Notes and Presenter Comments from the Rose Valley Waste Management Forum
March 14, 2023, School in Rose Valley, Grace Auditorium
Panelist and Presenters:
Katie Rubin, Rose Valley EAC member and Next 100 Steering Committee Chair
Dave Firn, Rose Valley Borough Council President
Leonard Busby, Rose Valley EAC Chair, Rose Valley Borough Council member
Danielle Ruttenberg, CEO of the glass recycling company Bottle Underground
Ian Rubin, plastics and energy specialist
Byron Sherwood, Rose Valley EAC member, Head of Sustainability for SRV
On Tuesday, March 14, 2023, Rose Valley Next 100: Crafting our Sustainable Future, in partnership with the Rose Valley EAC, continued its series of community sustainability conversations with a discussion of the borough’s waste management and recycling programs.
A fundamental part of a sustainable community is a waste management program that is financially viable, environmentally responsible, and in line with our community’s abilities and priorities. At the waste management forum, residents learned how trash in Delaware County is processed, what happens to our recycling, how to properly recycle, and how the economics of recycling have changed. Attendees then engaged in a conversation about the merits of recycling, the pros and cons of weekly vs biweekly pick-up, and about the possibility of Borough-provided trash pickup. We closed with a discussion of food waste as a major contributor to climate change and discussed the Borough’s new composting pilot program.
Detailed notes and remarks from presenters at the forum are as follows:
Katie Rubin began the meeting with a description of Rose Valley’s current waste management program and why comprehensive waste management is important.
What is waste management? The term “waste management” refers to the various ways household waste moves from homes to a final disposal location. For Rose Valley residents, these methods include subscription trash pick-up service (Opdenaker and Laxton being the primary providers), the borough’s recycling service through JP Mascaro & Sons, the annual borough-organized large trash pick-up, periodic hazardous household waste collection through the county, and various ways that hard-to-recycle items can be recycled, like electronics recycling events in the area or at stores like Staples, services like Retreivr for fabrics recycling, and home or subscription-based composting.
What are the final disposal locations for our garbage, recycling, and food waste?
Both Opdenaker and Laxton take almost all customer garbage to a trash incinerator, usually the waste-to-energy Covanta incinerator in Chester. Waste-to-energy facilities use the heat from the incineration of waste to generate steam-powered electricity. They provide some benefits over landfills, but also have serious side effects and consequences.
Trash that isn’t burned would go to landfills, which give off methane. Methane has a global warming potential 56 times higher than CO2.
Instead of extracting fresh fossil fuels from the ground, which produces additional greenhouses gases like methane, waste-to-energy consumes resources that have already been extracted.
Burning trash allows for the recovery of recyclable metals from the ash, especially from mixed materials, like plastic-covered metals, which would be hard to recycle through traditional methods.
Impact on the environment and communities near those facilities:
Trash incineration releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate even higher than the burning of natural gas for energy.
Incinerators pose health risks to the communities in which they are located. They produce high levels of nitrogen oxide, mercury, dioxin, and lead, along with ultra-fine particulates. These pollutants can lead to cancer, asthma, lung disease, neurological problems, and developmental delays. Children in Chester, PA are three times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than children in other parts of the county.
There is growing concern among Delaware County’s residents and municipal government, along with groups like the Public Interest Law Center, about the environmental racism of Delaware County burning its trash at an incinerator located in Chester. As of the last census, Delaware County is 67% white with a median annual household income of $80,000 per year and a poverty rate of 10%. Rose Valley is 82% white with a median annual household income of over $180,00 and a poverty rate of 2%. Chester on the other hand is 72% Black or African American with a median annual household income of $36,000 and a poverty rate of over 28%.
The Covanta incinerator in Chester is the largest in the country, burning as much as 3,500 tons of trash each day. Most incinerators burn 1000. Yet the Chester facility until recently had the fewest pollution controls of Covanta’s 35 incinerators. The City of Chester produces only 1.5% of the trash burned there.
These issues have led Delaware County to move away from incineration and landfill in its
2023 Municipal Waste Management plan. In fact, the County government is adopting a Zero-Waste approach to its own waste management.
A Zero waste approach starts with reducing our consumption. Only after we see what of our items can be repurposed or reused do we start to think about disposal, which starts with recycling as much as possible.
Dave Firn started the recycling discussion by explaining the economics of the Borough’s recycling program:
Pennsylvania law does not require recycling for municipalities of our size, so it’s likely that we began recycling because we originally were paid for our recyclables. However, we have been paying for recycling for at least 20 years, and costs increase basically each year.
A QuickBooks report of annual recycling costs from 2005-2023 shows that the low mark was $10,181 in 2006. This equals about $22.62 per household using our current population of about 450 households. 2023 is the highest at $58,292, or $131.09 per household. Note that this 2023 cost is for biweekly pickup. The annual cost of weekly pickup would have been $75,336, or $167.41 per household.
