Residential Recycling Is Being Dumped In Landfills, Faces A Crisis
Welcome to an interview edition of your daily Detroit recorded on Friday, March fifteenth twenty nineteen I'm spend gossips on today's show. We talk about some big issues. Facing the recycling industry with Joe Munem who heads up government affairs and public relations for Jeff L environmental USA, a large waste hauler and recycling business. Turns out municipal recycling. Bins of plastic containers, glass, bottles and paper that you put out in the Kirby tweak. What's facing some major challenges and your side recycling program could soon get a lot more expensive or go away entirely. We think it's a pretty fascinating conversation, and it's up, right? After this this up sort of daily Detroit, escorted by our members onto patriarch. You can help us. Push Detroit's conversation forward at patriotair dot com slash daily, Detroit. And thanks all right on a recent episode. I went on a little side rant during a story about a new drop off program. Mm-hmm. For unused pharmaceutical drugs at Mayer. It went a little like this. And I just want to just give another shout to Meyer at least the the eight mile Woodward location, which is near me. I don't know that. That's technically a supercenter. I don't think they have pharmacy there. But what they do have is. They offer a been where you can recycle you're on your your plastic bags, which everybody's you know, if you keep him, the everyone's got a million there, the world's got too many plastic bags and I'm on this rule rant lately. Because I read a story about how terrible plastic is for the planet. And that's it. Friends that caught the attention of today's guest, Joe moon him of GL environmental. He emailed us and offered himself up as a guest to talk about what he said where some tough choices facing communities that offer residential recycling services. It's gotten so bad. In fact, that the city of Westland has started landfilling, it's recyclable material for more on why let's go straight to the tape. All right, Joe. So you say that there are some huge issues effecting effecting, the recycling industry in the United States, and that's trickling down obviously to everybody here in the Detroit area. What's the issue? What's going on? Well, actually, it's not just the United States. It's worldwide one of the largest consumers, actually, the largest consumer formerly was the People's Republic of China. Okay. They were taking the vast majority of this mixed recyclables, and sorting through. It and getting that that material to be recycled. So in other words, the recycling that we put out on our curb every week here wherever you live in Detroit. Ends up getting put on a container ship. I assume and then shipped halfway around the world to China for recite for processing, generally what you have around. Metro-detroit communities is something known as single stream recycling where you have been or a cart and all of their psych lables that are accepted by whoever your Haller might be go into that. And you don't have to separate anything like used to. That's right. And that is picked up by a separate truck that takes it to something called a material recovery facility, or as we call it a Murph Murph, I love that. And they're it's put on a conveyor belt, and a a there are employees ease who sort by hand. And there are some very complicated machines that separate these materials into metal plastics. The different grades of plus the to the one nine whatever you, and and then, you know, these things are then sorted bailed. And sent to you know, to the mills for whoever's buying them at the time because recyclables are after all a commodity and the price fluctuates wildly will allot of the based on demand for for more recyclables. Okay. Formerly a lot of the mixed paper and plastics were being put on container ships and sent to China and one reason for that was when container ships come over here to bring all the goods that they're building in China. There's a very cheap rate when they have to go back to China's on these empty ships. So they were putting all these recyclables on their and previously. China had been accepting about a twenty percent rate of. Nation and by contamination. People don't always follow the guidelines that they're told to of what they can and cannot put in those bins or carts. And so, for example, for example, food or diapers or? Or law, a laundry detergent and the bottle for laundry detergent, typically like a number two plastic would be okay. But if they leave detergent in there, and it's I'm sure a lot of people do it without rinsing it out. I mean, I used to work in bars. And and Dr driving crazy, how many people would leave, you know, an inch or two of beer at the bottom of their bottles, which you know, those are all being recycled, obviously, and I had to dump them out because otherwise make them that spanning if that leaks over everything else you've now made that everything else non-recyclable so China previously decided that they were going to go with the twenty percent rate of contamination. They change their national policy and went to a half a percent rate of contamination, which cratered the market bought a year ago. And why did they make that that decision? And he had they decided that they were getting way too much garbage and not enough value from recyclables. Okay. That this no longer made sense for them economic. Weekly. Okay. However, the markets in the United States and throughout the world Europe is everywhere for this stuff was we no one was ready for this so materials that used to be profitable to recycling companies here. Now, you have to pay the murph's considerably more to separate that also in what we're expanding how much more we talk on. It's wild swings. I mean, it's you know, in some places it's over one hundred dollars and her per ton per tonne. Yeah. I mean, it's it. I mean it varies throughout the United States. It's just depends where you are. The real problem, though, his that disaffected their capacity because they had to slow their lines down and hire more people to sort now. These are the the Murph Murphy immaterial, reacts or facilities in in the Detroit area of Michigan or whatever everywhere everywhere in the country. Yeah. And what you've seen now because there's no place to take it and the markets have bottomed out, our warehouses and docks were these bales of recyclables are being are being piled to the sky. Now, there are still some countries who've been taking these over particularly in Asia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and they take it one month, and then get overwhelmed