Waste Dive

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is calling for a series of measures to increase recycling of the state’s total waste stream to 85% by 2050, including developing a universal EPR framework, expanding organics recycling and implementing a disposal surcharge for all disposed waste. It announced the proposals as part of the agency's 10-year solid waste management plan, which it released in December. The plan has six focus areas: waste reduction and reuse; recycling, recycling market development and resiliency; product stewardship and extended producer responsibility; organics reduction and recycling; toxics reduction in products; and advanced design and operation of solid waste management facilities and related activities.  “The state’s new Solid Waste Management Plan is a roadmap for advancing more sustainable solid waste management to reduce landfilled waste and address one of New York’s largest contributors to climate-altering greenhouse gases,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a release. “Working closely with DEC’s state, local, and community partners, New York State is bolstering existing efforts to divert waste from landfills, return materials back to productive use, and reduce climate emissions.” In its announcement, the agency highlighted efforts it made to improve the circularity of materials since its previous 10-year plan took effect in 2010. That includes providing more than $5 million in total grant funding for food scrap recycling or emergency food donation programs and securing a U.S. EPA Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling grant that will help create an online reporting system for waste and recycling facilities, per the release. New York's recycling rate has increased since its last plan, but that's almost entirely due to increases in C&D recycling, as the MSW recycling rate has essentially stagnated. The plan relies on data from 2018 and does not reflect changes in the recycling market since then due to China's National Sword policy or the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency is partnering with Stony Brook University on an analysis of more recent data from those years. In 2018, 43% of the state's 42.2 million tons of MSW was recycled. Of the rest, 32% was landfilled in the state, 8% was incinerated in the state and 17% was exported out of state. The agency also estimates that per capita MSW generation remained essentially unchanged from 2008 to 2018. While the state is still seeking to reduce that number, it considers the metric to be a positive sign because waste generation generally grows when an area's gross domestic product grows, as the state's did by 35% over the same period. To achieve further reductions, the agency’s action items include several measures that need support from the state legislature. That includes a call for EPR for packaging as well as a framework that DEC can use to implement EPR for any other materials the state would like to regulate. Such a framework would “establish a comprehensive process for recommending, developing, proposing, and passing new EPR laws that follow best practices,” per the plan. The agency hopes to begin using such a framework in 2027. Other legislative asks include an expansion of the state’s bottle bill, EPR for textiles, minimum post-consumer content requirements for certain materials, support for public-private partnerships for recycling facility development, funding for on-site organics processing capacity and more. Several of those items, especially EPR, have earned attention from Albany in recent years as the legislature looks to support DEC.   Landfilling In 2018, New York’s landfills received nearly 12.5 million tons of waste, 75% of which went to MSW landfills. But as landfill and incinerator capacity in the state continues to tighten, the agency's plan takes aim at waste disposal. It calls for a “disposal disincentive surcharge” to encourage materials generators to find alternatives to landfilling or combustion. At $5 per ton, such a charge would generate $133 million per year, which the DEC would funnel to municipalities to implement their solid waste plans. The agency notes that “more than 30 states” already use a form of the fee structure. In emailed comments, Natural Resources Defense Council’s New York City Environment Director Eric Goldstein said the proposed fee follows the example set by other states and is “one of the stronger elements of the plan and a very sensible one.” “If state policy is to encourage waste prevention, composting and recycling and discourage landfilling and incineration, the most direct way to do so is to use a financial strategy that disincentivizes disposal routes you’d like to minimize and that assist municipalities in advancing alternatives you want to accelerate,” Goldstein said. The National Waste & Recycling Association “strongly opposes” the proposal, Lew Dubuque, the organization’s Northeast vice president, said in an email. He said the plan is unclear as to whether disposers or landfills themselves would pay the charge, and the group wants to ensure that if it does pass, it’s applied to “true polluters” rather than appropriately operated MSW landfills. The DEC would need legislation to enact such a fee. It also said it would need three years to implement such a rule after it’s passed, which the agency wants to occur in 2025. Organics In addition to the agency’s waste reduction goal, DEC must also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels to comply with the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Waste accounts for 12% of the state’s emissions, and the waste industry is the fourth largest contributor to emissions, behind buildings, transportation and electricity. While food scraps account for about 17% of MSW, the agency identified the material as an outsized cause of emissions from the waste sector. It further estimates that landfills account for 78% of waste emissions, combustion accounts for 7%, and wastewater treatment accounts for 15%. Some of the plan’s 34 actions regarding organics reduction and recycling require legislative involvment, most notably an expansion of the existing Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling law. The law, which went into effect in 2022, currently applies to businesses that generate at least two tons of food scraps per week on average, with some exceptions for places like schools and healthcare facilities. Generators also must be within 25 miles of a "viable organics recycler" to be a part of the program. The plan calls for the elimination of the mileage limit and for more food scrap generators to be covered under the law, including residents. It emphasizes that much of the food scraps that are currently wasted could be diverted to the food insecure before relying on existing facilities. The agency found the state has four anaerobic digestion facilities and 66 permitted composting facilities.

New York solid waste plan calls for disposal surcharge, expanded food diversion requirements

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is calling for a series of measures to increase recycling of the state’s total waste stream to 85% by 2050, including developing a universal EPR framework, expanding organics recycling and implementing a disposal surcharge for all disposed waste. It announced the proposals as part of the agency’s 10-year solid waste management plan,… 

