Sunday, October 02, 2011

Newer Knowledge

Sometime back, the geezer spoke of pride in having worked with scientists at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, WI, who were searching for better ways to recycle wastepaper.  However, I said “to my knowledge” the processes they developed had not been put into use.

Like much knowledge, mine now has improved after I took the time to thoroughly check into the situation.  It turns out that an important part of the work by the Forest Service researchers was put into practice in Europe several decades ago.

The scientists invented a new method, which received a public patent, for separating plastics from paper in household trash.  They thus solved one of the technical problems inhibiting large-scale, mechanized recycling schemes.

In 1979 a plant using the FPL technique was set up in The Netherlands. It processes 50,000 tons of material a year.  Another plant with the same capacity began operations in Sweden the following year.  The equipment manufacturer later established a large-scale pilot plant in Japan.

It has not been economical to use the technology in the U.S., but that could change in the future as recycling systems become more automated.  That future may not be far away.  My local newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, recently reported that a township in Kalamazoo County was switching to “single-stream” recycling.  Residents there no longer will have to separate paper, glass, metals, and plastics for processing.  They put everything into one large container and the materials are separated in a sophisticated processing plant.  Such systems are in use in several parts of the U.S.

The video shows a current "single-stream" processing system in use today.  

These systems are not identical to a pilot plant in Madison with which I was involved in the early 1970s. There Forest Service researchers worked with  Heil Company and City of Madison employees to explore the effectiveness of reducing the size of household trash by hammer milling and then separating materials by various methods. However, the approach using dry separation methods and several features of the two types of systems are the same. 

The Madison system took it one step further.  It was designed to take all household refuse, including garbage.  The separation process neutralized contaminants. Very few people were needed in the processing plant. 

It was exciting to handle information activities for scientists pioneering recycling research.  It’s good to know now that some of the concepts they explored 40 years ago have advanced through research and development into use. 


schmidleysscribblins, said...

I love this blog. We have recyclying here in Arlington VA and we chuck all the plastic and paper together in the bin. The county sells it and the stuff ends up in China where they use the processes developed in the US and Europe ages ago to make new paper and plastic products they can sell back to the US and Europe. Dianne

Sightings said...

Here in NY we still have to separate the paper; the plastic and glass; and the regular garbage. The garbage company makes money off the recycled materials; the town makes money off the recycled materials ... and we do the work. Oh well, it's not that onerous a task, and we all like to save the environment, but it would be nice be able to toss it all out in one fell swoop, like the old days.

Dick Klade said...

Yes, Sightings, it was a lot less hassle to just toss it all out at once. That was the theory our researchers operated under. They didn't think comprehensive solutions for landfill disposal problems were going to come from depending on individuals to sort things. I think they were right. The ultimate processing systems are yet to come. They will allow us to once again toss it all out at once.

Alan G said...

Here in my hometown the homeowner has never been required to separate the recycable items. In the beginning on each pickup by the truck at each house the driver had to get out and separate the items as he put them in the truck.

Then recently they have changed the pickup which now resembles the typical garbage pickup, including the style truck. They just throw it all in the back of a truck and then on to the next stop.

Athough I don't know this for a fact, it would appear based on the latest pickup procedure that we surely must have some sort of automated separation system.

Now that you've aroused my curiosity, I have to see what I can find out...

Alan G said...

I’m back….

Well this turned out to be quite interesting and educational. We have what is called a “single-stream recycling” process which is run by the Waste Management Company. I found a nice video touting their process (YouTube video link below) which showcases their Philadelphia operations. This operation appears to be identical to the one we have in place here.

Thanks for the interesting post!

Dick Klade said...

You are a good detective, Alan. I've inserted the video you found in the post. Waste Management has plants in several parts of the U.S. Thanks for your help. The video makes the story much more complete.