Two things: Now your recyclables can be mixed together and now you can recycle more plastics. Even with these changes we're still able to get your recycling sorted back down into individual types in our facility, through new design features and upgrades in technology - for example, thanks to new optical sorting technology, a photoreceptor is able to recognize different materials based on how they react to light. This can separate items based on type or color, depending on how we adjust the controls. This "smart eye" is paired with air jets which shoot a concentrated force of air to separate selected objects out from the mix. This will allow us to sort an expanded amount of materials.
FAQS AND RECYCLING DONT'S
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Actually, you no longer have to worry about keeping track of the numbers! The numbers on the plastics NEVER equated to recyclability. The number in the triangle is a plastic industry code called a Resin Identification Code, and is used by manufacturers to distinguish the initial type of resin used to create the product. Because our optical sorting system can be programmed to “see” different types of plastics, we no longer have to restrict the plastic recyclables by what our sorters can physically grab. Any plastic may be recycled in your bin as long as it is a container that is designed to hold fewer than two gallons. In fact, there are only two questions you need to ask yourself when trying to decide if a piece of plastic is recyclable: (1) Is this a container? (2) Does this hold fewer than two gallons? If the answer to BOTH questions is yes, recycle it in your bin, cart, or box. Note that some larger plastic items such as 5 gallon buckets, milk crates, toys, and furniture are accepted for recycling at RIRRC by drop-off only, and may also be accepted locally by your Department of Public Works.
Not necessarily. In fact, the only significance of the chasing arrow triangle is to frame the number on the plastic for remanufacturers. The numbers have NEVER equated to recyclability. The number in the triangle is a plastic industry code called a Resin Identification Code, and is used by manufacturers to distinguish the initial type of resin used to create the product. If you think that’s confusing, we agree! That’s why we’re happy to tell you to disregard the little triangle and numbers completely and instead recycle all plastic containers up to 2 gallons.
No. The change to our facility does not require any change in collection procedures by RI’s municipalities; it simply means that no matter how recyclables arrive here, they will be mixed together for processing. What the change does do is give municipalities the opportunity to change their collection program in ways which allow them to reap some major benefits, and we’ll review these below.
(1) It’s the way the industry is moving:
- New plastic markets have emerged, and in 2009, a law was passed requiring us to accept more of them by 2013.
- 1/3 of all Materials Recycling Facilities (MRFs) now process all recyclables mixed together, in what is referred to as a “single stream” Materials Recycling Facility (MRF).
- No new dual stream MRFs (what we’ve had in RI to this point, which required you to keep paper and cardboard separated from bottles and cans) have been built in the last five years
(2) Even if your municipality makes no changes to how they collect your recycling, there are benefits:
- It’s still easier for you. No need to worry about which recycling bin is the right bin, or about what to do when one bin is full. Simply use your existing city or town-approved recycling bin, cart, or box for your recyclables.
- More plastics will be recycled. We will take all small household plastic containers, whereas to date we’ve only taken plastic bottles and jugs. You can now add plastic cups, tubs, jars, and take out containers to the mix.
- More recycling should come in from businesses too! Many may start to recycle or expand their recycling for the first time, with the reduced collection costs associated with using one versus two dumpsters/trucks/routes.
- What does all that mean? Increased volumes mean reduced disposal fees for our customers, increased profit-sharing for municipalities, and a longer life for the Central Landfill.
(3) It makes municipal program changes possible for the first time, if/when they chose to do so:
- Even simpler for you if all recycling goes in a single cart. More recycling coming in from residents if their city/town provides a larger cart, because no overflow will end up in the trash Increased efficiency if they switch to automated collection and/or every-other-week collection.
- What could all that mean? Increased efficiency means lower collection costs, and again, increased volumes mean reduced disposal fees, increased profit-sharing, and a longer life for the Central Landfill.
In general, recycling collection costs per ton increase with the number of separately segregated commodities, increase with the frequency of collection, and decrease as more materials are collected by the program. In order to reap the full benefits of our newly renovated facility, RIRRC recommends eventual every-other-week automated collection with 96 gallon carts for recycling, and a Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) program for trash. The current statewide collection cost is estimated to be $16M. There is an opportunity to decrease overall municipal cost per ton by 40%, making recycling more cost effective than disposal. This means there is the potential to recover an additional 50K tons of municipal recycling representing $2 million in avoided disposal fees, and the opportunity to achieve recycling targets.
This is a $16.9 million capital project being fully funded by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation. RIRRC will also fund outreach efforts at the state level.
RIRRC is funded through the revenue we receive from the fees we charge our customers for the services we provide and from the revenue we receive from the sale of recyclables. We don’t receive any money from the state.
RIRRC continued to process recycling while the MRF was being renovated. We temporarily moved our mixed recyclable (blue bin) operation to another building (the Tip facility) where we ran two shifts on a smaller, scaled-down system. The fiber operation remained in the current building until it was ready to become part of the larger system.
