Amherst Waste Reduction

This blog will have a lot of helpful information and tips on reducing waste, as well as updates on news and issues related to recycling and waste reduction. Check it out regularly!

Aug 14

Recycling and China

Posted on August 14, 2018 at 3:55 PM by Mimi Kaplan

You have probably heard the news about China limiting or no longer accepting plastic and mixed paper recycling from the United States. This was due to a variety of factors, including the large amount of contamination (i.e. non-recyclables or trash) in our recycling as well as the tightening of their own environmental regulations. Before this policy change, China was taking a lot of our recyclable material, so this has created many challenges for companies that collect and process recycling, as well as communities across the country. Luckily, the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Springfield, where most of the recycling from Amherst and the Pioneer Valley goes, has reliable domestic markets for recyclables, so the China ban has not had a huge effect here. Hopefully that will continue to be the case.

Here is a very informative article and short video that explains the recycling business, and also the current situation in regards to China as it affects much of the country (including eastern Massachusetts). The video explains that single stream recycling (in which paper and containers are mixed in the same recycling stream) has worsened contamination. The Springfield MRF processes dual stream recycling, and local haulers have been adamant about not switching to single stream- thus, we have less contamination, and recyclables are more marketable.

"Recycling Breaks Down" Article and Video
Aug 10

Textile Recycling

Posted on August 10, 2018 at 3:59 PM by Mimi Kaplan

It might surprise you to know that textiles make up a significant portion of the waste stream. "Textiles" refers to any type of fabric, including clothing, shoes, bedding, towels, and home furnishings. According to the US EPA, 16.2 million tons of textiles were disposed of in 2014, or about 6.5% of the total municipal solid waste. In Massachusetts alone, 230,000 tons of textiles are disposed of each year. Almost ALL of this material could be reused or recycled instead, preventing it from ending up in landfills or incinerators, and also reducing the amount of natural resources and pesticides used for growing cotton and producing synthetic materials. 

What can be donated/recycled: All clothing including outerwear and undergarments, shoes, handbags, bedding, table linens, curtains, stuffed animals, pet beds, and holiday costumes. See the full list here. Textiles in ANY condition (worn, torn, stained) can be donated- anything not reused will be recycled. All items should be clean and dry, however.

Where to donate/recycle textiles: Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Savers take all textiles in any condition (but they should be clean and dry). Textiles in any condition can also be left in donation boxes such as Planet Aid. ALL Amherst Regional Public Schools now have textile donation boxes in front of the schools, sponsored by Baystate Textiles, so donation is fast and easy, and it also supports the school PGOs! See the flyer here.

What happens to the items: Generally, 45% of donated textiles is reused, 30% is cut up to use as industrial rags and polishers, 20% is recycled into fiber to use as furniture stuffing, carpet padding, home insulation and other uses, and 5% is unusable and discarded.

This poster explains what happens to donated textiles.

Read my Hampshire Gazette column from 8/8/18 on Textile Reuse and Recycling!

Jul 31

Does Recycling Save Energy?

Posted on July 31, 2018 at 4:12 PM by Mimi Kaplan

Does recycling actually save energy? The short answer is yes, although the amount varies by material. For some materials, it saves a lot of energy, and for other materials not as much. Extracting and processing raw natural resources (such as mineral ores or oil) is very energy intensive, and recycling uses less energy because it does not require extraction and often requires less processing of materials. 

Aluminum is one material that uses much less energy to recycle than to produce new- about 95% less. Processing aluminum ore (bauxite) into metal requires a very large amount of heat and electricity. Aluminum that is recycled only has to be cleaned and re-melted, which makes it almost 95% more energy efficient than newly produced aluminum. Another huge benefit of recycling aluminum is that it can be recycled indefinitely and its quality is never degraded.

Recycling glass is not quite as energy efficient: It saves 15-30% of the energy used to produce it new from sand and other minerals. The main energy used in the glass making process is the heat used to melt the mineral mixture, and because recycling glass also requires melting and then re-forming, it still uses a fair amount of energy. However, glass can be recycled indefinitely, and recycling glass prevents it from going to landfills and reduces the pollution associated with extraction, so it does make environmental sense to recycle it.

The energy savings for recycling iron and steel are also high, at about 75%, and also for recycling plastic bottles, at 65-75%. Paper recycling saves about 45% of the energy of producing paper from virgin pulp, although most recycled paper products also contain some virgin material.

In terms of quality degradation, iron and steel can be recycled indefinitely with no loss of quality, whereas plastic can only be recycled once or twice before being manufactured into an item that can’t be recycled (such as fleece or carpeting), and paper can only be recycled 5-7 times before it loses too much quality and can no longer be recycled.

So, yes, recycling does save energy, which means it also reduces emissions of greenhouse gases. Not buying items in the first place saves the most energy, but if you do have papers and containers to get rid of, make sure to recycle!

recycling and energy use