Tuesday, February 25, 2014

All That Garbage: What Will Houston Do To Itself?

I'm going to let the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) tell the story from its beginning (H/T Frank Blake of Houston Sierra Club for pointing me to this source):
What is “One Bin for All?”

In 2012 the City of Houston applied for a Bloomberg Mayors Challenge grant for what it calls “One Bin for All,” a program the City claims will provide recycling to everyone in the City. The proposal is to build a facility which would allow City of Houston residents to throw all of their discards—trash, recycling, yard waste, food waste, etc.—into a single bin for sorting later. This type of facility is what is known as a “dirty MRF.”
In other words, we go back to what we used to do with trash in the pre-recycling days. Why am I not surprised this idea emerged from something with Bloomberg's name on it. Anyway...
What is a dirty MRF?

MRF stands for materials recovery facility, and all recycling centers are MRFs. This is a place where recyclable materials are sorted into their various types so they can be sold on the market—plastics of various types, metals of different types, paper, cardboard, glass, etc. A dirty MRF also sorts out trash. All discards—trash, recycling and organics—come in mixed through the front door, and separate categories of materials come out sorted through the back door.
Except... they don't. The process produces a wet, dirty mess which, unlike single-stream recyclables (i.e., all recyclables in one bin, all wet or nonrecyclable trash in another), has no commercial value as-is.

Why are dirty MRFs a bad idea?

Wet plus dry equals wet. If you take dry, clean materials and throw them in the same bin as wet, messy trash, all of the materials get wet and dirty. Most recyclables are only valuable on the market if they are clean and dry. This means that much of the paper and cardboard you throw in this “One Bin” cannot be sold, and will not be recycled. ... Even plastics collected from real recycling are sometimes considered too dirty. Dirty MRF plastic may not be able to be recycled at all.
Will China take this?
That's because China, our biggest customer for recyclables (they need the plastics to mix into food and sell back to us [/irony]), insists on ultra‑clean plastics for recycling. So...
How much material in a dirty MRF is really recycled?

Estimates from the Royal Society of Chemistry are that 10-30% of dirty MRF materials can be recycled. ...
So we go from recycling, say, a good majority of our recyclable wastes to recycling 10-30%, right? Wrong, based on the experience of the city of Toronto; they managed at best 5-10%. Don't believe everything you're told, and don't believe a damned thing you heard from Bloomberg & Co.

But that's not the last implausible claim:
How can the City of Houston promise 75% diversion in two years?

Dirty MRFs in the past have used trash incineration to claim big “diversion.” The City of Houston has called for the new dirty MRF to use “gasification” and “catalytic conversion” technologies, both of which are defined as incineration by the EPA.
INCINERATION. Finally, the truth comes out. They're gonna burn the dirty MotheRF... I mean, the dirty MRF. Just like the old days. And also just like the old days, incineration of trash is one of the single most polluting processes in the world. Period. Through the "good" offices of some Bloomberg foundation, Houston is proposing to do with trash what our parents and grandparents did with trash.

What an improvement, eh? Eh?

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