It depends on the condition of the materials going into the process. Our educational efforts will instruct people how to prepare their recyclables to minimize contamination (e.g. extra emphasis on rinsing containers.
The initial capital investment is high; however the return on investment is extremely quick (less than 5 years) given the high value of recyclable materials. We’re also able to process new materials, like yogurt containers and plastic cups, which will provide a new stream of revenue.
When we first launch the new facility, all of our employees will be retained. As we learn how the system works best, there may be some job loss if fewer sorters are required (though we will continue to need additional highly-skilled operators). However, as volumes increase, RIRRC will add a second shift, returning us to pre-renovation job levels.
We currently have customers for all of our plastics, and we are always looking for more customers. Initially we will probably sell some plastics as a mix; however, we may eventually separate certain types as stand-alone commodities. As markets develop for the remaining materials, we will continue to further separate. The new optical sorting equipment allows us to adjust to changing markets by adjusting for what we sort.
Right now, RI law says that energy production is one method of recycling. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says this as well. We are fully within the law to sell materials to waste-to-energy facilities as recycling, but it’s not our preference, so we’ll continue to identify buyers for the harder to recycle plastics.
It is true that residents in one community may put pressure on their public officials if they see change being implemented in another community. While RIRRC currently has no funding/grant money to distribute for these investments, a business, multi-family, or municipality may consider negotiating with waste haulers. Many waste haulers will provide their contract customers with the necessary carts and dumpsters at no extra cost, with a new contract (hauling fees do apply).
WHY YOU CAN'T RECYCLE THESE ITEMS
While small scrap metal was accepted in the old program, it always presented serious problems, even in the old facility. Wires, cables, and chains frequently wrap around sorting equipment (there’s a lot of spinning rotors in the Materials Recycling Facility) causing facility shut downs and in some cases, fires. We’ve found wire hangers to be a big problem over time, even though they were pictured in our old flyers as a recyclable. We learned the hard way! Other pieces of scrap metal - like appliances, pots, pans, and pipes - now pose a major risk to our new optical sorting equipment. We’ve removed these items from the list that should be recycled through the MRF. Please keep all scrap metal out of your recycling bin, cart or box. At the same time, scrap metal is a valuable recyclable! We encourage everyone to set scrap metal aside and take an occasional trip to a local metal recycler (you’ll be paid for the metal - check the phone book for recyclers) or to your local scrap metal collection container if your city or town has one. To find out about local options, contact your Department of Public Works: www.rirrc.org/local.
We know there are many reasons people like to keep their recycling in plastic bags - it’s neat and tidy, it’s easy to carry from inside the house to the bin outside, it’s one trip instead of many. But because of the way the new equipment works, recyclables must be loose as they start their journey so they can be properly sorted. Ripped plastic bags, or plastic bags tossed into recycling bins as is, will wrap around the sorting equipment (there’s a lot of spinning rotors in the Materials Recycling Facility) causing shut downs. Plastic bags are a huge problem at the MRF and workers in the pre-sort area do their best to remove them. During daily scheduled down time, workers climb into rotor areas and cut the plastic bags away (you know the feeling if you’ve ever cut hair or string from the rotor of a vacuum cleaner). Plastic bags can be recycled, just not in your bin. Please take plastic bags back to any large grocery, pharmacy, or big-box store in RI. For more information about plastic bag recycling visit www.rirrc.org/restore.
If that box holding your fridge pack of soda was just like any other thin cardboard, guess what would happen between the distributor and the market (or between the market and your house) when the cans sweat (i.e. when water condensates on their outsides)? Kerplunk! They would come crashing through the bottom. Regular cardboard breaks down when wet, and that’s how recyclers at paper mills mush your cardboard back into pulp – they use water. To prevent this from happening to all your boxed frozen and refrigerated cardboard packaging, it is either coated or treated with a chemical that prevents it from breaking down when wet – precisely what recyclers need it to do! For this reason, refrigerated and frozen food boxes are contaminants to to our paper buyers, and are not accepted for recycling.
Two gallons is both the size limit of a container that can flow safely and efficiently through the Materials Recycling Facility and also probably the biggest size household container you’d use with any regularity – think: a giant, bulk-size bottle of laundry detergent. The new rule of thumb - recycle all plastic containers up to two gallons - should capture the majority of your household’s plastic waste. At the same time, bulky, rigid plastic is a valuable recyclable! Just as with scrap metal, we encourage everyone to set bulky plastics aside and take an occasional trip to either your local collection container or directly here for drop-off at RIRRC. To find out if your city or town has a collection container, contact your Department of Public Works: www.rirrc.org/local.
The general rule of thumb is this: The more materials used to make a single package, the harder it is to both sort it and to find a recycling market for it. If you find yourself frequently purchasing an item that is not recyclable for this reason, contact the company directly and let them know you’d appreciate seeing packaging for their product in a single material that is more easily recycled.
