job, they are combined with leachate, which is then sprayed on top of the waste or pumped into the landfill through holes drilled through the waste.

The study also investigated practical application and how the composition of the waste in a landfill affected the flow of the augmented leachate through waste. While previous studies of this lignocellulose degradation have shown success, they have been conducted in controlled environments and adapting these systems to real world conditions has proven less effective. One of the biggest issues with the practical application of these systems is the heterogeneous makeup of the waste in landfills. Waste composition in studies has been homogeneous, making it easier for the leachate and the bacteria to travel throughout the entirety of the waste.

THE RESULTS AND THEIR REAL-WORLD IMPLICATIONS

Results from this study indicate that the bacteria were able to break down all lignocellulose-containing material tested, while the enzymes degraded all material except wood.

Given the greater success they had with the bacteria, researchers then applied it to waste with a homogenous composition, finding an increase in gas production. However, when applied to waste with a heterogeneous composition, they found it was difficult for the bacteria to do its job and spread to all parts of the waste due to preferential flow.

In practical application, researchers submit that in landfill cells with homogeneous waste composition, the bacteria has the potential to enhance gas production and therefore greater energy production. However, in cases of landfill cells with heterogeneous waste composition, researchers suggest mechanical pre-treatment, or homogenization of the waste prior to building landfill cells. Lastly, the work may also have implications for stabilizing organics left in the landfill after closure as a post-closure.

EREF Study Shows Average MSW Tip Fee Decreased in 2020

Results from the 2020 EREF analysis of MSW landfill tip fees indicate a 3 percent decrease in the national average to $53.72 per ton.

EREF recently completed its 4th annual MSW landfill tip fee report. Using its database of 1,540 active Subtitle D municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) in the U.S., the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) created a sample of facilities that was used for surveying landfill owners regarding tip fee information for MSW disposal.

The 2020 results indicate the national average tip fee of $53.72 per ton was 3 percent lower than the $55.36 per ton reported in 2019. In 2020, the fees for the Midwest and Mountains/Plains regions converged and were nearly the same at $47.85 and $47.83, respectively. The Pacific and the Northeast continue to have the highest fees per ton in the U.S., but the Pacific saw a decrease of $1.00 per ton, or 1.4 percent, and the Northeast increased $2.16 per ton, or 3.25 percent. The Mountains/Plains region had the greatest change in fees this year ($2.88 per ton, minus 5.7 percent). The table below indicates average tip fee by region.

EREF’s regional analysis indicates tip fees can vary widely regionally across the U.S. The 2020 report also shows that there are large variations within each region and within individual states. To assess the variability within an individual state, EREF performed a sensitivity analysis on the relationship between population and tip fees in North Carolina. Metropolitan areas (U.S. Census statistical areas consisting of a county or counties with at least one urban area and a population of at least 50,000) had the lowest tip fees with an average of $37.99 per ton and was lower than the state average of $45.97 per ton. Tip fees in the less populated areas of the state, those not in a metropolitan or micropolitan area, were greater than the state average at $57.77 per ton. While a larger population and associated increase in waste generation could have an impact on tip fees, additional statistical analyses suggest a limited relationship between population and tip fees and that other factors are more influential.

EREF’s free report, “Analysis of MSW Landfill Tipping Fees: 2020,” shares additional 2020 tipping fee data.

EREF’s New Science Sessions Puts a Conversational Twist on Solid Waste Education

Click here for a PDF of this release.

Raleigh, NC (January 7, 2021) – The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) is excited to announce the inception of a new solid waste education series entitled EREF Science Sessions, which will kick off in mid-January.

In a time when interactions occur primarily online and Zoom fatigue has become a real concern, the Science Sessions aim to provide the content solid waste professionals need in brief, interactive segments lasting around 45 minutes to an hour.

These sessions will take a variety of forms, forgoing the typical presentation/webinar- style and opting for more interactive models such as interviews, panels and Q&A.

The first set of topics centers on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and emerging contaminants. While data and information surrounding the topic abounds, each session aims to bring new content to the table and focus on the role of the waste industry in the PFAS and emerging contaminants conversation.

Currently, 8 sessions have been confirmed with more anticipated to be lined up. Subtopics include:

  • Industry perspectives on PFAS management
  • PFAS policy
  • Management strategies
  • PFAS concentrations in domestic wastewater and leachate
  • Effective leachate treatment methods
  • PFAS stabilization and solidification
  • Exposure and health implications
  • And more to come!

While PFAS is the focus of the initial set of sessions, other topics will be added to the docket later in 2021.

