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Single Stream: Closing the Loop
Taking A Whole Systems Approach
Sacramento, CA
May 23, 2005



Overview Design and Agenda Introduction

Morning Presentations

Benefits of Single Stream Challenges of Single Stream Recycled Product Manufacturing - What's the Future?

Afternoon Break-Outs

#1 - What Are We Building? #2 - Do We Have All the Right Tools? Thought Questions


Wrap Up Organizing Photos


We began with three panels designed to hear from each recycling system sector about the Benefits of single stream and then from each sector about the Challenges. Since people overwhelmingly said they do not know much about manufacturing, our third panel brought Manufacturers together to give insights into their processes and issues.

These morning panels were intended to give the Roundtable group a common foundation of information to build on in the afternoon discussions.


Moderator: Jim Hill, Dept. of Conservation



Tom Mabie, West Coast Counsel for the Glass Packaging Institute, wasted no time getting right to his point: "Your mother was right - you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

He took issue with many communities' over-emphasis on diversion, making clear that, "Diversion is not the same as recycling." The result of this over-emphasis has been some local communities not paying attention to the implications of choosing low cost programs.

Glass, in particular, has suffered. But, "Glass is good!" Tom exclaimed. On average, glass containers include 35% postconsumer cullet.

What are the benefits of using good quality cullet to make glass containers? Tom listed:

  • A ton of natural resources is saved for every ton of glass recycled, along with reduced demand for landfill space,
  • Glass furnace emissions are cut by 15-20%,
  • Energy demand is reduced by 25-32%,
  • Glass can be recycled repeatedly with no deterioration; it has virtually an unlimited recycling life,
  • Life of industrial glass furnaces is significantly extended, reducing manufacturing costs.

While glass cullet can come from a variety of sources, including curbside, drop-off, unused inventories, in-house scrap, and commercial sources (hotels, bars, and restaurants - beer bottles account for 56% of recyclable glass cullet), there is a significant increase in single stream curbside collection, with resulting increases in 3-color mix instead of color sorted. The technological ability to recycle 3-color mix (brown, green and clear) into new glass bottles is severely diminished compared to the opportunities for recycling color-sorted glass. Therefore, 3-color tends to go to non-recyclable uses such as roadbeds, when it could have saved natural resources indefinitely if it had gone back into new glass.

Nationwide, haulers are moving to higher compaction rates to increase the amount of recyclables per truck trip, but this also increases the likelihood of a 3-color mix (because glass pieces become too small to sort effectively), as well as higher rates of contamination and smaller sizes of glass pieces. The leading contaminants for glass containers - organics, porcelain and vision glass - can lead to weaker bottles that are more likely to break.

In fact, Tom said, "You need tighter specifications when you're hitting higher recycling rates. It gets tougher as you get better." Instead, GPI has seen a dip in the quantity of glass collected. While paper and plastics manufacturers are unhappy about getting glass baled into their feedstocks, the problem is actually a greater loss for the glass industry. All the glass that ends up at paper, plastics and aluminum mills is cullet that the glass industry cannot use.

Ironically, just as glass manufacturers' customers, especially bottlers, are demanding increasingly higher quality containers - and more of them - the quality and quantity of recyclable glass cullet is going down. As Tom made clear, "If we don't meet the specifications of our customers, we don't sell our product and then we don't buy your glass."

To remain competitive, glass manufacturers continue to reduce their processing costs, which in part translates into wanting more high quality glass cullet because that can decrease their energy costs. While they are working to raise quality specifications for cullet, there continue to be more glass plant closures.

GPI recommends clear and enforced contract requirements, including:

  • No compaction,
  • Determination of true residual rates, including accounting for materials sent to the wrong types of mills, and
  • A first, positive sort for glass at the processing MRF.


Smurfit Stone Container's mill in Santa Clara, where Dick Johnston is General Manager, makes 135,000 tons per year of 100% recycled paperboard for a number of consumer packaging uses, including cereal boxes and tissue boxes. The paperboard is clay-coated on one side to optimize printing.

Continuing one of the day's themes, Dick disagreed with earlier claims that "Diversion is King!" Instead, to a manufacturing mill, "Fiber Cleanliness is King!"

What is most important for making recycled-content consumer packaging?

  • Clean fiber,
  • A minimum of throw-outs (non-recyclable materials) so as not to overwhelm the cleaning system, and
  • Minimizing wax, oils, plastics, and metals (in that order)

Mincing no words, Dick explained that throw-outs make the mill's recycling system "constipated."

"We have a great cleaning system," he said, "but it can only take so much." Like other mills, he explained that what might seem like a small amount of contaminants and non-recyclable materials in one bale is magnified to an untenable amount by the several hundred tons of materials a paper mill takes in each day to make its products.