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After a tumultuous few years for the waste and recycling industry, 2024 will hopefully be marked more by internal shifts than external macroeconomic shocks. The Waste Dive team is nevertheless expecting a busy year. At the federal level, the U.S. EPA is expected to make multiple key decisions on PFAS while continuing to dole out historically high amounts of funding for recycling projects of all kinds. Meanwhile, states are implementing policies on industry concerns that include extended producer responsibility and organics processing infrastructure. We’re also continuing to track the business environment, including mergers and acquisitions and the growth of private equity investment.  We welcome your thoughts on these trends or any others. Please email us at [email protected]. How the economy affects operations and M&A After years of complex operating conditions, from the pandemic to supply chain and inflation issues, could the economy return to some semblance of normalcy this year? Waste and recycling service providers have reported incremental improvements in recruitment and retention, as well as in truck order timelines, all of which placed serious strains on operations in recent years. Interest rates also could be poised to come down. In addition to helping daily operations, a more stable financial market could create new investment or expansion opportunities via M&A. While the industry’s largest players were well-positioned to make deals throughout last year, some smaller companies or private equity firms were more affected by challenging debt markets, and deals occurred at a more uneven pace in 2023. S&P Global recently forecast the possibility for PE-driven deals to increase on a macro level, noting an “unprecedented” amount of available funding among certain major firms. The waste sector’s defensive nature remains attractive for PE and infrastructure firms alike. Analysts are watching not only the ongoing consolidation or growth opportunities in solid waste, but also the more fragmented environmental services segment this year. Pending changes to U.S. antitrust policy could throw a curveball into the mix. The waste industry, among others, has come out against a proposal that could increase the cost and time involved in deal reviews. Current guidelines already prolong or otherwise affect deal timelines, industry participants say. If changes do occur, they could create additional opportunities for regional companies versus their larger competitors. New EPR legislation, plus ongoing EPR implementation 2024 will shed more light on how EPR policies for packaging will impact industry operations. How will the industry adjust? Colorado, Oregon, Maine and California are still implementing the nitty-gritty details of their EPR laws, deciding on key rules this year. Meanwhile, Maryland and Illinois are both conducting needs assessments to provide data that could serve as the foundation of eventual EPR policies. Maryland’s advisory council is expected to submit recommendations by the end of the year, while Illinois plans to name its advisory council this month and submit final recommendations by the end of 2026.  At the same time, lawmakers are expected to introduce or reintroduce even more EPR for packaging bills throughout the country. Although such bills are becoming more common and lawmakers and stakeholders are becoming more familiar with the complexities of writing and passing such laws, experts don’t expect any easy wins. Brand owners, producer responsibility organizations, industry groups, recycling facility operators and municipalities will likely weigh in on the same challenges that blocked EPR bills from passing last year. They are expected to debate issues such as state recycling infrastructure, control over materials, plastic reduction approaches and the role of chemical recycling. Though EPR for packaging is likely to garner the most attention and the most controversy, EPR policies for some other types of items — think batteries, textiles, mattresses or paint — are expected to pop up in state legislatures, too. The expanded tip floor at Casella's Boston MRF, which was recently retrofitted by Machinex. Cole Rosengren/Waste Dive Clarity on PFAS regulation and remediation PFAS remediation and management could come into sharper focus this year as long-awaited EPA regulations on destruction and disposal techniques are expected to take shape.  National drinking water standards for certain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances could be finalized as early as this month. These standards could be important to the waste industry because PFAS-containing leachate is typically handled at wastewater treatment plants.  The EPA could also designate two types of PFAS as hazardous substances sometime in March. The waste industry hopes to avoid potential liability and higher operational costs once the EPA makes this designation. Groups have tapped federal lawmakers for help in carving out exceptions for “passive receivers” of PFAS-containing material. Movement has been slow so far in Congress, but discussion is ongoing. Meanwhile, private companies are offering more types of remediation technology and services for PFAS. More landfill operators could hire environmental services companies to provide PFAS remediation for leachate this year, while others may continue to invest in other infrastructure to take on leachate management themselves. At the same time, the EPA is expected to update its guidance on landfilling, incineration or deep well injection of PFAS-containing material as well as potentially offer more insight into environmental effects. This could influence what types of remediation technologies — if any — waste companies will choose. It could also affect such companies’ business opportunities and competitive edge depending on what methods they emphasize. RNG projects coming online Synthica, an anaerobic digestion company, holds a ceremonial groundbreaking at its first facility in Ohio in August. The company is part of a growing group looking to cash in on RNG. Permission granted by Synthica   If 2022 was the year of major renewable natural gas developer acquisitions, and 2023 was the year of RNG facility planning, 2024 may be the beginning of a wave of project deliveries.  Last April, WM predicted it could earn more from RNG facilities at its landfills than it could from recycling as soon as this year. The country's largest landfill operator saw adjusted operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization at four test sites more than double in 2022. Those strong results led to its goal to build out 20 more RNG facilities by 2026. WM had six RNG sites operational last year and plans to have 11 by the end of this year, a spokesperson confirmed. Other companies are also scaling up their RNG portfolios in 2024. Republic Services listed 16 landfill-gas-to-RNG projects in development in its sustainability report last year, including partnerships with Ameresco and BP's Archaea. Enbridge and Divert announced a $1 billion anaerobic digestion RNG partnership of their own. GFL Environmental is also making progress on its landfill-gas-to-RNG buildout, though it reported that progress slowed last year due to permitting difficulties. Waste Connections and Casella Waste Systems, among others, also have RNG project pipelines.  The EPA’s update to the Renewable Fuel Standard last summer is expected to provide more stability to the RNG industry, as it set RIN credit volumes for multiple years for the first time. Industry groups plan to continue their push to expand the program with renewable energy credits for electricity generated from biomass. They formed the Partnership for Electric Pathways to advance that goal in November.  While the RIN market will enjoy greater regulatory stability this year thanks to the extension, California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard credit market could see changes. In September, the California Air Resources Board proposed a series of amendments to the LCFS, including a phase-out of credits for avoided methane. Such credits have provided significant benefits to anaerobic digesters on dairy farms, but the change would stop certifying such projects for avoided emission credits in 2030 and phase out such credits from existing projects by 2040. CARB is expected to vote on the proposed rule in the first quarter of this year. Organics processing capacity, spurred by legislation, is growing As landfill operators work to extract value from existing landfill methane emissions, a growing body of research is fueling legislation designed to prevent organics from reaching landfills in the first place. One report from the EPA released last year found that 58% of fugitive greenhouse gas emissions from landfills comes from wasted organics, while another listed landfilling as one of the least preferable options for unused organics. As a result, policymakers interested in reducing organics emissions are increasingly addressing not just waste in place but a growing range of diversion and separated organics processing tactics. Last year, the federal government disbursed a record amount of funding for recycling infrastructure, millions of dollars of which went to organics recycling projects. In 2024, several of those projects are expected to take a step forward, and the EPA will continue to take applications on a rolling basis for additional funding. Previously announced EPA grant funding is slated to support a range of projects, including the creation of a composting site in Baltimore, an expansion of one of the only large-scale composting facilities in Iowa and the growth of a brush composting program in Alaska. Meanwhile, New York City also received EPA grant funding to support education and outreach for its growing curbside organics collection program, which the city plans to roll out to the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island this fall.  Movement continues on the state level as well. The next phase of Maryland’s organics diversion mandate for large food waste generators kicks in this year. Under California’s SB 1383, jurisdictions like Los Angeles will begin enforcing penalties for commercial and multifamily buildings that don’t follow organics recycling laws. California will also increase organics processing capacity this year — in December, CalRecycle announced it would disburse $130 million in grants to more than two dozen local projects that improve municipalities’ compliance with the organics diversion law.

5 waste and recycling trends to watch in 2024

After a tumultuous few years for the waste and recycling industry, 2024 will hopefully be marked more by internal shifts than external macroeconomic shocks. The Waste Dive team is nevertheless expecting a busy year. At the federal level, the U.S. EPA is expected to make multiple key decisions on PFAS while continuing to dole out historically high amounts of funding for… 

