Technical FAQs

Technical FAQs

Why is it that 12 and 24 pack beverage container boxes are not readily recyclable?

It all has to do with how these boxes were manufactured in the first place. This material, referred to in the industry as wetstrength, has been treated with chemicals to strengthen the box and make it resistant to water. Because of this, it is extremely difficult for a paper mill to break down the box during the pulping process at the mill. This is one of the materials that can cause equipment problems and quality control at a paper mill. The best thing to do is just toss it in the garbage so it never becomes a contamination issue at the recycling facility and paper mill.

Why is it so difficult to recycle plastics?

Plastic recycling faces one huge problem: the various plastic grades/resins must not be mixed for processing, yet it is almost impossible to tell one type from another.

To help distinguish between the various plastic resins, manufacturers of plastic containers and other plastic products have labeled these products with various codes. These codes to not infer that the plastic can be recycled, only to distinguish between the various plastics.

Why does recycling cost money?

There are numerous activities with costs that are associated with recycling. These activities include collection, processing and transportation.

Collection costs involve the following:

    • Operation costs of collection vehicle
    • Labor costs in the collection process
    • Maintenance costs of collection vehicle
Processing costs involve the following:
    • Labor costs to sort and process the recyclables
    • Capital costs for recycling equipment and facility
    • Operation costs of equipment
    • Maintenance costs of equipment and facility
Transportation costs involve the following:
    • Labor costs to load processed materials onto transportation trucks
    • Transportation costs of the processed material
Revenues for marketed recyclable materials, which can fluctuate like the price for other raw materials, do not always cover the collection, processing and transportation costs.

Overall, the environmental and industrial benefits of recycling far exceed those of landfilling and incineration. This is because products manufactured from recyclable materials save energy, reduce air emissions, save natural resources and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases

Why are plastic HDPE tubs not accepted in most community recycling programs?

Although plastic bottles and tubs are manufactured from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the tubs are generally not recyclable. HDPE bottles are produced through a blowmolding process, while HDPE tubs are produced through a injection molding process. The melt flow indices is different which means that the two materials melt at slightly different temperatures. This can cause problems with quality control and the manufacturing equipment.

What is the solid waste management hierarchy?

The solid waste management hierarchy ranks the most preferable ways to address solid waste. Source reduction or waste prevention is the best approach. This is followed by reuse and recycling/composting. Waste that cannot be prevented, reused or recycled/composted can be incinerated or landfilled according to proper regulations.

Why is source reduction at the top of the hierarchy? Because the best approach to managing solid waste is to avoid creating it in the first place. This means reducing the amount of trash discarded and reusing containers and products instead of throwing them away.

Once waste is created, recycling, which includes composting, is one of the most effective methods of reducing the amount of material in the waste stream. If waste cannot be recycled, incineration or sanitary landfilling are the next preferred methods of treatment.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

Is recycling worthwhile?

Recycling is one of the best environmental success stories of the late 20th century. Recycling, which includes composting, diverts millions of tons of material away from landfills and incinerators. Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. As a matter of fact, collecting recyclable materials is just the first step in a series of actions that generate a host of financial, environmental, and societal returns. Key benefits to recycling are as follows:

  • Protects and expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace.
  • Reduces the need for landfilling and incineration.
  • Saves energy and prevents pollution caused by the extraction and processing of virgin materials and the manufacture of products using virgin materials.
  • Decreases emissions of greenhouses gases that contribute to global climate change.
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.
  • Helps sustain the environment for future generations.

Recycling not only makes sense from an environmental standpoint, but also makes good financial sense. For example, creating aluminum cans from recycled aluminum is far less energy-intensive, and less costly, than mining the raw materials and manufacturing new cans from scratch.

Because recycling is clearly good for human health, the nation's economy, and the environment, many people wonder why the federal government does not simply mandate recycling. The primary reason is that recycling is a local issue - success and viability of recycling depends on a community's resources and structure. A community must consider the costs of a recycling program, as well as the availability of markets for its recovered materials. In some areas, not enough resources exist to make recycling an economically feasible option. State governments can assess local conditions and set appropriate recycling mandates.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

What cost my community more - recycling or throwing trash away?

The answer to this question will vary depending on where one lives, and comparing recycling program and waste disposal costs. Disposal fees for landfills, waste transfer stations, and incinerators vary across the country, but in many areas, particularly on the heavily populated East Coast, they are significant expenses. Costs and returns for recycling programs also vary greatly, depending on the local resources and demand for the recovered materials.

