With the introduction of single-stream recycling — meaning those recycling in Delaware can dump their cans, bottles, plastic and newspapers in one container — recycling just got a whole lot easier. But anyone who has ever asked themselves what happens to the stuff after they drop it off or have it picked up curbside is not alone.
And, now, with single-stream recycling, that question can be even more mystifying. Why did I have to do separate it before? What are they doing with that stuff anyway?
Delaware Solid Waste Authority’s drop-off recycling centers have been around for 17 years. Curbside recycling started four years ago first in New Castle County, then moved into Kent and then Sussex. For curbside recycling, it used to be that subscribers would have to separate the cans from the newspaper, and the glass and plastic were in one bag.
“It was sort of quasi-single stream,” said Rich Von Stetten, senior manager of statewide recycling for Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA). “You could have plastic and glass together, but we had people separating the materials by hand and cleaning it up.”
After cleaning and sorting it, DSWA would sell the material from curbside recycling and the drop-off centers to brokers, all baled up and ready for the market. But they have since changed that process because of the expense.
“It was really cost-prohibitive to keep processing,” said Von Stetten. “All of recyclables from the drop-off materials and from curbside recycling used to go to the Delaware Recycling Center (DRC) in New Castle. Now, we no longer process the materials ourselves.”
Because that processing is no longer done by DSWA, the separation by the public isn’t necessary anymore either, because the end users that eventually buy the recyclables have their own mechanisms with which to extract the recyclable materials.
And because they had already gone to a semi-single stream process with the bags for curbside customers, DSWA officials decided they couldn’t very well keep asking the people who dropped their material at one of the drop-off centers to keep separating it.
“The time came to make a change. As of Jan. 1, 2008, all curbside recycling has gone single-stream and, once the yellow decals went on to the 140 drop-off centers, we were officially single stream.”
With that change, the state’s recycling haulers bring can bring the recyclable materials from downstate to the Milford Transfer Station, where DSWA has seven new transtors. The haulers bring in the material and dump them into the transtors, and then tractor-trailers come and the transtor gets dumped into them. Then, the material is sold to different end-users who have machinery to extract the materials for their specific need.
“We have six or seven different end-users that we sell the material to,” said Von Stetten. “The pricing fluctuates. It can be anywhere form $45 to $52 a ton. Some of our end-users are Waste Management from Baltimore, Blue Mountain from Pennsylvania, Omni-Recycling out of New Jersey and Greenstar from Pennsylvania. The newspaper might end up in a paper mill and the junk mail might end up at the Markell plant and be used to make toilet paper, paper towels or napkins. The corrugated cardboard might go to China. The end-users decide where the material goes.”
Currently, DSWA collects 30 to 35 tractor-trailer loads of single-stream material per week in New Castle County and 10 to 13 per week in Milford, from the drop-off centers and curbside collection in Kent and Sussex counties.
“We are currently implementing programs with local haulers to really start hitting the commercial establishments,” offered Von Stetten. “We have the capacity to do 10 to 15 loads per day in Milford. Before, even if local haulers wanted to collect single-stream materials, they didn’t have a place to take it. And now, they do.”
In July, DSWA will have a new contract and all of the drop-off materials (as well as the current curbside materials) will go to Milford.
“It’ll be a very happening place!” said Von Stetten.
“The curbside recycling has really evolved into what it is today,” he noted. “We didn’t have near the participation or volume with the bag collection system, plus the bags cost 28 cents each. Now they get a cart, which is included in the price of $6 a month. The majority of the participants are ecstatic.”
“Currently, we have 30,000 subscribers to curbside recycling,” he said. “It used to be we got a bum rap, like we weren’t doing enough for recycling, but there’s no mandate in Delaware. I have been doing this for 20 years and to have 30,000 people signed up with no mandate is pretty good. We have a lot of interest here.”
Towns that already offer town-wide curbside recycling include Bethany, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Rehoboth Beach and Lewes. But every resident of the state is eligible to sign up for curbside recycling as an individual customer. To learn more about how to sign up for curbside recycling, visit www.dswa.com online or call 1-800-404-7080. There are also 140 drop-off centers throughout the state.