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2023 brought some aspect of normalcy to waste and recycling operations, after a turbulent period of pandemic and economic challenges. Workforce issues and inflation showed signs of improvement, and many companies reported positive earnings results. The pace of state and federal policy changes was also somewhat muted versus prior years. At the same time, the sector still saw a complex commodity price environment, notable M&A activity and other trends. We’ve gathered some of the industry’s highlights by the numbers to help reflect on 2023. What themes will you be watching in 2024? Let us know at [email protected]. Labor and the economy welcomia via Getty Images By the numbers   7th Waste collection was the seventh deadliest job in 2022, according to BLS data released in December. It’s the same ranking as the previous year.   2,500+ The number of workers on a new contract negotiated between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and several waste companies in Chicago. The agreement followed a busy labor year during which Teamsters in Atlanta and Mack Truck workers represented by UAW ratified contracts.   9.8% The increase in the “waste collection” producer price index between November 2022 and 2023, according to BLS data. That’s compared to an overall PPI increase of 7.4% during the same period.   500,000 The number of workers employed in “waste management and remediation services” in November 2023, according to seasonally adjusted BLS data. That number is up 16,000 from November 2022. RELATED COVERAGE Continued labor challenges are leading top waste and recycling execs to innovate ➔ Recruitment and retention were key topics at WasteExpo. Leaders from WM, Republic Services, Waste Connections, GFL Environmental, Casella Waste Systems shared their perspectives. As some labor strains ease, the waste and recycling industry has further opportunity to grow its ranks ➔ Pandemic-era labor challenges for the waste industry are persisting years later. Read what Stifel, SWANA, the Teamsters and the Women in Trucking Association say could help. M&A Courtesy of Republic Services By the numbers   100+ The number of transactions involving U.S. solid waste companies tracked by Waste Dive so far in 2023, during a year which saw activity decline slightly relative to prior boom years.   $2.99B Estimated M&A spending by the industry’s top five publicly traded companies through Q3, led by Republic Services.   $1.6B (Canadian) GFL Environmental’s proceeds from divesting select assets to WM, Republic Services and Casella Waste Systems in multiple states — transactions which accounted for a notable amount of overall industry spending this year.   6 The number of years Florida-based Coastal Waste & Recycling had been operating before it was acquired by a Macquarie Asset Management fund — one of the year’s more notable investments in a growing company. RELATED COVERAGE Has the waste and recycling industry’s multiyear M&A boom peaked? ➔ Experts from Stifel, Houlihan Lokey, Comerica Bank, Raymond James, Waste Connections and others weigh in on the latest trends involving valuations, private equity, environmental services and more. Tracking the waste and recycling industry’s M&A boom ➔ Acquisition spending and consolidation levels remain high. Follow along with Waste Dive’s running list of U.S. deals. Federal policy U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan at COP28 Sean Gallup via Getty Images By the numbers   $105M The amount of funding the U.S. EPA released in 2023 for Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling grants meant to improve communities’ recycling, organics and waste management systems throughout the country.   $33M The amount of funding the EPA released for Recycling Education and Outreach grants intended to help engage the public through training and other resources.   6 The number of PFAS chemicals listed in the EPA’s proposed drinking water standard, which is expected to be finalized sometime in January. The proposed regulations will set legally enforceable drinking water standards, which could impact how waste facilities monitor or manage PFAS-containing material like leachate. RELATED COVERAGE Tracking the future of US recycling policy in Congress ➔ Spurred by market challenges, the Hill has seen a historic influx of big bills. Keep up on all the latest developments with our legislative tracker. EPA’s historic year of multi-million-dollar investments in recycling and organics projects ➔ The U.S. EPA announced grants in 2023 meant to boost infrastructure projects, recycling education, environmental justice initiatives and more. State and local policy Annapolis, Maryland Mark Wilson via Getty Images By the numbers   21 The number of members on Maryland’s extended producer responsibility advisory council, who will report findings and recommendations on a proposed EPR plan for the state next year. Haulers, processors, composters, local government agencies, PROs and consumer goods representatives are included on the council.   30 The number of states that introduced right-to-repair legislation in 2023. Three states passed notable right to repair laws for various products this year: California, Minnesota and Colorado.   223 million The amount of additional containers CalRecycle estimates California will process in its container deposit system when the state adds 100% fruit and vegetable juice containers to the bottle bill. Gov. Gavin Newsom approved the expansion in October.   $32M The amount New York’s Department of Sanitation expects to save as a result of proposed budget cuts for fiscal year 2024, which includes eliminating community composting and delaying the rollout of its curbside organics program in the Bronx and Staten Island. RELATED COVERAGE EPR implementation strategies come into focus in 2023 ➔ Colorado, Oregon, Maine and California are in the process of hammering out details of their extended producer responsibility laws. Many of them passed major implementation milestones in 2023. California Gov. Newsom vetoes bills on franchise agreements, SB 54 updates ➔ Newsom also vetoed a plastic gift card ban and several bills related to packaging, though later signed others. Tracking 2022 recycling laws by state ➔ Follow bills about organics recycling, EPR, recycled content, container deposit systems and product bans that passed into law. Commodities Casella’s retrofitted MRF in Boston Cole Rosengren/Waste Dive By the numbers   31% to 38% The decrease in average blended commodity prices Republic and WM, respectively, reported in Q3 2023 compared to the previous year. Most companies saw major decreases in commodity values on OCC, mixed paper and plastics, though some fiber prices were beginning to recover by the year’s end.   25% The EPA projected that renewable natural gas volumes would increase by 25% year-over-year from 2023 to 2025 in its update to the Renewable Fuel Standard. That growth rate means greater generation of RIN credits, which is expected to bolster waste-to-RNG project development.   16.2 million tons The amount of surplus food composted in 2022, according to data from ReFED. That’s compared to 32.6 million tons of surplus food landfilled in the same year. RELATED COVERAGE What’s in the box? Maybe a gift of recovering corrugated demand ➔ Containerboard demand remains down year over year, but it is ending October in a less scary position than previous quarters, according to newly released data from AF&PA. How the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard program changes could be a boon for landfill and AD operators ➔ The program’s biggest change to date would set long-term renewable natural gas targets, add credits for powering electric vehicles and much more. U.S. EPA announces draft national food waste prevention strategy at COP28 ➔ The strategy cites ongoing commitments to building out organic waste recycling infrastructure, including on-farm anaerobic digestion and decentralized community composting programs.

By the numbers: Key 2023 waste and recycling trends

2023 brought some aspect of normalcy to waste and recycling operations, after a turbulent period of pandemic and economic challenges. Workforce issues and inflation showed signs of improvement, and many companies reported positive earnings results. The pace of state and federal policy changes was also somewhat muted versus prior years. At the same time, the sector still saw a complex… 

