AFTERNOON BREAK-OUT DISCUSSIONS
What does the recycling system look like when we unhook
from our day-to-day detailed work and look at it "from 30,000
feet up"? Bringing people from every recycling sector into
each discussion - people who often had not talked with each other
before - created new realizations and ideas that had not been obvious
when people only talked to others in their own recycling sector.
We try to grab highlights below, but we'll be glad to add comments
and further descriptions of the conversations from Roundtable participants.
Just send us an e-mail.
Check out the flow diagram of the
single stream recycling system that EPA-Region 9 created
for comment and discussion.
Consider the Thought Questions
we used to jump-start some of our ideas.
BREAK-OUT SESSIONS #1 - WHAT ARE WE BUILDING?
1. What Would A Healthy California
Recycling System Look LIke 10 Years From Now?
This topic was so popular that the large group broke
into two smaller discussion groups to allow more people the opportunity
We need to create a shift in public education. There's
a disconnect there, consumers are not understanding that the products
they buy come from valuable resources.
We need to emphasize producer responsibility and expand
advance disposal fees.
AB 939 is a piecemeal approach to recycling. It doesn't
spread the obligations to all players. We need to move beyond obligating
only local governments.
We expect to rely on more automation in the future.
We should develop partnerships between local governments
and manufacturers. Recycling responsibility should be shared half
and half. Representatives from each of these sectors in this group
were very happy to be talking to each other.
We need to give incentives to manufacturers and processors
to ensure a quality recycling system.
The Glass Packaging Institute is looking for pilot
projects to develop better ways for collecting and processing glass.
Product design is not directly the problem. It still
comes back to an issue of the cleanliness of the materials.
Comments from the Discussion
- Recovered material quality is getting worse, this causes problems
at manufacturing mills, it's difficult to find a supplier who
will treat glass as a commodity.
- Right now there is a piecemeal approach to recycling instead
of a whole systems approach.
- Relying on optical technology for accurate sorting is expensive.
- In California, single stream recycling systems are going to
automation and much larger containers than what residents had
Some Suggestions -
- AB 939, California's law requiring local governments to achieve
50% diversion, needs improvements in order to spread obligations
to include more of the players in the system.
- Promote producer responsibility to ensure recycling of manufacturers'
- Encourage consumer commitments to promote successful recycling
- right now, consumers for the most part are disconnected from
knowing what's going on in the system or how it works.
- Design products for recyclability.
- Create incentives for cleaner materials and more effective functioning
of the recycling system, e.g. variable residential rates to encourage
recycling, higher payments to processors for cleaner materials,
incentives to recycling manufacturers, benefits at every stage
of recycling for improving the system.
- Further develop markets.
- Publish Best Practices.
- Evaluate single stream systems vs. dual stream systems and other
recycling program configurations.
- Educate households and businesses about how the recycling system
functions and how best they can participate.
- Develop better technology.
- Create partnerships, such as between local governments and manufacturers.
- Encourage treatment of recovered materials as "commodities
rather than trash."
- Develop glass industry pilot projects to research effective
ways to process glass for use in recycled manufacturing.
Summary - Top Themes
Who's responsible for recycling? Individuals are responsible
and individual companies are responsible.
For California, the more control we have at the local
level, the better because we don't know what will happen on the
We need to shift public recycling education from "How"
Go back to dual stream.
Emphasize stewardship - keep it in California.
Focus on resource conservation - give credits and
Comments from the Discussion
- Recycling starts with the generator.
- We must balance recycling requirements with markets because
California's legislation puts the onus on local governments.
- Mandate postconsumer content.
- Emphasize fact-based decision-making.
- Rates for hauling are looked at as a tax - this impacts recycling.
- Hauling should be treated as a utility.
- Collection companies should do due diligence on exported recyclables.
- Focus on production/manufacturing using recyclables in CA.
- Make recycling mandatory.
- Create a system with incentives tailored to site/business/location.
- Give awards for products designed to be more easily recycled.
