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January 19, 2021

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Future of recycling as it affects Ada

Interview with Dennis Baker of North Central Ohio Waste Management District

By Liz Gordon-Hancock
Part 3 of the Icon's recycling series

What does the future hold for recycling?

The Icon interviewed Dennis Baker, Executive Director of North Central Ohio Waste Management District to find out.

Over the course of his career, Baker has done it all, from driving the recycling truck to sitting on the District's Board of Directors. Back in 1988, he was hired by Waste Management to manage Lima’s curb-side recycling program, but he wanted to drive the recycling truck first before he managed the program. He's also worked for a landfill (Construction Demolition Landfill) and helped expand their business into a hauling garbage division, before settling into his role at the North Central Ohio Waste Management where he's been for 24 years.

The North Central Ohio Waste Management District (or NCOWM) is a group of six counties who have banded together to manage their waste and recycling collectively.

All counties in Ohio to form solid waste districts (by the Ohio House Bill 592). A county has to have a population of more than 120,000 people and or a landfill to be a district. The counties that did not have the population or a landfill had to join with other counties to form a multi-county district.

Since Hardin County does not have its own landfill, we joined with other similar counties in 1989 to form the NCOWM district. The district is made up of Hardin, Allen, Union, Champaign, Shelby and Madison counties.

Our district operates two recycling centers, one of which is owned by the district (located in Marysville).  These two facilities, along with the district's main office in Lima, provide household hazardous waste recycling to residents only and e-waste recycling to residents and businesses.

Baker has been working in the waste management industry for thirty years, and was kind enough to let the Icon pick his brain on the future of recycling.

What does the future hold for recycling?

I don't see recycling going away. The industry is going to change. The plastic industry is going to change to accommodate more recycling. It's time for manufacturers to try to develop products with less packaging or go to Number 1 or Number 2 plastics to make it more convenient for people like us to recycle it.

Most curb-side collections in the US  are single-stream recycling (paper, cardboard, Number 1 and 2 plastics, metal and aluminium can, brown, green and clear glass containers) all mixed together.

This process is great for the hauler: reduced hours on the route, no workmen compensation, and they use wheel carts. But the problem now begins at the material recovery facility or MRF (recycling center). Since all recycle materials are mixed together, you must invest several millions of dollars to separate each item.

One major problem is glass: glass gets broken and gets into the bearings and cuts the belts and when sold, pays pennies on the pound. Plastic can be hard to recycle because most MRF only want  Number 1 and 2 plastics. People think because it has arrows on the bottom of the container it's recyclable and that is not true for most MRFs.

Several U.S. curb-side recycling programs are going back to the dual-stream pick-up, which is better. Paper then doesn't have to go through the system. The recycling centers can just separate glass, cans and plastic.

I see more and more of that happening. This is particularly helpful in keeping glass pieces from getting into the paper recycling. The biggest problem MRFs have today is contamination (items that can’t be recycled in this program). With the dual-stream pick-up, the driver has to get out of the recycle truck and put the paper in one single compartment and the plastic, cans and glass go into a different single compartment. This allows the driver to take out any items that are not permitted for recycling, and this lets the homeowner know this item is not allowed.

Any new technology on the horizon, which would increase what can be recycled?

Robotics is taking over.  A lot of bigger facilities use both robotics and optics. The MRF in Columbus has five optic sorters. Optical sorters are still ten times faster than robotics, capable of roughly 600 picks per minute compared to the 60 picks per minute capacity of most robots, but both are accurate. But a basic optical machine... you're looking at a million dollars. The cost of an optic sorter starts around $500,000 each.

Optics are pretty cool. While both systems feature high-resolution cameras, three-dimensional sensors and near-infrared optics to identify and sort waste, optical sorters use jets of air to change the trajectory of material toward the desired location. Robotic sorters use an armature with either a suction or a grappling capability to pick one item at a time and transfer it to the desired location.

Then there's organic waste. Recycling of food waste has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world.  The new technologies used in anaerobic digestion and composting documented success during food scraps processing and demonstrated the capability for managing organic waste streams while producing beneficial by-products, such as compost and renewable energy.

For municipal composting services, food scraps such as carrot peels and string bean ends are collected and taken to a composting facility (usually a third-party, contracted business). The processed dirt is then re-sold to farmers and gardening nurseries. In Ohio, Class II solid waste composting facilities accept only source-separated yard waste, animal and agricultural wastes, food scraps, and other alternative materials, such as animal carcasses.

In Allen County, we have two Class II compost facilities. On November 2017 Lima Oakwood Correctional Industries (AOCI) received a Class II License. They converted a cattle barn into an aerated static pile composting facility. In 2015 Lima Compost Facility/Wright Mulch, Inc. also received a Class II License for their facility located at Hawthorn Road Lima, Ohio.

Will demand for recycled materials grow?

What will grow is the demand for cleaner post-consumer recyclables.

Do you foresee a time when recycling will be required by law?

No - not in America. Villages councils or cities could pass their own ordinances pertaining to their municipal garbage and recycling contracts, but nationally, no.  

What would you suggest instead of single-stream recycling?

When we moved to single-stream recycling, we went from five percent to forty plus percent contamination. I would suggest going back to a source-separated at curb program, which means a recycle truck with six separate compartments in the back of the truck, one for each recyclable material.

Or dual-stream (as mentioned above, where paper is separated from the other recyclables)... but I'm only a spoke in the wheel.

What can Ada do as a community to improve our recycling?

At this point, the easiest can to kick would be education. In the Village water bill each month, put something about the village's garbage and recycle program.  The district has grants available for a village if there is an idea on educational, promotional materials.

Stay tuned on Friday when the Icon continues our interview with Baker about the possibility of a landfill in our district, and how we will deal with our refuse in the future.

To read the previous articles in this series click here.

If you would like to learn more, Dennis Baker will be speaking at the upcoming Transition Bluffton meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 21, on the third floor of Bluffton's Town Hall. All are welcome to attend.

If you would like to tour a MRF (recycling facility), Transition Bluffton has organized a tour of the Shelby County Recycling Center on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 10 a.m. The plan is to meet at the district office, 815 Shawnee Rd, Suite D, in Lima at 9 a.m. where Joe Martin, project coordinator, will drive the group to Sidney. Space is limited so please contact Neil Hauenstein (neil64@yahoo.com) for more information or to sign up for the tour.