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More than six years after Los Angeles launched its commercial waste franchise system, many haulers are struggling to hit contractual disposal reduction targets. City officials are weighing numerous options that could change the program’s future. The system, known as recycLA, encompasses more than 66,000 accounts (including commercial buildings and multifamily buildings of five units or more). Its 11 zones are serviced by six haulers, including the industry’s two largest players — WM and Republic Services — and large local company Athens Services. Under the current contracts, haulers are required to provide black, blue and green bin service to any customer within the system, while also working to meet contractual obligations around diversion and many other initiatives. LA Sanitation and Environment touts many aspects of the program as a success, but also says the program’s goal to cut 1 million tons of landfill disposal by 2025 will likely not be met.  Contracts that took effect in January 2017 are approaching the back end of their initial 10-year terms. The city must now decide whether to extend for five years with renegotiated expectations, issue a new RFP for some or all zones, or possibly take over service itself. Despite multiple rounds of negotiations since October, LASAN said recently that it has yet to lock down an agreement. "We had healthy discussion and healthy debate and some progress with the [recycLA service providers], but it wasn't significant enough at this point to come before you with a contract amendment,” said LASAN Director Barbara Romero at a Dec. 8 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Energy and Environment Committee.  Key sticking points include haulers “under performing” on scaling organics recycling service, costly access and distance fees that haulers charge to customers and state fleet electrification requirements. The clock is ticking for all three.  While LASAN fined five haulers a total of $12.2 million in liquidated damages earlier this year for failing to meet their 2022 disposal reduction targets, all of the companies have appealed. In the meantime, CalRecycle is actively working with the city to bring it into compliance for not having full-scale commercial organics recycling as required by state law. The city is currently subsidizing access and distance fees for blue bin service, at a cost of $23 million per year, subject to annual budget decisions. The California Air Resources Board’s requirements for zero-emission vehicles were not contemplated when the contracts were signed, and a recent LASAN report most haulers were still only at the “early stages” of planning and researching for electrification. These factors and others have left LASAN in a highly complex position of planning for multiple outcomes simultaneously, all of which have the potential to increase costs. “It’s expensive to do the right thing and there's only three options — we pay more, the consumer pays more or our provider pays more. And two of those are really bad,” Councilmember Tim McOsker, vice chair of the committee, said during the recent meeting. By the numbers   606,000 The contractual tonnage reduction required by January 2023. Haulers reported a 403,000 ton reduction.   28% The share of accounts that had green bin organics service as of LASAN’s last report.   543 The number of compressed natural gas trucks on the road for recycLA, fully replacing diesel   $175M Haulers’ investment in new infrastructure — 3 new facilities, 2 under construction and 5 upgrades Complex decisions LASAN launched recycLA in July 2017 with a goal of modernizing the city’s commercial waste system. Athens, Republic, Universal Waste Systems, WM, CalMet Services (acquired by Athens in 2022), NASA Services and Ware Disposal were awarded the initial contracts. While the program had a difficult rollout, LASAN now touts a 99% collection efficiency rate with 24/7 customer service support. Worker health and safety requirements are stronger, as are community protections. Any facility handling recycLA material must be certified by LASAN (42 have qualified to date) and eventually all of their operations will be enclosed. All haulers had to phase out diesel trucks and many have streamlined their routes, with the city estimating a reduction of over 1,400 vehicle miles traveled per week. A collection truck with the recycLA logo operating in 2017, the program’s first year. Cole Rosengren/Waste Dive Nearly all customers have blue bin recycling service and maximum prices are capped at contractual limits. Haulers have funded $3.1 million in food rescue programs to date, recovering nearly 27,000 tons of edible food as of September.  During a Sept. 29 council meeting, Romero called it “a very ambitious program with some very significant environmental goals,” noting that while there have been multiple successes "it's also been at a cost, not only to the city but to our customers.” Dan Meyers, division manager for the program, said at the meeting that the access and distance fees charged by haulers when containers are not directly reachable have had a “significant impact.” The agency’s report showed large numbers of customers get charged these fees in each zone. "In many cases the access and distance fees for customers can exceed their monthly rate for just their solid waste service,” said Meyers. A detailed report outlined how the ability to charge fees for each type of bin can also inhibit diversion. Following a 2019 contract amendment, customers no longer have to pay access or distance fees for blue bin service and have saved an estimated $144 million. Yet the city’s responsibility to bear 50% of those fee costs through its Removing Barriers to Recycling program is considered untenable and LASAN is angling to see the fees dropped entirely. And even though 97% of customers now have blue bin recycling service the agency said recycling “tonnage collected remains below targets.”  This, combined with many haulers not hitting their targets for organics diversion, led to the program missing its disposal goal in the latest measurement period. Athens was the only company to achieve its disposal reduction target, aside from the zone previously serviced by CalMet, which did not meet the threshold for liquidated damages. The company declined to comment on how it achieved this target. LASAN’s report noted it was also reviewing the data from other Athens zones, with the possibility to change its decision. The agency declined to comment on the status of that review, or any other questions. The other five haulers received liquidated damages notices for a collective $12.2 million earlier this year. According to LASAN, all of them claimed force majeure due to the pandemic and are appealing the decision. Multiple councilmembers suggested such fines may be too low. This follows the assessment of $3.4 million in liquidated damages for other customer service issues through May, $2.2 million of which had been paid so far. In the future, LASAN hopes to improve diversion performance by making green bin organics service part of a bundled rate. It is currently an add-on that customers must opt in to, because when the program launched organics processing infrastructure was still evolving. Starting in January, LASAN will begin enforcing its own commercial organics ordinance under SB 1383 after an extended pandemic delay — which has affected processors in the region, such as Anaergia — and the agency said haulers are overdue in helping ramp up participation. “The contracts fully contemplated compliance with organics, including all customers having organics service. So there should be no unanticipated cost associated with the provision of that service,” said Meyers at the December meeting. During both recent council hearings, it was mentioned that CalRecycle has been actively engaged on the recycLA compliance issue and financial penalties could be coming if the city didn’t accelerate its progress. CalRecycle confirmed that in June 2022 it placed the city on a formal plan to address barriers to achieving AB 1826 and SB 1383. LASAN has reported progress on meeting these requirements, including efforts to boost participation by providing kitchen pails to customers this year. Trucks from the original recycLA service providers at the time of the program’s launch in 2017. Permission granted by LA Sanitation & Environment What’s next While LASAN’s initial options also included allowing the recycLA program to continue under the status quo, councilmembers and agency staff did not consider this a viable plan. Instead, LASAN is hoping the companies will agree to some kind of change. Speaking on Sept. 29, Romero said that cooperation with the haulers “is critical if this program is going to survive in its current form,” adding that "if we want to change our results we need to revisit the contract." WM did not respond to a request for comment, and Republic declined to comment. Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky, chair of the environment committee, could not be reached for comment about her current view of the negotiations. At the September hearing, recycLA boosters such as Teamsters Local 396 and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy testified that the program should continue with modifications as needed. “We supported it from the very beginning and we'd like to see it continue,” said Jim Smith, political director for Local 396, during the Sept. 29 hearing. "This program has really benefited the city.” The union did not support the possibility of LASAN taking over service, and the city has recognized this would be a lift. "We do not have the resources. We do not have the drivers, the trucks, the yards,” said Meyers on Sept. 29. Preliminary esimates found that while the agency is technically capable, as it already provides residential service, it would need to hire over 900 people. Other possible costs would include building a publicly-owned MRF (estimated at $120 million), plus electric trucks and associated infrastructure (upward of $2.4 billion). In the meantime, the need to accelerate progress on organics service is a pressing one as CalRecycle’s agreement with the city ends this year. “CalRecycle has been meeting with the city staff every two months to ensure that progress is being made. We are not planning to extend any of the formal plans,” said spokesperson Lance Klug via email. While LASAN reported a notable increase in green bin service, up from 20% of customers to 28% in recent months, more work remains. Meyers said recycLA customers will soon begin receiving 60-day compliance warnings and the first penalties could be issued by March. "We're getting close to exhausting the negotiation process as the means for accomplishing our goals for this program,” said Yaroslavsky on Dec. 8. “I don't want to go to an RFP process as I see our organics compliance is a major and pressing issue that will only draw that out further, but if we can't resolve the major pieces by the end of this month I think it's a necessary step." The committee requested that LASAN report back on its progress by Jan. 26. The agency could issue an RFP as soon as April if required.

Los Angeles commercial waste system at a crossroads amid contract renegotiation

More than six years after Los Angeles launched its commercial waste franchise system, many haulers are struggling to hit contractual disposal reduction targets. City officials are weighing numerous options that could change the program’s future. The system, known as recycLA, encompasses more than 66,000 accounts (including commercial buildings and multifamily buildings of five units or more). Its 11 zones are… 

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In 2023, the U.S. EPA announced several rounds of waste and recycling funding touted as the largest such investments in 30 years. Millions of dollars will go to a variety of recycling infrastructure, environmental justice, organics and climate projects.  The funding — which comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — is considered to be a boost for local governments, tribes, nonprofits and community groups. Projects aim to improve aging recycling systems, add public education programs, bolster landfill diversion projects, and support neighborhoods disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. Separate funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is also expected to help kickstart food waste reduction programs. Here’s a rundown of major funding announcements and project details from 2023.

