Rumpke Recycling Director Steve Sargent discusses 20 years of recycling and what the future holds for the industry in this two-part series.
What year did you enter the recycling industry and why?
I entered the recycling business in 1980 as an administer at PICCA, Inc. in Circleville, Ohio. Our community was dealing with the closure of our local landfill and seeking alternatives. I wrote a grant application for a collection vehicle and containers to start recycling glass from the local Coca-Cola bottling company. PICCA expanded to become the largest, non-profit recycling operation in Ohio, and was purchased by Rumpke in 1989.
Read more about Steve Sargent.
What items were acceptable at the time?
In 1980, primarily metal scrap, cardboard and high grade paper. Limited regional markets were available for glass, newspaper and some industrial plastic scrap. Aluminum cans were just entering the beverage markets at the time.
What players were involved in the industry?
Recycling in the Midwest was represented by many family-run businesses, usually scrap metal or paper recycling. Even the large haulers at that time transported their recyclables to these family-run companies. In the mid-1980s, curbside recycling began and we started to see large public haulers enter the recycling business.
Rumpke's story dates back to 1932. Read more.
How was recycling processed?
Early on, processing technology was non-existent. Generally, all commodities (paper, plastics, metals, glass) had to be separated by hand and delivered to recycling centers that way. That began to change by the late 1980s.
What markets or end users existed?
In the early 1980s, markets existed for all types of fiber (paper), primarily cardboard. Several paper mills operated in the Midwest and Ohio Valley, consuming only a few hundred tons a day of fiber. Today, those mills are all closed.
Aluminum cans became a desired commodity in the mid-1980s with many of the large beverage companies supporting efforts at local buy-back centers to secure additional volumes.
The largest consumer of glass containers at that time was the Owens-Illinois plant in Huntington, West Virginia. Today, that plant is closed. Plastic bottles didn't emerge until the late 1980s. The Haviland Drainage Company became a large consumer of our #2 plastic bottles in the late 1980s and that relationship continues today.
Did you know you could leave the lids on your plastic bottles for recycling? Get more recycling tips and facts.
Describe the transition of recycling in the late '80s and early '90s
In the early 1990s, dual stream collection and processing began in our market area. Gone were the days of separating each commodity at the point of generation (home) and collecting the material in trucks with (up to) seven different compartments. Dual stream allowed all the containers to be collected together with paper and cardboard separated into a separate bin on the truck. Dual collection dramatically reduced collection costs and provided the opportunity to process marketable materials. Rumpke designed and built five dual stream recycling facilities by 1996 in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. This provided the foundation for single stream processing in the next decade.
Want to read more? Come back next week for part two of this series.