- Mills should design the MRF.
- Local governments should use model contracts, RFPs and partner
- Rates should be based on residual amounts.
- "Diversion" is pushed by the current system, not complete recycling,
because municipalities are held responsible and they have control
- Educate the public regarding resource limits.
- Develop Wet/Dry MRFs.
- Improve conversion technology for energy and waste-to-energy.
- Negotiate contract franchise fees with incentives for quality.
- Improve separating technology to handle single stream to produce
- Make recycling part of a national energy plan.
- Change the RMDZ program (offering incentives for recycling
development in targeted zones) to push urban planners to include
- Make manufacturers of recyclable materials more responsible.
- Continue financial incentives such as for e-waste, the bottle
bill, tire recycling.
- The State should come out with a simple definition for resource
conservation and find a way to measure success.
2. Can Foreign Recycled Manufacturing
Offset Potential Domestic Recycled Manufacturing Losses?
Massive amounts of recyclable materials are being
exported. Do people really care?
Why has the public bought into recycling? One major
theme is to "save landfills." But the public is not aware that materials
are being exported.
They're more likely to see news items about new businesses
starting up in their area, so they think that's what industry is
all about. They get the impression that recycling businesses are
very successful. They're not aware of the problems. They don't realize
how much is going offshore.
How can we keep tabs on the environmental impacts
overseas created by our materials and also created by the manufacturers
there that use our materials?
What's our goal? Do we want to be recycling or diverting?
Comments from the Discussion
Local governments are very effective at conveying the message
of "Keep it out of the landfill" because that's what we've taught
them. That's why recycling programs are now overwhelmingly focused
on "saving landfills." With that goal, where the materials get
recycled is not relevant.
The public has no idea that so much of the materials they recycle
is being exported. In fact, many in the public have no idea how
materials are recycled at all. It is not uncommon for them to
believe that recycled products are made at the MRF or the local
transfer station. They are not aware of the far-reaching supply
chain for recycled product manufacturers.
The domestic market for recovered materials is different from
the export market. For example, commingling plastics kills the
domestic recycled plastics industry.
There is a wide disconnect between recycling and economic development.
People think that jobs stop at the door of the MRF. They're not
recognizing the jobs at recycled product manufacturing facilities
or the taxes those industries pump into the local economy.
Cities want to build more residential housing now. They don't
care about maintaining what previously were their industrial corridors.
Offshore pricing is the current driver in California's recyclable
materials markets for both quality and quantity. Manufacturers
are being forced into taking what China will take, at the same
price that China will pay.
The State should give first right of refusal to domestic markets
Prices for plastic resins are higher on the East Coast because
there is more competition, there are more manufacturers.
Maybe there should be a policy addressing manufacturing needs.
We need to know more about the environmental impacts of sending
our materials overseas. China has serious water problems. These
are the things that create wars in the future.
Environmental standards are being used as ANTI-competitive in
global agreements. We need to push the United Nations for global
Shipping bales of paper fiber into China that contain plastic
bottles because of poor sorting is aiding and abetting smuggling
because it is illegal for postconsumer plastic bottles to be shipped
The Chinese government has made major investments in paper mills
so they can clean materials enough to use them. U.S. paper companies
are competing against the government there, not against other
We buy a lot of materials from Mexico, so our impact there is
similar to China's impact on our markets.
There is a difference between "recycling" and "diversion" - they
are leading to conflicting policies.
We need a reasonable collaboration of government policies for
paper manufacturing. If you want to reduce logging, then don't
also limit the other materials that paper manufacturers need.
3. Globalization: Are
We At Its Mercy Or Can We Guide the Change?
Are we at the mercy of globalization? NO! . . . But
. . . how can we change and guide our recycling program?
The U.S. is the most technological nation on earth,
can move faster and change faster than any others, and we can maximize
our "new" recycled products.
China and other industrializing countries are trying
to grow to be like we already are.
The world does look to California for models.