EPA’s historic year of multi-million-dollar investments in recycling and organics projects

In 2023, the U.S. EPA announced several rounds of waste and recycling funding touted as the largest such investments in 30 years. Millions of dollars will go to a variety of recycling infrastructure, environmental justice, organics and climate projects.  The funding — which comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and 2022 Inflation Reduction Act — is considered to be a… 

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Dive Brief: U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics on Saturday at COP28, the annual climate conference.  The strategy takes a "whole-of-government" approach to improve circularity for organics, pulling together research and existing funding opportunities from the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. It’s designed to help the agenices meet their joint goal of reducing food loss and waste 50% by 2030. The Biden-Harris administration plans to make use of existing programs that have already begun doling out resources for organics infrastructure like the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling Grant Program and Recycling Education and Outreach Grant Program. Other programs, like the USDA's Composting and Food Waste Reduction, will also be harnessed for the strategy's objectives. Dive Insight: Federal agencies have been working toward their 50% food waste reduction goal since 2015. In recent years, the Biden administration has continued that work by building up a body of research on the harms of landfilled organics and the benefits that come from rerouting food from loss and disposal. In October, the agency released a study finding that 58% of methane emissions from landfills come from organics, including yard and food waste. It determined that most of those emissions occur in the first few years organics are landfilled, often before gas capture systems are installed. The issue of landfilled food is also growing — the EPA found that 62.5 million tons of food was landfilled in 2020, double the total in 1990. Meanwhile, the administration released a National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health last year that included a goal to reduce barriers to food recovery. The strategy cited USDA research finding that one-third of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten and set deliverables to reduce that waste, including the development of the food loss strategy. The new food loss strategy’s objectives are to prevent the loss of food where possible, prevent the waste of food where possible, increase the recycling rate for all organic waste and support policies that incentivize and encourage food loss and waste prevention and organics recycling. "Reducing food loss and waste is one of the most impactful actions we can take to reduce climate pollution and build a circular economy," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. "Working together with our partners at USDA and FDA, we will take actions to significantly reduce waste and the pollution that comes with it while improving our food system and boosting the economy." The strategy notes that current organics recycling infrastructure nationwide is insufficient to address the issue of waste, and endorses the use of funding from programs like EPA’s SWIFR grant program, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, to improve that infrastructure. The strategy also makes special mention of the need to build out such infrastructure in historically disadvantaged communities, noting that grant funding should go to such projects as part of the administration’s Justice40 initiatives. The agencies also committed to researching barriers to decentralized community composting. The agencies also plan to continue supporting anaerobic digestion via grants and loans to agricultural producers, water resource recovery facilities and municipalities. Programs that fund such projects include the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which provides both loan guarantees and grants to agricultural producers and rural small businesses, and EPA’s AgSTAR program.  The USDA also plans to invest $30 million over the next three years into its Composting and Food Waste Reduction cooperative agreement program, which helps local governments and private sector partners develop municipal compost plans and/or food waste reduction plans, per the strategy. The strategy also includes a suite of research and data measures the administration plans to take to track the issue and report on progress. Among those measures are the development of a “decision support tool” to help local governments identify appropriate circular solutions and a newly announced strategy to better monitor landfill methane emissions. The food loss strategy also noted the recent launch of the USDA's Center for Research, Behavioral Economics, and Extension on Food, Loss and Waste center, a $1.5 million research program to "address inefficiencies in the food system.” The food loss strategy also noted the agencies' ongoing work with food waste nonprofit ReFED, which announced its own national pact this week with grocers, food manufacturers and others to track their food loss and waste data. Moving forward, data and measurements will be reported in the administration’s annual Report on the Environment, which the strategy’s authors hope will allow agencies to “become proactive rather than reactive” in addressing the issue. The 30 day public comment period for the strategy ends on Jan. 4. The administration plans to address those comments and begin implementing the strategy in 2024.

U.S. EPA announces draft national food waste prevention strategy at COP28

Dive Brief: U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the Draft National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics on Saturday at COP28, the annual climate conference.  The strategy takes a “whole-of-government” approach to improve circularity for organics, pulling together research and existing funding opportunities from the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. It’s… 

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Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit recycler based in the Twin Cities area, has announced Katie Drews and Miriam Holsinger will become the organization’s co-presidents on Dec. 18.  Incoming Eureka Recycling Co-Presidents Miriam Holsinger and Katie Drews Courtesy of Eureka Recycling   Drews and Holsinger say Eureka’s co-president model is part of the organization's aim to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce, especially as the waste and recycling industry continues to evolve. Drews is the organization’s first woman of color in the role. The two will assume leadership from Kate Davenport and Lynn Hoffman, who have served as co-presidents since 2016. Davenport and Hoffman will temporarily stay with the organization to help with the transition, but they plan to leave Eureka in early 2024, they said in a joint letter. Founded in 2001, Eureka’s Minneapolis MRF processes between 400 and 450 tons per day. It also provides curbside recycling service in Saint Paul and some surrounding suburbs. Eureka, which calls itself a “zero waste laboratory,” offers MRF services and advocates for zero waste and reuse policies in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. As part of its environmental mission, all of the recyclables it processes go to markets in the U.S., with 90% sold in the Midwest.  “Eureka is unique in that we are nonprofit, and we do have really strong operations, but we are also doing this to move the needle and change systems that perpetuate waste,” said Drews, who joined Eureka in 2021. “We're not just one thing, and this really supports having diverse leadership and having really robust and creative ideas in order to tackle these really big challenges.” Having two leaders also gives Drews and Holsinger space to bounce ideas off each other and bring in a variety of perspectives, they said.  “We're balancing our operational needs. Even though we're not-for-profit, we run our operations as for-profit business units with our mission of trying to demonstrate waste is preventable,” Holsinger said. “We’re playing the game, and then we're also figuring out how to change the game to make it better for everyone. Having two people really helps us balance those two things at the same time.” Holsinger has worked in the recycling and waste industry for over 20 years, 17 of which have been for Eureka, she said. She currently serves as the vice president of operations and business intelligence. Drews, who is currently the senior vice president, came to the industry with a background in both nonprofit and corporate settings where she worked on workforce development, business strategy and marketing leadership. Their partnership will be especially beneficial as the company continues to work on big initiatives in 2024 and beyond, they said.  Eureka is known for its work advocating for national recycling policy initiatives and is in the midst of supporting numerous policy initiatives related to extended producer responsibility and deposit return systems, Drews said. It is also a founding member of the Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers. “We are at a pretty pivotal moment for recycling and zero waste,” she said. “There’s a lot on the horizon.”  Reuse initiatives are another important growth area for the organization, said Holsinger, who also serves on board of the nonprofit Reuse Minnesota, which works with businesses to promote reuse strategies.  Recycling remains a key effort for Eureka, but the organization sees it as one component of a larger zero waste strategy, Holsinger added.  “When we look at recycling through a zero waste lens, we're asking ourselves, ‘Is this benefiting our community? Is this benefiting our economy? Is this benefiting the environment?' So we're not just recycling to recycle.”  As one of just a few sizable nonprofit recyclers in the U.S., Drews and Holsinger say they have a responsibility to demonstrate ways that recycling can positively impact communities and the environment while also providing a positive work environment. The organization has almost 150 employees, and every position receives full-time pay and the same benefits, they said.  “It is a pretty dangerous industry, and making sure people are protected and valued and supported is why we think that mission-based nonprofit work in this sector is important,” Drews said.  Drews and Holsinger will transition into their new roles by working closely with the rest of the executive team, according to an announcement. Drews and Holsinger will also work closely with Kris Foner and Kristin Poffenberger, who are stepping into executive vice president roles.  Davenport and Hoffman have been “exemplary leaders” who are credited with shaping the organization’s involvement in recycling innovation and policy, said Tim Brownell, chair of the board of directors, in a statement. “Their contributions have been instrumental in our organization's success,” he said.