If the pizza box were totally clean, it would be accepted for recycling. The problem is that they seldom are. The grease from the pizza is the problem. Paper mills use water to mush down your cardboard back into pulp, and oil and water don’t mix! For this reason, greasy cardboard is a contaminant to our paper buyers and is not accepted for recycling. If the top of the box is entirely clean, please do rip it off and place it in your recycling bin, throwing the greasy part in the trash.
Clothing and textiles have not been accepted in the recycling program for over 10 years. Like many items that cause problems inside the Materials Recycling Facility, textiles wrap around the sorting equipment (there’s a lot of spinning rotors in the MRF) causing facility shut downs and in some cases, fires. In fact, the new facility was running tests for less than two weeks when we experienced our first fire, caused by a sheet wrapping around the sorting rotors, causing friction, and lighting shredded paper on fire. Clothing and textiles can be donated for reuse through various collection bins located throughout the state, including our two Kiducation bins here at RIRRC. Items collected through Kiducation are sorted, and textiles unfit for donation are torn into rags for re-use when possible. A list of Goodwill donation boxes can be found here: www.rirrc.org/reuse.
We haven’t considered sorting for this often-hybrid material because there are only a few niche markets for it. In fact, the only recycling program at this time is done via direct mail-in to www.terracycle.net Some RI schools do participate in this program, and more can get involved. Visit Terracycle’s website to find out how you can start a collection.
If that paper cup holding your steaming latte was just like any other thin cardboard, guess what would happen as you tried to savor it? Ouch! The cup would literally melt in your hands. Regular cardboard breaks down when wet, and that’s how recyclers at paper mills mush cardboard back into pulp – they use water. To prevent this from happening to your paper coffee cup (or tea, or hot chocolate, whatever suits you), the cardboard is coated so it won’t break down– precisely what recyclers need it to do! For this reason, paper coffee cups are contaminants to our paper buyers and are not accepted for recycling. And what about Styrofoam? Read on…
We don’t sort for Styrofoam because it’s too difficult to get the Styrofoam to our facility in the condition that the recyclers want it-clean, dry, and intact. The market for Styrofoam is very small and so far doesn’t come close to matching the sheer volume of this product used every single day, in RI and beyond. There is one recycler in RI, located in North Smithfield, who accepts clean, dry Styrofoam directly. To find out more look up Styrofoam in our Recyclopedia: www.rirrc.org/AtoZ.
Believe it or not, these find their way to the MRF. If you use needles at home for self-injection, the proper disposal method is to place the spent needles in a hard, puncture-proof container. If one is not provided by your supplier, use a metal coffee can or a hard plastic container like a bleach bottle or laundry jug. Seal when full, tape shut, label as “sharps” and then place this container in the TRASH, not in your recycling bin. Your recyclables are touched by our workers in our facility during the sorting process. They have to stop the sorting line an average of 6 times each day because a container full of needles has broken open - loose needles put them at risk. For more information about proper disposal of needles and medications visit: www.rirrc.org/needles.
Glass recycling is a complex issue. Until recently, glass has been repurposed in RI, and not recycled in the traditional sense. The RI Department of Environment Management has allowed glass to be used as landfill cover material, and cover material is essential. Part of being a sanitary landfill means that no open pits of trash can be left. Instead, trash must be covered with 6-12” of material every day. RIRRC prefers to repurpose materials we already have for use as cover to the extent we are allowed, decreasing the need to landfill materials as is, and purchase virgin ones for cover.
Unfortunately, a new RI law (RIGL23-19-13.6) is now prohibiting us from using glass as cover material. This is especially challenging as most potential markets for recycling our glass are far away, and the costs - both financially and environmentally - of shipping heavy glass across the country prohibit traditional recycling. The few niche markets for glass in our region are normally satisfied by neighboring “bottle bill” states, where residents bring whole glass bottles back to a redemption center. These remain intact and are already sorted by color. Crushed, 3 color-glass mix like ours is a more difficult sell. To see the results of a study done on implementing a bottle bill in RI visit: www.rirrc.org/reports.
At this time RIRRC continues to safely crush glass in the Materials Recycling Facility to save landfill space, as we actively work with local recyclers to find a suitable market for our 3 color-glass mix. For this reason, we do ask that all RIers continue to recycle glass containers in their bins. This will save landfill space and will ensure our glass stream remains ready for sale when an opportunity arises. Because glass recyclers, where they do exist, normally reject things like light bulbs, mirrors, leaded glass, and ceramics, we do want to continue to keep these out of our glass stream, even now. Also note that broken glass in your bin presents a safety issue to workers handling your recycling curbside, and this should be secured and placed in the trash.
Anything labeled with words like “danger,” “flammable, “combustible,” “toxic,” “poison,” etc., shouldn’t be recycled, nor should it be placed in the regular trash. These materials are dangerous when handled improperly, and can put our workers and the environment at serious risk. RIRRC does run a special, free program for collecting Household Hazardous Waste from Rhode Island residents – The Eco-Depot. To find out more and make an appointment visit: www.rirrc.org/ecodepot.