Wax and oils, he said, leave blotches on the paperboard, which is unacceptable to his customers. Imagine an oil blotch on the front of your Wheaties box or a section of your Tide detergent box that won't print. You get the picture.

Over 50% of the contaminants the Santa Clara mill gets is plastics. Plastic is now becoming ubiquitous in shredded paper bales, as well. Highlighting the differences between the needs of different types of paper mills, Dick said that the Santa Clara mill can handle glass, despite its being a big problem for newsprint mills. Instead, the problem for him at his paperboard mill is plastics, especially polystyrene which can slip through even the best cleaners and screens, leaving holes in the finished paperboard.

A drum pulper, which some newsprint mills use to separate out the plastics from the ONP (old newsprint), costs significantly more for a paper mill to put in (up to $75 million installed) than for a MRF to invest in equipment to sort more accurately.

Here are the givens:

  • The Asian Pacific wastepaper market currently sets wastepaper prices on the West Coast,
  • China's demand for wastepaper will continue to grow while U.S. domestic production is shut down,
  • This will result in the loss of high paying jobs,
  • But energy costs will continue to climb,
  • Freight costs will become a bigger factor in the final cost of all products,
  • Today's US manufacturers are challenged in getting enough capital to be able to clean the high levels of contamination in single stream collections,
  • While landfill costs are moving from the collector to the manufacturer.

What Could Happen?

  • What if China and the US get into a trade dispute? Where do we sell all this single stream material that is so commingled that many paper mills cannot use it?
  • What if China becomes more restrictive on the percentage of Outthrows (poorly separated materials in the bales), pushing separation costs back onto the collection stream again, as they are already beginning to do?
  • What if the lower price of European single stream materials becomes more attractive than U.S. materials, upsetting our markets?

What can we do?

  • We could do nothing
  • The State could offer grants, low interest loans or investment tax credits to help offset the capital costs of better separation and cleaning systems
  • California could repeal the 50% diversion rate and go back to pushing source separation

Paper - LES JOEL, BLUE HERON PAPER COMPANY, Newsprint (Powerpoint)

Les Joel is the Deink Plant Superintendent for Blue Heron Paper Company, located in Oregon City, 15 miles from Portland. Blue Heron produces 700 tons per day of newsprint for newspapers such as the LA Times, Fresno Bee and the Sacramento Bee, as well as specialty papers used by printers such as Vertis and Quebecor, which need higher brightness than standard newsprint. Blue Heron also makes the paper McDonald's uses for its bags. Both the bags and non-newsprint products require a higher quality pulp than that used for newspapers, which means the mill must meet even more demanding specifications than a typical newsprint mill.

Blue Heron takes in 530 tons per day of recovered paper from sources stretching all the way from central California to British Columbia, and from the West Coast to the Midwest. It buys #7 and #8 news, magazines (OMG) and office pack, as well as some post-industrial fibers. It also has a wood-pulp mill where it pulps 250 tons per day of wood chips.

In the Fall of 1998, Portland (OR) went from 14 separate recycling categories to one commingled category, except that glass is collected separately. Most of the materials are compacted during collection. Over the next three years, most other Oregon cities switched to commingled collection, following Portland's lead. In 2002 and 2003, the major Portland-area MRFs installed automated sorting lines to handle this commingled collection. These MRFs also began receiving unsorted materials from all areas of Oregon.

Blue Heron made a number of equipment and process improvements at its mill, but the impacts are still daunting. From 1999 to 2004, the mill increased the recovered paper it used from 154,000 tons to 182,000 tons, an increase of 18%. However, the amount of contaminants in this material doubled to over 6%, resulting in over 11,000 tons going to landfill, at a cost of over $500,000 annually.

One of the maddening things about the contamination problem is that it is not a consolidated problem, like the proverbial engine blocks in bales of paper. Rather, Les likened it to "death by 1,000 cuts." Costs increase at so many points in the process and at the mill that it becomes difficult to accurately quantify.

For example, because the contaminants have so dramatically increased (6% may sound minor, but magnified by more than 500 tons of feedstocks per day, it translates into 30 tons being lost each day), the mill has incurred increased expenses due to equipment damage and process upsets.

The higher level of contaminants, especially glass, require expensive screen baskets to be replaced more than twice as often as six years ago, nearly doubling the annual replacement costs to more than $100,000. Meanwhile, the glass, metals and plastics introduced into the papermaking system by poor MRF sorting are wearing out pipes and pumps much more quickly than in the past, and outside services have to be called in far more frequently to clean out pipes, drains and ditches.