Recycling does cost money, but so does waste disposal. Communities must pay to collect trash and manage a landfill or incinerator and so also should expect to pay for recycling. Assessing how recycling will impact a community requires a full appraisal of the environmental and economic benefits and costs of recycling, as compared to the one-way consumption of resources from disposing of used products and packaging in landfills and incinerators. Analyzing all of these factors together will help to determine if recycling is cost effective in a community.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

If there is plenty of landfill space, then why should I recycle?

Recycling offers a host of environmental, economic, and societal benefits. While landfill space is plentiful on the national level, some areas of the United States, particularly the heavily populated East Coast, have less landfill capacity and higher landfill costs.

Communities can make money and avoid high disposal costs by selling certain recyclable materials. Markets for recovered materials fluctuate, as markets do for all commodities, depending on a variety of economic condition.

A report released by the National Recycling Coalition offers perhaps the most compelling evidence of how and why recycling makes good economic sense. Simply put, recycling creates jobs and generates valuable revenue for the United States. According to The U. S. Recycling Economic Information Study, more than 56,000 recycling and reuse establishments in the United States employ approximately 1.1 million people, generate and annual payroll of $37 billion, and gross $236 billion in annual revenues. According to the report, the number of workers in the recycling industry is comparable to the automobile and truck manufacturing industry and is significantly larger than mining and waste management and disposal industries. In addition, wages for workers in the recycling industry are notably higher than the national average for all industries, according to the report.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

How does recycling save energy?

Harvesting, extracting, and processing the raw materials used to manufacture new products is an energy-intensive activity. Reducing or nearly eliminating the need for these processes, therefore, achieves huge savings in energy. Recycling aluminum cans, for example, saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source, bauxite. The amount of energy saved differs by material, but almost all recycling processes achieve significant energy savings compared to production using virgin materials.

In 2000, recycling resulted in an annual energy savings of at least 660 trillion BTUs, which equals the amount of energy used in 6 million households annually. In 2005, recycling is conservatively projected to save 900 trillion BTUs, equal to the annual use of 9 million households.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

What effects do waste prevention and recycling have on global warming?

Everyone knows that reducing waste is good for the environment because it conserves natural resources. What people don't know is that solid waste reduction and recycling also have an impact on global climate change.

The manufacture, distribution, and use of products - as well as management of the resulting waste - all results in greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the upper atmosphere, occur naturally and help create climates that sustain life on our planet. Increased concentrations of these gases can contribute to rising global temperatures, sea level changes, and other climate changes.

Waste prevention and recycling - jointly referred to as waste reduction - help us better manage the solid waste we generate. But reducing waste is a potent strategy for reducing greenhouse gases because it can:

  • Reduce emissions from energy consumption. Recycling saves energy. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials typically requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. When people reuse goods or when products are made with less material, less energy is needed to extract, transport, and process raw materials and to manufacture products. When energy demand decreases, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere.
  • Reduce emissions from incinerators. Recycling and waste prevention divert materials from incinerators and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste combustion.
  • Reduce methane emissions from landfills. Waste prevention and recycling (including composting) divert organic wastes from landfills, reducing the methane that would be released if these materials decomposed in a landfill.
  • Increase storage of carbon in forests. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood in a process called "carbon sequestration." Waste prevention and recycling paper products allows more trees to remain standing in the forest, where they can continue to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.

Why do some communities in the United States charge residents on the amount of garbage they throw away?

Traditionally, residents pay for waste collection and disposal through property taxes or a fixed fee, regardless of how much or how little trash they generate. Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) programs break with tradition by treating trash services just like electricity, gas, and other utilities. Households pay a variable rate depending on the amount of garbage they throw away. More than 5,000 communities across the United States have a PAYT program in place. In most of these programs, residents are charged a fee for each bag or can of waste they generate. The less individuals throw away, the less they pay.

EPA supports this approach to solid waste management for three reasons:

  • Environmental sustainability. Communities with programs in place have reported significant increases in recycling and reductions in waste, due primarily to the cost incentive created by PAYT. Less waste and more recycling mean that fewer natural resources need to be extracted.
  • Economic sustainability. PAYT is an effective tool for communities struggling to cope with soaring municipal solid waste management expenses. Well designed programs help communities generate the revenues they need to cover their solid waste management costs, including the costs of recycling and composting programs. Residents benefit because they have the opportunity to take control of their trash bills.
  • Equity. When the cost of managing trash is hidden in taxes or charged at a flat rate, residents who recycle and prevent subsidize their neighbors' wastefulness. Under PAYT, residents pay only for what they throw away.

For more information on PAYT programs, visit EPA's PAYT Web site.

Q & A courtesy of the United States EPA.