The trash cans that line main roads at amusement parks and dot street corners no longer stand alone. Where there is a waste receptacle, there is another can for recycling aluminum cans and one for plastic bottles. Brightly colored and clearly marked, these bins provide an easy way for consumers to participate in recycling programs. However, collecting these recyclable waste products is only half of the story.
While we all agree that our efforts nationwide to recycle have improved over the last several decades, how can we measure the success of our actions? Yes, we have prevented tons of waste from being shipped directly to landfills, but what does our waste become, and where does it end up?
As much as recycling is an eco-friendly way of living, it is an economic system. Our recycling efforts can only be successful when it makes financial sense for recyclers to transform old material into new products, which they can sell as a profit to other businesses and consumers. The rules of supply and demand are still at work. If there is no demand for recycled products, our efforts to reuse materials become a moot point.
To increase demand for these new, old products, recycling companies must overcome common myths and hurdles.
Myth 1: Recycled materials often end up in landfills.
When companies first started recycling paper, glass, and aluminum cans, they struggled to profit from their new product. Recycling processes were new and often returned an inferior product that required more time and effort to produce. The result was a lesser product that cost more for consumers. To make any money from their recycling operations, companies chose to stockpile their products for a time, hoping that they could sell them at a higher price as demand increased.
Stockpiling is strictly forbidden in the tire recycling industry. Regulations in many states and localities dictate the proper standards for transporting and storing waste rubber. To avoid pest infestation and tire fires, waste tire recyclers must handle tire storage properly. Similarly, recyclers must treat the resulting products with equal care.
In the past several decades, the market for recycled rubber products has grown. The three most significant applications include tire-derived fuel (TDF), civil engineering projects, and ground rubber such as mulch and rubberized asphalt. These products are proving to be highly desirable, resulting in an increasing demand for high-quality recycled rubber.
Myth 2: Virgin materials are of higher quality than those that have been used and recycled.
The early paper-recycling industry grappled with this challenge. Converting used paper products into a high-quality paper of the same brightness as the original proved challenging. Additionally, the cost of recycling the paper proved to be much greater than dumping it in a landfill.
The exception to this problem existed in aluminum and steel recycling, where new products routinely contained 25% recycled material. Without increasing production costs significantly, these metals could be melted and mixed with pure metals to create new products with the same properties. Regardless of the initial material used, the end product was the same.
For waste tire recyclers, it is not feasible to recreate a new car tire from the rubber of old tires. However, there are many products made from tire and truck tire rubber that meet or exceed the standards consumers expect from similar products. One notable example is rubber mulch. A popular alternative to traditional wood mulch, rubber mulch is a common addition to playgrounds and planter beds. It lasts longer than wood, allows water to reach plants better, cushions playground falls flawlessly, and even helps minimize insect infestation. This new recycled product could be considered a higher quality alternative to the original.
Myth 3: Recycled products are more expensive than new ones.
The cost of recycling old materials into new ones plays a significant role in the cost to consumers for recycled products. For waste tire recyclers, keeping operating costs down directly impacts the viability of their recycling operation. Purchasing high-quality recycling machinery like that produced by ECO Green Equipment helps keep recycling throughput high and repair downtime low. Thus, companies can produce high volumes of products to sell to customers to meet demand. Often, they can offer their product at lower prices than the products their customers were using.
The majority of tires recycled become tire-derived fuel (TDF). Used mainly in cement kilns and paper mills, TDF replaces the coal that many companies burn to achieve the high temperatures needed for their day-to-day operations. Consisting of recycled rubber shreds mixed with a fossil fuel source, TDF can cut our reliance on fossil fuels shipped from overseas. It can also reduce fuel costs for these companies without increasing harmful emissions. It is a prime example of a recycled product that meets high standards.
Across the United States, we are making a difference in the environment as we seek to recycle. Advancements in recycling technology now allow us to produce high-quality paper at reasonable prices. Innovations in waste tire recycling equipment will enable us to clean up our landscape and provide one-of-a-kind alternatives to traditional products. These new commodities reduce our ecological footprint and support the further development of recycling as an economic system from which our children and grandchildren will benefit.