Comments from the Discussion
In order to narrow down this huge topic, the group focused conversations
on film plastics, supply/demand realities that lead to offshoring,
chemical by-products of recycling, marketing and the supply chain,
zone projects that encourage investment in certain areas, and
the impact on jobs.
They recognized that globalization leads to interdependence,
a perception that "the world is getting smaller," loss of the
ability to be isolated, and horizontal relationships instead of
the previous vertical relationships.
Globalization also gets into international relations; each country
is independent and can opt out of agreements.
Increasing regulations in response to perceived problems with
globalization can lead to isolation and job loss, especially for
Benefits of globalization include:
- Increasing environmental justice
- Being at the forefront of the recycling industry
- Making positive changes in technology and policies
- Developing training processes to empower people
- Encouraging emerging industries and technologies
- Developing new business relationships, such as PRCC making PET
pellets to make PET bottles
- Increasing U.S. flexibility
- Encouraging investments when appropriate
Negatives of globalization include:
- Dumping U.S. problems on other countries (e.g. waste) - need
to ensure a level global playing field
- Increasing the gap between rich and poor
- Sending U.S. jobs overseas
- Creating such decentralization of production that the U.S. could
end up unable to produce for itself in the future
Globalization could be either a positive or a negative
- Consumer choices are a huge economic driver.
- We need to understand other cultures, not just throw money at
- Is it really cost-effective to go offshore?
- We need to focus on educating the public about the changes taking
- Much of what goes to China stays in China, e.g. PET, contrary
to many assumptions that it is simply recycled there and returned
- We should look at economies of scale and decide what makes sense
to recycle here and what should go abroad.
- As energy costs increase, what do we do? It may not always be
cheaper to buy from Asia.
- We need to maintain high recycling standards in the U.S.
- What are we going to do when overseas markets no longer want
our materials but we have destroyed our domestic manufacturing
- Maybe it's in our best interest to make sure our materials get
top dollar in Asia. After all, there are no PET reclamation facilities
west of Ohio, although now there are plans to build one here in
- Maybe we NEED to lose some infrastructure while there's demand
Thomas Friedman observed in a recent opinion column that the
world is getting smaller, political entities are quickly changing,
and we need to recognize and proactively deal with globalization.
Maslow's hierarchy suggests that other countries will develop
better environmental laws as their standards of living rise.
Are we at the mercy of exports? Both yes and no. We definitely
are influenced by them.
We can learn from others.
There are lots of opportunities for collaboration.
There are many untapped resources.
Rather than opposing globalization, we can drive it to create
Asia makes us be better business people.
Globalization gives us new opportunties - we have great technology,
the best manufacturing infrastructure in the world (although not
the best recycling infrastructure).
In fact, we need to work on developing our recycling infrastructure.
For that, we can learn from other countries. We have opportunities
to create new collaborations, see the rest of the world as partners.
BREAK-OUT SESSIONS #2 - DO WE HAVE
ALL THE RIGHT TOOLS?
1. Is "Diversion"
Enough? Are the Goals of Diversion and Recycling Compatible?
We need to create a Values-Index that brings everybody
into the picture, creates a recycling system that acknowledges the
obligation that everyone in the system has to make it run well.
Diversion is more dynamic than we thought. At the
very least, we can give the concept of diversion credit for showing
us where and how not to go in developing our recycling system. Is
it a strategy or a goal, and which should it be?
We need to shift responsibility for the California
recycling system so that it is not exclusively on local governments,
but is shared among all sectors of the system.
The manufacturing mills say they can report their
millage loss (how much material arrived at their dock that was unusable
because of poor sorting) by jurisdiction in some cases, and to the
state in others.
Comments from the Discussion
We need to look at the total waste stream.
Why are we differentiating between diversion and recycling? What
is the true purpose of AB 939? The regulations are tied to jurisdictions,
not to markets. AB 939 is good for jurisdictions and for haulers.