New co-presidents to lead Eureka Recycling in Minnesota

Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit recycler based in the Twin Cities area, has announced Katie Drews and Miriam Holsinger will become the organization’s co-presidents on Dec. 18.  Incoming Eureka Recycling Co-Presidents Miriam Holsinger and Katie Drews Courtesy of Eureka Recycling   Drews and Holsinger say Eureka’s co-president model is part of the organization’s aim to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce, especially as… 

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Baltimore-based biosolids company Synagro recently acquired Massachusetts-based New England Fertilizer Co., the buyer announced Wednesday. The deal expands Synagro's processing capabilities at thermal drying facilities and is among the largest in a string of acquisitions the company has made in recent years. The purchase happened in May, according to a release. NEFCO brings five biosolids processing facilities to Synagro with nearly 800 additional tons of drying capacity across the newly acquired portfolio. "Joining the Synagro team was a great decision for the combined business as well as providing additional opportunities for our employees," Larry Bishop, general manager of NEFCO, said in a statement. “We are excited to be part of such a great team, with our proven capabilities working together to provide innovative client solutions.” NEFCO operates facilities in Quincy, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; Cumberland, Maryland; Shakopee, Minnesota; and West Palm Beach, Florida. The company was founded in 1986 to manage sewage sludge disposal for the Greater Boston area and help end the discharge of biosolids into Boston Harbor, according to an archived version of its website.  The deal follows three other recent acquisitions made by Synagro as it follows a “sustainable growth plan,” according to the release. That includes a deal for Liberty Compost, a California-based biosolids and composting operator, that was announced last year. Synagro managed about 6.5 million tons of biosolids in 2022, according to the company's sustainability plan. The company is also looking to increase the amount of biosolids it diverts from landfills and toward beneficial reuse. Last year, the percentage of biosolids it diverted was 80%. “We recognize the important role we play in the circular economy, and by executing upon our strategy, we can further accelerate our contribution to divert biosolids and other organics from landfills,” Ben Gilreath, Synagro’s vice president of corporate development and mergers and acquisitions, said in a statement. 

Synagro acquires Massachusetts-based biosolids processor with 5 facilities

Baltimore-based biosolids company Synagro recently acquired Massachusetts-based New England Fertilizer Co., the buyer announced Wednesday. The deal expands Synagro’s processing capabilities at thermal drying facilities and is among the largest in a string of acquisitions the company has made in recent years. The purchase happened in May, according to a release. NEFCO brings five biosolids processing facilities to Synagro with nearly 800… 

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Dive Brief: The U.S. EPA announced this week an estimated $2 billion in funding is available for local projects, including waste-related initiatives, through its Community Challenge Grants program. Among many potential focus areas, the program encourages applications for two waste-specific categories: “Waste reduction and management to support a circular economy” and “safe management and disposal of solid and hazardous waste.” Applications will be open for a year, closing on Nov. 21, 2024, and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. According to the agency, this “allows applicants to utilize technical assistance and possibly resubmit a new application if not initially selected.” Dive Insight: This funding, which comes from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, is described by the EPA as the “single largest investment in environmental justice going directly to communities in history.” The agency said the program is designed in a way that will enable disadvantaged communities to access funding for climate-related projects and advance elements of President Biden’s Justice40 initiative. “This historic, unprecedented funding has the promise to turn disadvantaged and overburdened areas into healthy, resilient, and thriving communities for current and future generations,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement. Examples of eligible proposals in the waste reduction category include “efforts to reduce food waste (e.g., composting, anaerobic digestors), or to promote the reduction, reuse, and recycling of disaster debris, construction and demolition debris, and other materials and products.” Agency guidance said this might entail projects such as a community-scale composting program, edible food recovery programs, educational campaigns about the climate benefits of reducing food waste or a community-scale recycling program. Projects proposed in this category are expected to measure progress in terms of pounds or tons of waste diverted from landfills, recycled or composted. The agency anticipates such projects should lead to “cleaner communities” and lower emissions from waste being disposed in landfills or incinerators. Examples of proposals in the solid and hazardous waste category include “the purchase of equipment and the development of facilities” to manage this material. This might involve equipment for hazardous waste sampling, collection and processing infrastructure for household hazardous waste or electronics, projects that reduce demand for single-use plastic products (such as water bottle refill stations and water fountains) and waste transfer or recycling infrastructure. EPA will measure results from these grants through categories such as the amount of tires diverted from disposal, increased access to residential composting options and the amount of new infrastructure “installed in underserved communities,” among other metrics. The agency is designating $200 million of the funding to offer technical assistance to applicants and grant recipients, and it is designating target investment amounts for five categories of recipients. This includes $150 million for tribes in Alaska, $300 million for other tribal communities, $50 million for U.S. territories, $50 million for “disadvantaged unincorporated communities” and $100 million for non-tribal communities near the southern border with Mexico. The newly available funding follows last month’s award of an estimated $128 million worth of grants for other environmental justice-focused projects, including multiple waste and recycling proposals. That funding also came from the Inflation Reduction Act, but through separate initiatives.  The EPA also has been active in doling out grants for waste and recycling projects with funding from the 2021 infrastructure law. Recent examples include $33 million for recycling education projects, $60 million for waste infrastructure in tribal communities and $105 million for waste and recycling projects in various other communities.

EPA announces $2B in environmental justice grants, including for waste projects

Dive Brief: The U.S. EPA announced this week an estimated $2 billion in funding is available for local projects, including waste-related initiatives, through its Community Challenge Grants program. Among many potential focus areas, the program encourages applications for two waste-specific categories: “Waste reduction and management to support a circular economy” and “safe management and disposal of solid and hazardous waste.” Applications will… 