To deal with the higher level of contaminants, Blue Heron has tried to penalize poor-quality suppliers, but realistically this is difficult because of competition from other mills in the Pacific Northwest for recyclable fiber. If Blue Heron doesn't use the fiber, other mills will because all need to feed their paper machines, but all suffer from the reduced quality, as well.

Blue Heron has stepped up its use of post-industrial (non-postconsumer) fiber to improve the quality mix of materials going through its deinking plant and to its paper machines and has modernized its equipment by putting in a drum pulper and more cleaners and screens. It also works with state and local governments on improving recovered paper quality.

Future steps the mill is planning include another $3 million for upgrades to its contaminant removal process, in part to provide more physical protection to its workers, and chemistry addition to deal with the increased adhesives from corrugated (OCC) that should have gone instead to a corrugated mill. It is looking at different options to reduce its landfilling costs, including the possibility of using some of the materials, especially the plastics and inappropriate fibers (such as OCC), as a fuel source. (Of course, this would preclude these materials that were collected for recycling from being used to make recycled products.) It is also looking at the potential for some materials recovery at its mill for the mis-directed recyclables. But it is a challenge to figure out how to handle the glass once it gets to a paper mill.

Les listed the types of contaminants he gets at his deinking mill, from the highest volume to the lowest:

  • Cardboard/boxboard
  • Hard plastics such as jugs and containers
  • Other types of papers that cannot be recycled at a newsprint mill, such as wet-strenth, laminated, and clay-coated,
  • Metals such as cans, tools, rods, and staples,
  • Usable fiber that is lost because it adheres to contaminant materials such as plastics or mixes in with the glass,
  • Soft plastics such as bags and film,
  • Glass - while lower in volume than many other contaminants, its insidiousness as a "sand" that can be air-borne as well as in the process water, plus its grinding capacity, presents serious hazards to a newsprint millŐs equipment as well as to its workers, and
  • Miscellaneous materials such as textiles and rubber.

Les headed off a common objection by saying that he is philosophically opposed to paying higher than the going rate to get good quality fiber.

"How many of your MRFs have data on your general quality like I have on how my mill runs?" he asked the audience. No hands raised. "Yet you want me to pay union wages and benefits to sort the material that was supposed to be sorted at your MRF?"

He ended with a rhetorical question: "I bought a new Chevy a few months ago. Does it make sense to expect me to now pay extra so that it will work well?"

Plastics - DENNIS SABOURIN, NAPCOR (Powerpoint)

Dennis Sabourin, Executive Director of NAPCOR, which focuses on markets for PET plastics, supported the sentiment that single stream recycling, if done properly, will work. However, he added, it may require proper techniques and capital expenditures.

After all, he said, "If you're not using the material diverted, you didn't divert."

Single stream programs still need to address:

  • Increase in residuals,
  • Loss of valuable recyclable commodities, and
  • Lost revenue due to downgrade of recyclables and lost sales opportunities

With PET plastics, it is especially economically compelling to solve single stream problems. After all, while the value of one metric tonne of newsprint is $100 - $125, the value of the same weight of PET is $530 - $570. And in California, where containers earn CRV value plus processing payments, one metric tonne of PET is worth a whopping $2,066. No wonder NAPCOR and others in the plastics industry are determined to keep PET bottles from being landfilled at paper mills because of poor MRF sorting.

Dennis pointed out that conditions at the MRF itself greatly affect the amount of residuals lost. First, its sources should be educated to provide good quality materials because the quality coming into the MRF affects the quality going out. But once the recyclables reach the MRF, factors more under its control play a big role, too.

For example:

  • Is the MRF a protected structure, to prevent weather damage to the materials?
  • How is the material dumped onto the floor? Materials dumped from a height, as when trucks back up to a pit, are more likely to include broken glass.
  • Is the material presorted before going onto the automated sorting equipment?
  • How does the MRF deal with high moisture conditions in its facility?
  • How many screens are used?
  • What is the width and depth of the materials on the conveyor belts?
  • What is the speed of the sorting belts?

NAPCOR recommends several steps to prevent bottle loss:

  • Educate residents to get a good quality incoming stream,
  • Handle no more than the appropriate tons per hour for which the MRF was designed,
  • Adjust the belt speed to ensure that the fiber doesnŐt become too deep, hiding other recyclables,
  • Remove film plastics before the materials reach the sorting screens,
  • Add another star screen to a single screen system, and
  • Send residuals back through the system.

In designing a single stream MRF:

  • Analyze the stream of material from the community that will be using it,
  • Design the MRF to handle that planned incoming stream of material, and
  • Be sure that what is diverted to the recycling system can actually be recycled.

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Benefits of Single Stream

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