EREF’s first session, entitled In the Room When It Happened: Industry Perspectives on PFAS, will be a panel comprised of Joe Benco (Republic Services), Sam Nicolai (Casella Waste) and David Pepper (GFL Environmental). This session will be held January 21 at 1 pm ET – registration is open!

Visit the EREF website to learn more and register.

Looking for a value-driven way to build your brand awareness? Become a Science Sessions sponsor! Sponsors receive a select amount of attendee spots with their sponsorship. Send an e-mail to events@erefdn.org to sponsor or learn more.

Thank you to our current Science Sessions sponsors, Golder and Republic Services!

EREF is a 501(c)3 class charity that funds and directs scientific research and educational initiatives for waste management practices to benefit industry participants and the communities they serve. For more complete information on EREF funded research, its scholarship program and how to donate to this great cause, visit erefdn.org.

 

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Media Contact:

Catherine Ardoin, Communications Manager

Phone: 919.861.6876 ext. 109

Email: cardoin@erefdn.org

Shopping Online this Holiday Season? Recycle those Cardboard Boxes, Expert Says

recycle cardboard this holidayOnline shoppers can help combat climate change and reduce deforestation by recycling cardboard boxes and other packaging materials this holiday season.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge, a growing number of consumers across the country are shopping online this holiday season – a trend that could have severe environmental consequences if packaging materials aren’t properly disposed of.

“Packaging materials, whether they’re made from paper or plastic, are very important because they help protect products,” said Richard Venditti, the Elis-Signe Olsson Professor of Pulp and Paper Science and Engineering at NC State’s College of Natural Resources. “But some of these materials, especially plastics, are still making their way into trash cans instead of recycling bins.”

Venditti, whose areas of expertise include paper recycling and environmental life cycle analysis, added that packaging materials in trash cans are sent to landfills where non-biodegradable materials occupy space for centuries and biodegradable materials break down and release greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

In the United States, more than 95% of the packages shipped to the country’s 200 million online shoppers are sent in containerboard – cardboard and corrugated containers. The use of cardboard and other packaging materials is expected to increase in the coming years as online sales continue to grow, according to Venditti. Between January and November of this year alone, American consumers spent about $547 billion online. That’s an increase of roughly 33% from the same period in 2019.

Several companies are working to reduce packaging waste and find more sustainable alternatives. For example, Amazon – which ships an average of 608 million packages each year – has eliminated more than 665,000 tons of packaging materials and more than 1.18 billion shipping boxes since 2008 through its Frustration-Free Packaging program, which provides consumers with recyclable boxes that are easy-to-open and free of excess materials such as plastic bindings and wire ties.

Venditti said recycling is one of the most efficient methods available for both retailers and consumers to reduce the number of cardboard boxes in the waste stream. It not only conserves energy and natural resources but also helps reduce pollution.

Cardboard, like other paper-based products, is manufactured from cellulose fibers extracted primarily from trees. “Paper and paperboard recycling makes more efficient use of our forest resources and avoids some of the environmental burdens associated with making cardboard from trees,” Venditti said.

More importantly, when consumers recycle packaging, it reduces the amount of cardboard in landfills – and the amount of greenhouse gases that it emits during decomposition. Cardboard packaging that is sent to landfills releases some fugitive methane that is not captured in landfill collections systems. Methane has a global warming potential that’s 20 times higher than carbon dioxide over the course of 100 years. It’s estimated that when consumers recycle 1 ton of cardboard, they save over 9 cubic yards of landfill space.

The percentage of cardboard boxes that Americans recycle has increased from 55% in 1993 to 92% in 2019. The remaining 8% of cardboard boxes is sent to landfills because it’s unsuitable for recycling, since it may be disposed of in remote areas, or contaminated with food or other material, according to Venditti.

“Paper is definitely a success in the materials recycling universe, with recovery rates far higher than plastics or glass and other materials,” Venditti said. “The recycling levels that we’re seeing with these boxes are incredible. But we need people to be more effective in their overall recycling, especially with other materials such as plastics and metals.”

Most Americans have access to community curbside or drop-off recycling for paper and paperboard packaging. But as consumers receive more products directly from online retailers, they’re recycling less and throwing away more. Part of the reason is the confusion over what is recyclable, according to Venditti.

However, while consumer behavior certainly plays a role in the country’s ongoing packaging waste, recycling programs in the U.S. face a bigger challenge. For the past quarter century, the U.S. and other countries around the world have sent a significant portion of their recyclable discards to China for recycling. But in 2018, China implemented strict restrictions on imported waste, including plastic, mixed paper and cardboard. This has left many municipalities and companies with nowhere to send their waste for recycling.