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Mayor Eric Adams is proposing eliminating the New York City community composting program and delaying rollout of curbside residential organics collection in certain boroughs by seven months as part of sweeping budget cuts. The proposal, published Thursday, is part of across-the-board 5% budget cuts Adams has directed all city agencies to make as the city faces a projected budget shortfall beginning this fiscal year and extending into future years. The mayor has indicated an additional 5% cut may be necessary again in January. The cuts would have ripple effects throughout the city’s management of organics and waste: reducing litter cleanup, shuttering farmer’s market food waste drop-off sites and ending funding for several mid-sized community composting sites, those familiar with the funding said. “It’s a tremendous loss,” Beth Slepian, vice chair of the Brooklyn Solid Waste Advisory Board, said. “This creates a huge access issue for people to composting.” In response to a request for comment, the mayor’s office cited a press conference held by the mayor Tuesday in which he said “I’m angry also” about the cuts. “Instead of doing that budget that I am excited about doing, we have to move in another direction and look at these cost savings to continue to have our city operate and to abide by the law,” Adams said. Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Finance Chair James Brannan released a statement last week indicating skepticism about the planned cuts, saying they are “too blunt and not the prudent or sole choice.” The city council did not vote to approve a round of budget cuts last year, but the leaders said in their statement this year that they would negotiate with the administration over the November plan.  Community composting fallout New York City has funded local composting programs in various capacities since the NYC Compost Project began in 1993. Today, program partners divert more than 8.3 million pounds of organic waste each year, provide compost outreach and education to 600,000 city residents annually and train “master composters” through a city-run program, Justin Green, a partner in the program through his nonprofit Big Reuse, said.  Green, who runs compost operations in Gowanus and Queensbridge, said without the community composting program he’d be unable to pay operators for his two sites and may have to close them. That would remove two million annual pounds of organic waste processing capacity from the city, which Green said would be “devastating” for the communities that have come to expect a sustainable organic solution. “The community’s very supportive of it,” Green said. “It’s unusual for communities to be like, ‘No, we want composting to happen in our community.’ There’s that effort because they see the benefit and our process allows them to be involved in helping to turn their waste into a benefit.” The proposed cuts will impact 115 jobs in community composting, according to a petition circulated by GrowNYC urging the Adams administration to save the program. The proposed budget cuts would also impact 262 uniformed employees and 321 civilian employees across DSNY, according to the proposal.  Domingo Morales, founder of Compost Power, said “a lot of Black and brown people are going to lose their jobs,” many who are seeking a stable, green career path. “It’s horrible for them. They take this job because there’s hopes of breaking these barriers, diversifying the green economy,” Morales said. Morales got his start in Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that works with young and unemployed public housing residents. The program placed him at a composting facility in Red Hook, where he received training and began a career that continues today.  But Morales said the facility, which was supported by DSNY, faced staffing challenges depending on the city’s financial health. Today, he’s turned his attention toward building composting programs at public housing sites without financial support from DSNY, in part because the agency laid him off during the coronavirus pandemic. He describes the budget uncertainty facing organizations involved in the community composting program as “cyclical torture.” Morales said the cuts, which occur just a few years after the pandemic affected funding for organics programs, should provoke a broader conversation about the detrimental impacts of relying on the whims of New York City’s budget.  “We're supporting something that is volatile,” Morales said. “We need to have a healthy conversation to build a system in New York City that is sustainable, regardless of what the mayor's office is able to afford.” Green, executive director of Big Reuse, said he would need to lay off his 10-person community composting team and nine outreach employees, nearly half of his full-time staff. Lower East Side Ecology Center Executive Director Christine Datz-Romero said she would have to lay off 10 of her 17 full-time staff members.  Collection and infrastructure effects The cuts will hamstring efforts to broaden community support for composting at a time when the city is planning to expand its services, several sources said. The U.S. EPA announced last week it was granting DSNY $2 million to support outreach efforts, but that’s outweighed by a proposed $4.1 million reduction in outreach and communications at the department in the coming fiscal year. Vincent Gragnani, press secretary for DSNY, said in an email that the grant money would not be affected by the proposed budget cuts, but DSNY is “still working on an implementation plan for the grant.” He declined to comment further on the cuts. DSNY is also proposing delaying the rollout of curbside organics collection in the Bronx and Staten Island from April to October of 2024. The program has already begun in Queens and Brooklyn. Datz-Romero said residents will lose confidence in the city’s ability to handle organics as a result of the cuts and delays, comparing it to recycling budget cuts that affected DSNY in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. “We have seen the credibility of recycling programs really suffer if there are suspensions,” Datz-Romero said. “People will scratch their heads to understand, so why is this delayed if it's that important?” Datz-Romero said DSNY has already instructed her to begin the process of shutting down certain operations by Dec. 31 in preparation for the cuts. The LES Ecology Center had also been preparing to build and operate a composting site in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn when the cuts were announced last week. Now, despite having put in time and money to clear the site, receive the necessary permits, hire a construction manager and evaluate bid proposals for construction, DSNY is ending the plans. “There’s a lot of work that has gotten done in preparation for this, and all of that is basically now wasted effort and money because the money to build the facility has disappeared,” Datz-Romero said. Brenda Platt, director of ILSR's Composting for Community Initiative, said the loss of community composting outreach and training for new Master Composters will lead to less educated residents who feel less of a connection to the waste stream. Platt notes that certain independent composting sites, including those run by Compost Power, will likely remain even after the budget cuts. But she said the loss of educational and training programs will hinder the growth of a system that builds “the social resilience of New York communities and the physical resilience of the infrastructure in New York.” “They become these laboratories of seeding these people and these programs all throughout New York City,” Platt said. “This is really a devastating loss that's going to reverberate to dozens if not hundreds of other community gardens and composters in the city.” New York City Council Sanitation Chair Sandy Nurse said councilmembers like herself had hoped that language in the Zero Waste Act passed in June would have done more to protect the community composting program. One of the provisions of the law requires DSNY to ensure there are at least 30 organic waste drop-off sites citywide, with at least three in each borough. She said councilmembers may propose new legislation to better protect the program's partners and the education, outreach and composting work they do. "We're going to fight and try as hard as possible to restore funding," Nurse said. “To have such a drastic cut off in such a short period of time is truly unacceptable.”

Proposed NYC budget cuts ‘devastating’ for community composters

Mayor Eric Adams is proposing eliminating the New York City community composting program and delaying rollout of curbside residential organics collection in certain boroughs by seven months as part of sweeping budget cuts. The proposal, published Thursday, is part of across-the-board 5% budget cuts Adams has directed all city agencies to make as the city faces a projected budget shortfall beginning… 

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“Teamwork makes the dream work” was the dominant theme at the Packaging Recycling Summit in Atlanta last week. Speakers dove into the importance of partnerships to improve domestic packaging recycling efforts and overcome leading barriers, such as consumer confusion. “Partnerships are going to be really important, because ... these issues are huge,” said Rebecca Marquez, director of custom research at PMMI (The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies). “There's a lot of people that play a part in these issues, and it's going to be impossible for one set of people — CPGs, OEMs, recyclers — to do everything on their own.” Marquez highlighted the importance of collaboration at a time when sustainability efforts are transforming the packaging industry. “Change is not coming. It’s here, and it’s really, really rapid,” she said. Underscoring that point, she shared data from PMMI surveys of CPGs and contract packagers this year assessing how often they’re changing packaging materials. In January, 58% said they changed materials less than once per year, 30% said one to two times per year and 3% said more than six times per year. When asked the same question again at Pack Expo in Las Vegas in September, 18% said they now change materials more than six times per year. “That is incredible,” Marquez said. “To change the materials on a line is extremely complicated.” Rebecca Marquez, director of custom research at PMMI, details the rapid changes occurring in packaging and recycling as brands aim to meet sustainability goals, at the Packaging Recycling Summit in Atlanta on Nov. 6, 2023. Katie Pyzyk/Packaging Dive   But as materials change, that affects stakeholders down the value chain, including recyclers.  “Recyclers don't want to take in materials that they can't resell into a market,” Marquez said. “We’ve got to work together to create new markets. We have to work together to innovate what goes on at sortation facilities.” Collaborating on recycling involves improved messaging and education for consumers, who regularly report confusion with current recycling systems. That confusion often results in consumers not participating in recycling programs or trying to recycle the wrong materials, which increases contamination, speakers said. That’s a problem considering “end users are really demanding higher quality material,” according to Jeff Snyder, director of recycling at Ohio-based Rumpke Waste & Recycling. Further illustrating consumer confusion, 70% of plastic packaging materials whose resin codes are one, two and five go to the landfill in the United States today, Snyder said, despite Rumpke repeatedly putting out the message that it wants those materials. “The big struggle for us is just people not understanding the process and not understanding what to do.” Along with that, some brand and packaging manufacturer decisions create confusion for consumers and trouble for MRFs. They should keep materials simple and “stop making Franken-plastic,” or multi-resin, multi-layer materials, because it “doesn’t help us. The consumer doesn’t get it,” said Peter Adrian, recycling coordinator at the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois. “[Consumers] don’t know that film in a flexible pack has seven layers of plastic in it” and think it looks all the same and is recyclable. Trying to handle certain multilayer materials “can contaminate our screen” and removing that adds cost, said Jane Fridley De Bigit, procurement and sales manager at Minnesota-based film recycler Myplas USA. “Also, anything biodegradable, if you put that into a recycling stream, that contaminates the whole run.” Another example is that PET water bottles, which are widely recyclable in curbside programs, don’t always get identified in a MRF if they are completely covered in film shrink wrap labels rather than a smaller label. In those cases, an optical sorter senses only the film wrap and doesn’t recognize the item as a PET bottle, said Joy Rifkin, sustainability manager at Illinois-based recycler LRS. “We talk to packaging designers to say, if you’re going to use a soft plastic label, don’t cover the whole bottle,” she said. In messaging for consumers “we say, ‘If it’s soft plastic you can smash, it goes in the trash,’” or to film drop-off sites. Despite MRF operators adding increasingly sophisticated equipment and robotics to their facilities, machinery can’t do it all. Speakers pointed out that humans along the value chain still have to do their part to improve recycling, and working together generates better results than working in silos. They suggested that brands and packaging manufacturers partner with recyclers from the get-go during product design to mitigate issues down the line — especially as brands switch materials to help meet sustainability goals. Procter and Gamble regularly collaborates with Rumpke to test if and how certain packaging can make it through the MRF before releasing a new or redesigned version. For example, they partnered on a pilot project that affixed radiofrequency identification, or RFID, tags to certain products, like deodorant containers, and “the whole idea is [to find out] where do they go in the MRF, what happens to them, do they go where they’re supposed to go and can they be recovered?” said Snyder. Jeff Snyder, recycling director at Rumpke Waste & Recycling, and Mark Agerton, group scientist on Procter & Gamble's responsible packaging R&D team, discuss how partnerships from different parts of the value chain improve recycling, at the Packaging Recycling Summit in Atlanta on Nov. 7, 2023. Katie Pyzyk/Packaging Dive   Substrate switches away from plastic and toward alternatives like fiber are occurring more as brands aim to fulfill their sustainability commitment goals, according to Mark Agerton, group scientist on P&G’s responsible packaging R&D team. Collaborating across the value chain is necessary to ensure that not only can packaging make it through existing collection and sortation systems, but also that desirable, stable end markets exist for the materials. P&G also realizes that mechanical recycling isn’t viable for every application, and it’s therefore exploring opportunities for advanced recycling, or chemical recycling, especially for drug or food-safe packaging, Agerton said.  “We’re trying to bring these materials all back in,” he said. “We're trying to partner to understand what's happening at the commercial level so that we can start driving that innovation.” Interested in more packaging news? Sign up for Packaging Dive’s newsletter today.

