|Recyclers confront plastic bag bans
Plastic bag manufacturers are battling a growing movement to ban or tax single-use bags, like those employed to carry groceries, by expanding recycling efforts for plastic films. But the issue remains controversial as cities try to meet goals for reducing litter and divert materials from landfill.
Austin, Texas, is one of the latest cities to consider a ban on plastic bags. City leaders have proposed to require retailers beginning in 2013 to collect a surcharge of $.10 per bag or $1 per transaction from customers, and to completely ban single-use bags, whether paper or plastic, the following year.
“Single use bags litter the city and waterways, are unsightly in natural areas, and cause significant expense to local governments in litter control and disposal,” said Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, formerly the City of Austin Solid Waste Services. “In addition, our Zero Waste Plan requires moving away from single use to reuse and recyclability standards.”
Several cities, starting with San Francisco in 2007, have moved to tax or ban single use plastic bags. The bans have reduced plastic bag litter in at least some cases, says Anne Bedarf, senior manager with GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a non-profit industry working group based in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, critics say bans are not the best solution, and that recycling is better.
Paper bags are equally costly in terms of resource consumption during manufacturing, noted H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas. And reusable bags, which the bans are trying to promote, don’t last forever and are not always recyclable. Also, shoppers haven’t embraced reusable bags. Burnett said that the United States imports about 500 million reusable bags every year. “That means people are not taking their bags back in and they have to get a new one every time,” he said. ...read more
Asphalt recycling pulls material from roads and roofs
Asphalt is one of America’s most recycled materials, but the sticky black product admired for its weather resistance, its ability to bind together other materials, to pave roads and cover roofs also faces challenges in meeting its full recycling potential.
The brightest success in asphalt recycling is found in paving. Margaret Cervarich, vice president for communications and public affairs of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, a Lanham, Maryland trade group, said 99 percent of the asphalt covering the nation’s roads is recycled when it is removed for resurfacing or other purposes. “In 2010 we reclaimed 72.9 million tons of asphalt pavement,” Cervarich said.
Asphalt used for paving is easy to recycle, for several reasons. One is that it is mostly made up of rocks in the form of aggregate bound together by the sticky asphalt. Not only are the rocks highly durable and readily re-used for the same purposes, but asphalt itself can be recycled indefinitely, Cervarich said.
Perhaps most important is that the paving and recycling is done as part of the same process, often by the same company, and it uses processes that are time-tested and uncomplicated. “They just mill it up off the road,” Cervarich said. “It’s very simple and straightforward. It’s a technology we’ve been using since the seventies, and it’s done by asphalt contractors.”
Post-consumer products, on the other hand, are harder to recycle because consumers have to be recruited to gather and place materials into the recycling stream. Some of the same difficulties apply when businesses recycling materials aren’t the same ones collecting the recyclables. “The people who demolish a house aren’t necessarily going to take those same elements and put them into another house,” Cervarich said. “With asphalt pavement it’s very simple. You use a milling machine to chew it up off the pavement, take it back to the asphalt plant, grade it, sort it and store it until you’re ready to use it. The same people doing the reclaiming are also doing the construction and reuse.”
Recycling asphalt removed from road surfaces and then re-applying it saves transportation costs, as well as the costs of mining new asphalt from deposits or extracting it from petroleum. Recycling asphalt is more economical for paving companies than obtaining and employing virgin materials, so they are financially motivated to recycle all of it they can get.
In the process, recyclers divert many tons of material from landfills, while conserving energy that would be used for transportation and refining virgin asphalt. “We’re saving natural resources instead of filling in landfills,” Cervarich said. “It’s an extremely efficient thing to do.”
One recycling challenge is getting states’ road building agencies to agree to higher percentages of recycled materials in the asphalt mix applied to roads. Some states limit the amount of recycled asphalt that can be used in public roads below 50 percent, although private road builders are less demanding. Recycled material has been suspected of causing cracking when added to mixes in high concentrations. But recent research indicates recycled material can be used without affecting cracking, Cervarich said. ...read more