“China was purchasing recyclable materials for rather high prices, but now they’re not buying from us anymore,” Venditti said. “As a result, the price for recycled paper has decreased dramatically. What that means is that collectors and haulers don’t get as much money for their efforts. They’re not going to go the extra mile to collect the fringe materials that are on the borderline of profitability, so now we’re experiencing an excess buildup of waste materials.”

To address this issue, Venditti is spearheading a study that will examine the potential use of low-grade mixed paper waste in cardboard packaging in order to increase demand for recycled materials. The study is funded by the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, a Raleigh-based organization that supports solid waste research and education initiatives.

“A key challenge in the recycling industry is creating end-market demand for lower value/quality recyclables,” said Bryan Staley, president and CEO of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation. “Dr. Venditti’s research aims to strengthen pathways to increase recycled content using these materials. This allows for increased circularity of materials that otherwise would have limited value and improves overall sustainability.”

One of the study’s primary objectives is to better understand consumer impressions of packaging that contains paper waste, according to Venditti.

“Most cardboard boxes are brown with a consistent texture. But we’re using low-grade mixed paper waste to create boxes that have lighter speckles that might be recognizable as copy paper or magazine paper,” he said. “If a consumer sees a box with recycled content on the outside, how does that make them feel? Are they more likely to think that the packaging and therefore the product and company are more environmentally friendly? That’s what we want to know.”

In addition, Venditti and his research team are analyzing how the use of low-grade mixed paper waste impacts the physical properties of cardboard boxes, including strength and durability. Preliminary results show that the physical properties decrease by about 20%. The research team is currently working to compensate for that loss by exploring the addition of recycling process changes and additives.

Initial results from the study will likely be published sometime in 2021. Although the study is funded for 18 months, Venditti expects it to extend into the future as students and colleagues conduct additional research.

“The research, showing the benefits of low quality waste in paper packaging, is expected to demonstrate to companies a green and effective way to protect their products that have the added benefit of projecting a positive image of the product,” he said. “As the population of the world increases and demands for packaging increase, research projects to develop solutions like this one are critical for society.”

Written by Andrew Moore, College of Natural Sciences, NC State University

5 Reasons to Knuckle Down on Your Recycling in 2021

5 reasons to knuckle down on your recycling

 

Do you want to save the world? You don’t have to be an Avenger to make a difference. When you recycle, and recycle right, you help make the world a cleaner, greener place. Below we outline 5 reasons to knuckle down so you can start improving your recycling in 2021.

Contamination costs money (and even other recyclables).

Although you might feel good tossing something into the recycling bin, that good feeling could be short-lived if your discard doesn’t belong there. When you place something in the bin that shouldn’t be there, you create contamination. What does this mean? Often, contamination can lead to increased recycling facility downtime, equipment damage and low-quality or rejected bales. All these consequences of contamination cost operators time and money – a cost passed down to you.

Recycling incorrectly can lead to worker injury.

When incorrect items enter a materials recovery facility (MRF; i.e. a recycling facility), they can create unsafe conditions for workers. Think about the plastic film bags you get at the grocery store. While you may wish that those could be recycled, when they go through the sorter they become tangled, leading to a halt in operations and requiring workers to climb onto equipment to untangle the bags. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, MRF worker injuries and illnesses occur at a rate of 3.6 per 100 full-time employees.

Certain items can cause fires in facilities and collection vehicles.

When your batteries die or your laptop finally gives out, where do you put them? Although a number of products are recyclable, they don’t belong in your recycling bin. In part, this is due to the dangerous conditions they create in a collection vehicle or at a facility. For example, research demonstrates that batteries can cause fires at recycling facilities. In fact, preliminary results from an EREF research survey indicate that 68% of respondents have experienced at least one fire at their facility in the past year.

Forgoing recycling can contribute to greenhouse gases.

The latest data from the EPA indicates that gross U.S. greenhouse gas emissions totaled 6,677 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent – a 2.9% increase from the previous year. However, participation in curbside recycling can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 38% compared to landfilling with energy recovery.

Recycling availability is not an invitation to be wasteful.

A study by Catlin and Wang, 2012, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, evaluated waste generation when a recycling bin was available. In an office setting, researchers found that the availability of recycling bin resulted in an 82% increase in paper usage. Before grabbing a handful of paper, remember that not all materials can be recycled forever. Each time paper goes through the recycling process, it loses quality and integrity. In fact, paper can only be recycled 5 – 7 times.

There is good news! Now that you know the 5 reasons to knuckle down on your recycling, you can take the steps to start improving your recycling in 2021. Take a moment to educate yourself. Your state and county waste management websites are great resources for more information. See what items belong in your recycling bin and where to recycle items, such as batteries.