It created markets for new commodities such as mixed paper, feedstocks
to manufacturers have increased, the market has found new ways
to use recyclable goods. Let's take the burden of responsibility
off local governments and move to shared responsibility. Let's
declare victory in achieving AB 939's goals and go on to the next
Has AB 939 increased or decreased jobs? Has it increased or decreased
new companies? It certainly has increased truck and hauler jobs.
From the haulers' perspective, AB 939 was very important. It keeps
rates down, saves landfill space. But others think that "diversion"
has not benefited California, has not increased jobs and industries.
We should have started with first developing stronger markets
for recyclable materials. Then cities would have responded more
appropriately to AB 939's diversion mandates. We need domestic
markets for MRF products such as paper. We need a sustainable
marketing policy coupled with environmental policies.
The hard part is how to turn the values that are needed for a
strong recycling system into compelling slogans.
Is the residue at the mills counted in cities' diversion rates?
No, it is not.
We need to create incentives for the mills to better deal with
Many favor a 75% diversion rate, but to get there we need a paradigm
change. We should make state government a role model. Others emphasized
the need to focus on zero waste.
Diversion numbers are estimates. The CIWMB is trying to improve
tracking measures. Increasing the diversion goal makes sense,
but we need to do a better job of documenting how much really
is diverted. Does 75% diversion really make sense? We need to
improve education about recycling and not just count beans to
make it work. We need to develop a realistic diversion rate. Don't
just dump trash on others.
But where are the materials going? There's too much focus on
numbers and not enough on the products made from the materials.
There is little value placed on where the materials go.
We're not maximizing recycling's potential. We're facing having
to choose between Quality vs. Quantity. Downcycling is not diversion.
We need to re-examine our policies as a state. We need to look
beyond diversion, or link it to other global issues, look at a
broader picture. We need to develop an all-encompassing policy
to deal with waste. We need a state industrial policy.
Right now, China is getting the "junk" qualities of processed
materials. Domestic mills are getting better quality because suppliers
are committed to commercial businesses. When China no longer accepts
low quality bales, this move to low quality MRF processing will
come back to haunt us. We're lumping all our materials into garbage
when they're not garbage - they're potential natural resources.
Don't let the sometimes outlandish ways of determining diversion
numbers undermine the public trust. In some cases, cities can
count e-mails as "diversion."
Factor in the amounts of materials lost from single stream (or
other) systems at the mills. Find out from manufacturers what
their real residual numbers are. Do we have a real problem? Would
it make sense to change to disposal-based accounting (which would
include materials disposed in other places, such as manufacturing
facilities) rather than diversion? Mills could report their millage-loss
back to jurisdictions or to the state. We need to develop methods
to track lost materials. There needs to be more communication
between mills and jurisdictions, increase information sharing.
Maybe we need a formula that balances diversion with the number
of jobs created, highest and best use of materials, taxes brought
in, and other factors. Maybe we need some sort of report card
to measure local program success.
There's a lack of good recycling programs in schools, but we're
still meeting our diversion goals.
The "curbside model" of recycling is not appropriate for businesses.
It decreases their materials' value, when they are the "last best
place" for high quality materials.
Build public/government/manufacturers' concerns into a diversion
formula that equals increased value. Develop a "Values Index."
Diversion is more dynamic than we thought.
Should diversion be a goal or a strategy? "Diversion" was originally
intended to be a strategy to push recycling, but it has become
a goal. It is not sufficient as a goal for developing a strong
How can we incorporate the highest and best use for recyclables,
and should we?
Shift the recycling burden from jurisdictions to the state, or
share the burden among all participants (local, state, manufacturers,
haulers . . .).
Mills could report millage loss to governments so they can re-evaluate
the recycling process
2. Can Processing Technology
and Equipment Design Solve Manufacturers' Problems?
We can throw as much money as we want into the system,
but that just shifts the costs from one sector to another.
What is important is not only the type of equipment
you use, but also how you train your workforce on a daily basis.
Note how much equipment is improving. For example,
optical sorters have become 6x better over the past few years. But
some of the feedback loops are still missing, including for quality
Comments from the Discussion
Technology is improving but it's not there yet.