with it, and then stopped taking it, and they're taking it at the old, you know, twenty percent or whatever contaminated rape higher rates higher rate. I I can't tell you exactly what what their rates are. And I'm sure it varies. But when they can't get rid of it. And there's junk. That's where you're starting to see a lot of the stuff wind up in the ocean. Wow. All right. So so what does this mean? I mean, you're talking about this higher costs and everything who's that affecting. I mean, what what does this all mean for those of us who want to be conscientious and continue to recycle invariably? It means. It's going to cost you more. If you want to recycle the haulers, the recyclers can simply not absorb these kind of increases. So these cost half to be passed along. There are items that are not going to be as desirable. A lot of communities have told their residents were not taking number three through number seven plastics anymore because there's just no market for it. A lot of places aren't taking glass anymore because glasses never been a particularly good market. So you'll probably see a lot more places going back to the older days of source separation where you have to keep your pay. For separate and your plastic separate and glass supper, I I live in Sterling Heights and Sterling Heights has both curbside recycling. But they also have drop off centers at the drop off center, you take newspaper and put it in the newspaper. Ben, you take the plastics put him in the plastics metals and metals that's called source separation, and it is absolutely cleaner than dumping everything into one bin. So have we seen are there cities around the region that have started to increase their prices for recycling though? I mean, we your back services. You're you're going to see that more and more most notably in is in the news. Just a couple of weeks ago. The city of Westland notified the residents that because of the increase that they realized in hauling their recyclables that that for the time being they're taking the recyclables to be landfilled. Wow. That's an op. Option. Another option would be taking it to Detroit renewable power, which is the only waste to energy facility in the metropolitan Detroit area. And at least you could take those recyclables there and get electric and steam out of them, which you know, is is in reality a form of recycling. But there is a thought that maybe China's doing us a favor because before when they were taking the stuff we didn't have to think about. Yeah. This in a long term way. And now we're being forced to write it. You're talking about you know, we were previously sending all this material to China and more recently, we're finding other countries in Asia and elsewhere that are are willing to take it in at least until they get overwhelmed. Does it suggest that there's room in the United States to develop a more robust recycling industry or just the market is not exist for it? The markets don't exist right now. But I. I'm always confident in American ingenuity that somebody will look at something and say, here's how I can make a buck off of it. And that needs to be explored someone needs to figure that out. In the meantime, we need to not be buying as much plastic. Yeah. You know, you can look like a a piece of cardboard cardboard box. And and yeah, you say, that's that's recyclable. But as soon as there was there's a film over it. Not recyclable. Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, so that's that's a good point that we need to be buying less plastic and I'm fully behind that. But that's so difficult to everything now is wrapped in plastic. I was complaining to my wife recently that you know, we keep buying these sleeves of organic bell peppers that are wrapped in these plastic sleeves just go right in the trash, and it drives me crazy. You know? It's it's it's ubiquitous I have a neighbor. Whom I met who is a packaging engineer. And when I went to school. I didn't know there was such a thing as a packaging engineer, but they certainly find very creative way package things. And every the styrofoam not really recyclable of those little film airbags that you get when you order something from Amazon not recycling. It keeps everything nice and safe as their UPS tossing the the box into the truck. But you can't recycle it. Yeah. And I wish I had the immediate answer right now. Because then I'd be that guy with the better mouse trap and making a buck. But it's right now, I guess I'm just the bearer of bad news. Right. Right. But I mean, like, I'm sure you get asked all the time because you work in this business like, whoa. So what's what's the most conscientious way to to continue to support recycling and not have this stuff end up in a landfill or get burned? Well for the time being while we're still doing. Single stream recycling. Make sure that what you're putting into your recycling cart or bin is clean. Make sure that when you have a bottle of detergent or milk or something along that that you're rinsing it out that it's cleaned this not when you put in there. It's not going to contaminate everything else in there, just empty and rents these things and that right? There will help keep it cleaner in terms of developing markets along the way that's gonna take awhile. You know, we very much would like to see there be markets because you know, we we we may have to right? This is good for business. Yeah. Would be a great thing to promote in the United States economic development. Right. So he's good. Right. We always like that stuff. I I work for a company that's called green for life. And we do take that seriously. But we also are cognizant of the fact that. The market has to drive this to some point in the again recyclables are commodities. All right. Well, I'm not sure that this leaves me feeling any better about the the plastics crisis facing planet earth, but shirt pre sheets you coming in and and shedding some light on it. Joe Munem is director and of government in fairs and public relations for Jeff L environmental USA, just trash hauler a composter of municipal yard waste and recycler based in Southfield. Joe? Thanks. Thank you. All right friends. That'll do it for today's edition of your daily Detroit. Thanks as always for listening. Don't forget to tell your friends and family to check us out. If you don't already subscribe to us on apple podcasts or wherever find podcasts are found for Jair Cheyenne and everyone had daily Detroit. I'm send Gustafsen take care of each other. We'll see you around Troy. You're listening to the podcast Detroit network. Visit WWW dot podcast Detroit dot com for more information.