Material recovery facilities can play an integral role in a waste management system designed to maximize recycling as they provide a last chance for recovery of recyclables before disposal (incineration or landfill).
From a mass balance perspective, these facilities are capable of diverting between 40-60% of what is in the municipal waste stream for the purpose of recycling.
NextUse complements and extend existing recycling and recovery efforts on two fronts:
- extract more recyclables from the waste stream, and
- increase local capacity to process sorted recyclables—an important service as source separation rates increase.
“Source separation” (i.e., putting recyclables in the blue box) continues to be a priority. But even after residents and businesses have done all they can, more than half of what is in our “garbage” is recyclable.
Waste composition studies conducted by Metro Vancouver (BC) indicates that even after reaching the goal of 70% recycling, more than 70% of the heating value from the incineration of the leftovers, or “garbage bag”, would come from burning recyclable paper and plastic. We believe those materials should be recycled instead of burned.
Modern material recovery facilities employ proven technology and manual quality controls to “break open the garbage bag” and pull out recyclable and compostable material not captured through recycling. This additional step significantly increases the amount of material recovered for the purpose of recycling and reduces the costs and the amount of waste that ultimately requires disposal.
Climate benefits of recycling
The inherent sustainability benefit of maximizing recovery of valuable material is the energy conservation versus energy conversion. Recycling does not convert the embodied energy in the plastics, papers, metals and organics into heat through combustion (i.e., incineration such as gasification, mass burn, pyrolysis). Rather, recycling conserves embodied energy by reintroducing valuable resources (i.e., plastics, metal, paper) into the manufacturing of new products and packaging. This “closed loop” avoids the need and costs to expend new energy acquiring and processing virgin material, and it reduces the need to waste non-renewable resources needed to make material such as plastics.
Despite continuing progress in recycling participation by residents and businesses, there is still an opportunity to recover valuable material before disposal. While we believe further progress with source separation can achieve high diversion targets, we also recognize that material recovery facilities can support that process with no requirement for tax increases to pay for inflexible infrastructure such as incineration.