Rumpke Recycling Director Steve Sargent discusses 20 years of recycling and what the future holds for the industry in this two-part series. Read Part I.
What new markets began to develop in the 1990s?
While the packaging industry was trying to respond to the changing consumer and environmental demands in the early 1990s, plastic recycling markets grew significantly. Unfortunately, the wide variety of plastic resins used in manufacturing presented challenges causing many of the early plastic ventures to go bankrupt.
The paper industry also underwent a major consolidation. Most small paper mills closed because of limited capacity or outdated technology. New mills using 100 percent scrap paper were being developed. New pulping technologies also provided additional cleaning capacity for mills.
How did technology change or adjust?
We strived to process more recyclables from mixed recycling collection. We were consistently weighing collection costs with our ability to provide clean materials to the market. Ultimately, as a collector and processor, if our cost of doing business couldn't be paid by our customers of the revenue we received from the sale of recyclables, these programs would be in jeopardy. Along with striving to meet many new state legislative mandates, such as Ohio House Bill 592, technology had to change to sustain these programs.
What are some of the new recycling innovations, markets and other changes that have emerged in the past decade?
Single stream collection and processing have become the way our industry does business. New technologies have helped us meet challenges. During the past decade, recycling markets in our region have gone from primarily domestic to international. Recyclables are shipped overseas often at the same rate they are shipped to destinations within this country.
Learn more about single stream recycling.
Recycling is a commodity-based business. Our industry and our customers must understand we are impacted by commodity markets. It is our goal to minimize the impact of these markets on our business model. We are doing that in several ways, including investing in the newest optical sortation equipment (pictured on the right) and developing our own markets for mixed glass.
What changes do you predict in the future for recycling?
I predict we will see changes in fiber and glass markets. There is no question that newspaper is declining annually. Many of the large U.S. recycling facilities will no longer produce newspaper within five years. With more cardboard packaging entering our recycling stream, mixed paper markets may have to absorb greater volumes. A lot depends on the current newspaper markets and their ability to offer a consistent home and a fair price.
Much work is still needed in glass recycling. Rumpke has had some success at recovering mixed color glass from our recycling facilities and transporting it to our Dayton Glass Plant for final processing. It is extremely challenging, requiring substantial capital while trying to meet our container glass industry specifications. We must work cooperatively with the glass manufacturing industry to formulate a sustainable solution for glass.
Our future success in recycling lies mainly in our ability to produce marketable, contaminant-free materials to end-users. At Rumpke, we will continue to improve the single-stream system. Besides contamination issues, the health and safety of our workers is paramount in our belief that recyclables must be removed prior to the waste stream and collected separately.
Meet our Environmental Experts: Steve Sargent