Go Green to Reduce Your Company’s Footprint
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The adage “Go Green to Save Green” begs the question: How much does it actually save?
In the case of Ohio Living Park Vista in Youngstown, “quite a bit,” says its assistant director of environmental services, Krista Spiker. When the company began its recycling program through the Recycling Division of Mahoning County 15 years ago, monthly trash output fell 40%, saving $250 between its two buildings, Spiker says.
“Once it caught on, which was pretty quickly, people were willing to recycle instead of dispose,” she says. “It’s lowered the demand for the budget to be increased for disposal.”
Residents generate about 90% of what’s recycled, so Park Vista keeps a recycling bin on each of the 11 floors of its apartment building, 1310 Fifth Ave. Its assisted living and nursing building, 1216 Fifth Ave., which includes offices, has one bin on the main floor near the laundry area.
The county recycling division, known as the Green Team, provides free company recycling programs to 131 offices in Mahoning County, many of which are government buildings, says its operations coordinator, Mary Gresh. The organization collects mostly wood pulp products: office paper, phone directories, newspapers, magazines and shredded documents.
Recyclables picked up from offices and public drop-off sites are transported to a Poland-based material resource recovery facility, or MRF. Materials are sorted and separated from contaminants such as food waste and other items that don’t belong in the recycling stream including Styrofoam, nonrecyclable metal and car parts. Recyclables are shipped to Waste Management’s Akron-based MRF to be processed.
To improve efficiency and increase its accounts, Green Team bought 400 65-gallon disposal carts and outfitted two collection trucks with hydraulic dumpers. On pickup day, customers wheel the carts to the street where the automated lift dumps the contents of each cart into the truck’s collection bin.
It will take two years to fully automate the program, says Green Team director Lou Vega. Once fully automated, he says, the process will allow Green Team to increase the number of customers by 20% annually without having to add manpower.
“We’re looking to double the size of the program,” Vega says. “Within five years, that will grow to 260 [customers], no problem with the same staffing.”
Rob Tamburro, a field maintenance worker with Green Team, says the automated process helps him complete his route more efficiently and is much easier on him physically.
“Per stop, when we would go inside the business, it would take about 20 minutes,” Tamburro says. “Now, it’s about five minutes and that’s nice. You can carry only so many bags.”
To maintain cost-effective programming, Green Team offers only plastic, aluminum and glass food container collection to customers with paper pickup, Gresh says. The economy drives the market value of recyclables. As crude oil prices dropped over the last few years, manufacturers of plastic bottles opted for virgin raw materials because they can now afford to do so, she says. This decreases the value of recycled plastic as a feedstock.
Export regulations are also an issue. Until recently, China imported a huge volume of recycling waste from the United States, specifically paper, plastic and aluminum. But in January, it began enforcing its new National Sword policy, which bans 24 types of solid waste, such as certain plastics and unsorted mixed paper, and set stricter standards for contamination levels.
The policy lowers contamination rates to 0.3% from 2.5% to 3%, an “almost impossible level,” Gresh says, because contamination in residential recyclables can be as high as 30%.
“If you send [contaminated] material, they would send it back at your cost … and you could possibly lose your export license,” she says. “It caused a lot of places to sit on their material.”
Recovered paper recycling has felt the impact. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington reports that China’s import demand for recycled material is down 35% compared to 2017 totals. In February, mixed paper sold for an average price of $16.94 per ton, down from a record-setting average rate of $96.11 in March 2017.
And technological changes affect values. Recovered paper isn’t as significant a portion of business for Niles Iron & Metal Co. as when dot matrix printer paper sold for $110 per ton, says Co-president Gary Clayman. Even cardboard and newspaper, once a good business for the 100-year-old company, have gone down as more people read online.
“It’s not a part of our business that we emphasize greatly because it frankly is just low volume,” Clayman says. “If you’re in a big city, it’s a different story. Most offices get their paper shredded these days for security reasons.”
What little paper the company does receive is mutilated, bailed and sent to the paper mills to be recycled. Where Clayman has seen increases is demand for metal scrap to the tune of 20%, he says.
“Since the last presidential election, it’s picked up considerably,” he says. “And prices are up more than that, maybe 30%, depending on what material we’re talking about.”
The company’s primary business lies in steel and nonferrous materials, which it collects in the hundreds of thousands of tons annually.
Niles Iron & Metal prepares for recycling anything from the leftover drillings from machine shops to railroad cars, vehicles and stamping presses, and then sells the material to melt shops, who use the metals to make new products.
“We handle hundreds of different types of stainless steel alone,” he says. “We’re basically a raw material supplier to the melting industry.”
All grades of metal are in demand at all times, Clayman says. Values are at “historically normal levels,” not as good as they were during the boom of 2008, he says, but better than a depressed 2015.
Industry experts remain unsure about how President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum will affect the scrap industry. While less foreign competition could drive up prices and demand for domestic steel and scrap metals, Resource Recycling reports that trade organizations such as the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries are “taking a wait-and-see stance.”
Pictured: Rob Tamburro says the new cart system and truck equipment reduce pick up time to five minutes from about 20.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.