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Evolving recycling stream is subject of new report

Report looks at recent and anticipated changes in municipal solid waste streams, principally plastics, to foster greater understanding among supply chain members.

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A new report, “Making Sense of the Mix: Analysis and Implications for the Changing Curbside Recycling Stream,” provides insights into recent and anticipated changes in municipal solid waste streams and what those changes could mean for the recycling industry. Sponsored by the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, the report focuses mainly on plastics, to promote greater understanding among government, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), and waste management firms that are working to generate value from post-use materials.

Over the last decade, recyclers have had to adjust to a range of changes, from the sharp decline in newsprint to the adoption of larger carts and single-stream collection.The report provides a look at factors that have shaped today’s waste stream and trends that are likely to influence the waste stream in the years ahead.

Among the key findings:

  • Because of performance advantages and life-cycle environmental benefits, plastics have been replacing metals, glass, and fibers, particularly in packaging. In many cases, newer types of plastic packaging are multi-material laminates. These multilayered packages are very difficult to disassemble and recycle. As a result, plastics have become a growing part of MSW and in some cases create new recovery challenges for MRFs and recyclers.
  • Consumer demand for recycled plastic content continues to grow. The combination of growing consumer demand plus the availability of “tag-along” materials such as mixed rigid plastics has resulted in tremendous growth of collection and MRF processing for many different types of rigid plastics.
  • Designing for recyclability faces some inherent obstacles because it is a secondary consideration to performance in use, upstream environmental benefits, and marketing of product/package life. As a result, other options for end-of-life recovery for plastics, particularly energy recovery, are growing considerations.
  • Despite these rapid changes over a short time frame, many of these trends point to a continued resolve between materials and packaging manufacturers, brand owners, recyclers, and communities. Stakeholders are working to adapt and implement new technologies and programs that maximize the recycling and recovery of valuable materials in the ever-evolving stream of waste.

“Plastics makers recognize the critical role that recyclers play in the value chain and in sustainable living,” says Steve Russell, Vice President of Plastics for the ACC. “The evolving waste stream can create both challenges and opportunities for recyclers, and we want to help them succeed.”

Green Spectrum Consulting, LLC and Resource Recycling, Inc. authored the report.

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