Generally, equipment can be divided into three types: sorting,
optical, and robotic (more future than present). Optical sorting
is now 6x better than 4 years ago. The newer generation of technology
Film plastics such as plastic bags are a problem, but how much
depends on each type of mill. Some solutions may include bagging
the bags (so that they are easier to pull out of the sorting systems),
taking bags back to stores, protecting paper by putting it in
bags, and pre-sorting. There's not enough communication about
film plastics. Do we need an ISO standard? Could optical equipment
sort film plastics?
Some solutions to processing problems may be:
- Routing already-sorted materials to the right manufacturers
(e.g. retaining sorted glass from commercial establishments)
- Using optical sort equipment for plastics
- Creating simplicity at the curb
You can do equipment testing, but quality depends on end-use
specifications that need to be adequate for the materials coming
in. A well-trained staff and good operations are as important
as equipment. The more equipment you buy, the costlier your
operation is. A lot depends on communication with customers.
Europe's MRF technology is more advanced and also more automated.
Truck compaction can be problematic for glass and paper.
Are we only shifting costs? Is single stream really cheaper
or is that a myth?
We need sensible equipment focused on the end product. But
how much do you want to spend? There is a need for R&D.
There is concern about processors depending on Asian markets.
3. Are Market Forces Enough
To Develop the System and Solve Problems?
(Or are there needs for legislation, regulations,
financial incentives, tax credits, or other implementation assistance?)
Are market forces enough? No!
There is a disconnect between economic development
and recycling market planning. We need to encourage better communication
and collaboration between these different departments in local governments.
There is no "free market" in California.
We need to shift subsidies that still favor virgin
materials and level the playing field for recycling. For example,
people/companies are not aware of what's available to them through
RMDZs (Recycling Market Development Zones).
Legislation and regulations should be different for
different materials. Recycled content mandates can work, although
incentives are preferable to mandates.
California recycling should take advantage of the
types of grants that the Department of Conservation has been making
that is helping to develop our recycling infrastructure.
We need to look at other materials, too, not only
the ones most often collected in single stream systems.
Comments from the Discussion
- Recyclables are basic commodities, the raw materials for manufacturing.
- We need to follow manufacturing needs to ensure recycling success.
- Some of the considerations are whether materials come back to
the U.S. as products, are manufacturers locally oriented, effect
of transportation on costs and environment, where are manufacturing
- Cost and public policy are moving manufacturing out of the U.S.
What products can we make here cost-effectively now?
- What are the true costs of the so-called "free market"?
- There is no "free market" in California.
- A reduced recyclables distribution area would reduce fuel use
- Local markets are sustainable, can use recycled content.
We can shift subsidies, similar to the ways that hybrid cars
are now encouraged. SWANA has done a recycling incentives study.
We should compare the lower mill cost vs. the cost to recycle.
We could eliminate or give tax credits for sales tax on manufacturing
equipment. We could emphasize government grants to develop recycling
capabilities, such as DOC's $10 million annual grants that can
tip the economics for infrastructure improvements. We should
eliminate current subsidies that favor virgin product manufacturing.
Land policies often discourage local manufacturing options,
such as in some jurisdictions that are moving manufacturers
out of previously-designated industrial corridors to make room
for urban development.
We need to work on correcting the disconnect between economic
development and recycling policies that discourage local manufacturers.
We need to publicize California's RMDZ program that gives incentives
for job development in target areas.
We need a lot more communication and collaboration between
all parties, including local governments, collectors and markets.
AB 939's goals and the parties directed to meet requirements
are at odds with AB 2020's goals and parties.
Reduce single-use products.
Manufacturing of products leads to waste. Should we be looking
at advance disposal fees? Recycled content mandates?
Appropriate recycled content and approaches to recycled products
varies by type of material. Beware of unintended consequences.
Products need a level playing field and must meet consumer specifications.
We should consider contracting for development of best practices.
Use carrots and incentives, not mandate and sticks. Find successful
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