Recyclers urge collaboration with brands, end of ‘Franken-plastics’ to boost circularity

“Teamwork makes the dream work” was the dominant theme at the Packaging Recycling Summit in Atlanta last week. Speakers dove into the importance of partnerships to improve domestic packaging recycling efforts and overcome leading barriers, such as consumer confusion. “Partnerships are going to be really important, because … these issues are huge,” said Rebecca Marquez, director of custom research at PMMI… 

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Austin, Texas, adopted a new plan last week to renew efforts to help the city achieve its goal of zero waste by 2040. Austin first adopted the goal, which envisions diverting 90% of trash from landfills by 2040, in its comprehensive plan in 2011. The city has grown rapidly since that time while also building out a more comprehensive system for addressing waste. Austin’s population grew by more than 20% over the last decade, according to the plan. Meanwhile, extreme weather events like 2021’s Winter Storm Uri have exposed cracks in the resilience of the city and state’s infrastructure. Nevertheless, Austin Resource Recovery, the agency in charge of implementing solid waste policies, has set out a series of action items that it believes can bring the city within reach of its zero waste goal. They include building out new drop-off centers for material recovery, expanding recycling and composting services and bolstering data collection in a city where 85% of trash is hauled by private companies.  The plan noted the progress made since 2011. The city has, in the past, expressed concern over its stalled diversion rate, which currently sits at 37.6%. But the zero waste plan also notes that Austin’s recycling rate today is 36% higher than the national average, and the amount of waste produced per person per day has fallen from 5.6 pounds in 1995 to 4 pounds in 2022. Progress continues via the city’s universal recycling ordinance as well, which ARR continues to look for ways to supplement after completing the roll out of curbside compost collection in 2021. “These efforts represent a sustained cycle of continuous improvement that will benefit our entire ecosystem,” ARR Director Richard McHale said in a statement accompanying the plan. “As discarded and surplus materials are diverted from landfills and turned into useful resources, people within and beyond the borders of Austin and Central Texas will enjoy cleaner and more sustainable communities.” Infrastructure Austin is mulling the creation of a transfer station, which it determined was economically viable based on the distance between collection and the TDS Landfill where ARR currently delivers trash.  The city's current disposal agreement with the landfill ends in 2030. Further ahead, the nine-county area in Central Texas has about 24 years of remaining landfill capacity. The agency predicts multiple benefits from a transfer facility, including the potential for electrification — ARR's fleet currently travels distances too for the range of existing electric trucks, according to the plan. Reducing collection fleet travel time could also reduce overall costs while allowing ARR to extend the life of its vehicles and reduce the number of vehicles and routes. Planning for a transfer station is still in the early stages, as the agency still needs to conduct a full planning and budget assessment for such a project. WM is also planning a transfer station at its Austin Community Landfill, per the plan. "As our region continues to grow and volumes of trash, recycling, and organics increase, the development of a transfer station that can manage multiple material streams will become critically important to ARR’s ability to offer competitive service rates to residents," the plan notes. Meanwhile, the city is also planning to develop a North Austin Recycle and Reuse Drop-Off facility to increase the convenience for residents looking to drop off hard-to-recycle materials. The current Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center, operated by the city, managed 1,809 tons of materials in 2020. But the plan notes that in 2019, one-third of the visitors to the RRDOC came from the four zip codes closest to it in South Austin, meaning distance to the facility hindered accessibility for some residents. The plan envisions developing a north RRDOC in the near term, and it is looking at other options to expand infrastructure — including at the now-closed FM 812 landfill owned by the city — over the long term. Collections The city's universal recycling ordinance, which was first enacted in 2010 and reached full enforcement in 2018, allows the ARR to exercise more oversight over diversion activities in Austin. The zero waste plan notes there's plenty of room for multifamily residences and commercial businesses to improve their diversion rates. Hauling for those properties is conducted via an open market of private haulers, 11 of which service URO properties. Those haulers reported that in 2021, 73.3% of the waste they collected went to landfills, while 22.2% was recyclables and 4.5% was organics. The data shows "significant progress" is needed on that front to meet Austin's zero waste target, the plan's authors note. In 2020, the city hired two code compliance officers to build out capacity for enforcing the URO. In 2021, those officers conducted more than 700 site visits and responded to five complaints, per the plan. The plan envisions stepping up enforcement activity going forward. It also anticipates developing "base-level service and diversion activity requirements for all businesses," and potentially tiered requirements on the recycling and organics fronts for businesses.  As part of the plan's URO vision, ARR also noted it would explore a multifamily composting policy. Such a policy would increase access to organics diversion for multifamily residents, according to the plan. The agency also anticipates updating its ordinance to take into account valet collection services, potentially requiring valet recycling service to be offered where valet trash service is provided in the next five years. The agency also is open to allowing different ways for commercial entities to address organic waste, including by allowing some large generators to process food waste on-site.

Austin, Texas, releases zero waste plan as population booms

Austin, Texas, adopted a new plan last week to renew efforts to help the city achieve its goal of zero waste by 2040. Austin first adopted the goal, which envisions diverting 90% of trash from landfills by 2040, in its comprehensive plan in 2011. The city has grown rapidly since that time while also building out a more comprehensive system… 

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