Muncy briefs Rotary on changing world of recycling

Published 7:13 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Danville Rotary

Angela Muncy, Boyle County Solid Waste coordinator, gave Rotarians a very informative presentation about recycling. In addition, she’s currently the president of the Solid Waste Coordinators of Kentucky. Muncy is also a certified professional environmental educator. She feels education is essential to breaking generational cycles of acceptance for illegal dumps and the casual littering from car windows.

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After residents place their recyclables in their bin, they get carted off to be sorted and cleaned at a Materials Recovery Facility located in Lexington. From there, much of it is shipped off to mills, where bales of paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic are pulped or melted into raw materials. Some of these mills are here in the U.S. And once upon a time, many of them were in China.

Muncy pointed out that the recycling industry is undergoing significant changes. There are two primary causes of these in-process changes: 

• Climate change caused by greenhouse gases resulting from concentration of CO2 in the air (more than 400 parts per million by volume (ppm), compared to about 280ppm around the start of the Industrial Revolution); and

• What Muncy described as “the China National Sword.”

The Chinese National Sword, which came into effect in February 2018, bans imports of 24 types of recyclable materials and set a tougher standard for contamination levels in others. All nations are paying attention to the shifts in China’s policy, because China imports 55 percent of the recycled fiber in the world.  The new policy also bans various plastic, paper and other materials, including plastics such as PET, PE, PVC and PS. It sets a much tougher standard on the limit of contamination in plastic scrap, and allowed metals.

As a consequence of tighten standards, there has been a trend toward lighter weight tin cans and plastics that require processing more material to yield a ton of marketable commodities. Corrugated cardboard prices have declined 40 percent in the recent past. Musical storage devices weight has dropped significantly. Before 2018, the price for mixed fiber paper was near $100 per ton. Now it’s ranging around $17-$19 dollars a ton. At the same time, processed white paper prices can reach $290 per ton.

To ensure compliance with China’s new standards, the most cost effective means is by using advanced sensor-based sorting technology. Equipped with laser, electromagnetic and near-infrared (NIR) technology, sorting machines can analyze multiple material characteristics, such as color, composition, size and density. Unusable materials can be removed by using compressed air guns. Highly effective sorting technology also enables recyclers to recover valuable metal and plastic from non-recyclables.

“In Boyle County we are limited to less capital-intensive alternatives. Without unaffordable capital outlays, we are facing lower revenues because of over supplies of recyclables that do not meet China standards.”

Added competition from other non-qualified suppliers is forcing Boyle’s processing costs higher because of increased labor and transportation costs. Muncy believes it will be necessary to acquire some new equipment or face contracting with suppliers who can provide needed services. She is currently applying for a government grant to purchase a mobile shredder to process white paper on site (a state requirement) at schools throughout Boyle County. Muncy believes that by acquiring the mobile shredder and hopefully some other up to date equipment, she will be able to take out the “middlemen” and keep that money “in-house.”

With those adjustments, Boyle County can continue grow its recycling efforts and provide much needed revenue for the county. She also feels that it will be necessary to develop new outlets for recycled materials.