Recycling is about 14% of the 2023 budget. About 1 of every 7 tax dollars goes to recycling (I did see people jotting that down). Costs have increased 268.7% since 2017. We used to get a few hundred dollars back from the state but that stopped a few years ago.
Leonard Busby then described what happens to Rose Valley’s recycling after it’s picked up from our homes and addressed questions as to whether or not recyclables are actually being recycled:
On March 1, 2023, Leonard Busby, Dave Firn, Danielle Ruttenberg, and Ian Rubin toured Total Recycling, the subsidiary of JP Mascaro & Sons that handles their recycling. Total Recycling is located in Birdsboro, PA. According to the employee who gave the tour, Total Recycling processes an average of 300-800 tons of recyclable materials per day. The facility operates 24 hours per day on weekdays and 8 hours per day on weekends. The operation appeared to be well-run, and efficient. Total Recycling has been given one notice of violation in its more than 5,000 days of operation, and that one violation involved no actual environmental harm.
Mascaro/Total Recycling picks up materials in trucks that compress the load. When they are delivered, workers pull out items that can't be recycled, such as bags with materials in them and items that should not have been put in the bins such as engine blocks. This includes bags filled with recyclable materials. Then the materials are all mixed up together and separated based on their weight.
Light materials such as plastics are "blown off" of a conveyor and collected. Magnetic metals are pulled out. Aluminum is collected. Recycled materials include cardboard; paper; glass; aluminum; plastics numbers 1 and 2; plastics numbered 3 through 7 plus small amounts of numbers 1 and 2 that did not get separated; tin; flexible packaging material; and aseptic packaging material such as non-plastic milk cartons. Plastics are separated by number (1 through 7) using optical scanners. All separated materials are then baled and prepared for delivery to end users. It was estimated that 80-90% of what enters the facility makes it to an end-user.
According to Total Recycling, there is now a market for all of the separated recyclable items:
By far the largest volume of recycled materials by weight is paper and cardboard.
The market for plastics 3 through 7 is small and all of that plastic is delivered to a separate and independent recycle facility.
For many years, aluminum had the highest value by weight.
More recently aseptic packaging has the highest recycled value by weight.
Flexible packaging material is now being recycled as a primary ingredient in roofing board pursuant to a proprietary process that Total Recycling has been working on with a manufacturer.
Glass is crushed and then “downcycled” because it is used as landfill cover for the adjoining landfill that is owned and operated by J.P. Mascaro & Sins, or it is used as an ingredient in roads constructed inside that same adjoining landfill.
Recycling best practices shared during that tour:
DO NOT place any recycled materials in bags. It should all be loose in your recycling bin. All plastic garbage or other bags with things inside are diverted directly and irrevocably to “trash” by our recycler.
All plastic beverage containers must be empty; all bottle caps should be removed and placed into residential trash.
Lined cardboard containers, such as half gallon milk containers ARE recyclable if empty (all plastic caps should be removed and placed in residential trash).
Small and empty plastic bags and small and empty bags made with metallic or other film are all recyclable at this time by Total Recycling. All such bags must be kept loose; no plastic bags larger than a shopping bag should be recycled; lids should be used on the recycle bins put out for collection in order to prevent trash from blowing out of the bins.
People can put as many bins of recycled material out for collection as they want.
Paper labels do not need to be removed.
Pizza boxes without grease ARE recyclable; pizza box lids without grease may be removed and then recycled; greasy cardboard should NOT be recycled.
Do NOT include any Styrofoam in your recycling bin.
Additional recycling information for Rose Valley residents can be found at https://www.rosevalleyborough.org/recycling.
Leonard summarized by saying that it appeared to him and the three other people who took the tour that Rose Valley’s single stream recycling was, in fact, being recycled except when placed in the adjoining landfill as trash because it arrived at the facility bagged or because it was not appropriate for recycling in the first place. Leonard added that, while he could not vouch for the truth or correctness of what was said by the person who led the tour, everything seemed credible to him based in part on the willingness of the Total Recycling tour guide to answer all questions and to invite confirmation by encouraging us to check into everything he said.
Attendees then asked recycling and waste management questions of the panel and shared their thoughts about recycling:
Dave Firn mentioned that, if the borough were to stop offering recycling, residents who wished to continue recycling could add it to their garbage collection subscription. Laxton will collect recycling from existing trash customers at about $72/year for every other week pickup. Opdenaker does the same for about $81 per year for weekly pickup.
An attendee then asked if the Borough might save money on recycling if it were bundled with garbage pick-up. Dave Firn noted that the idea of a borough contract had been raised before but a sticking point was that some residents were in love with their contractor and had made special arrangements with that contractor. He asked if anyone attending felt that way. No one admitted to it.
Attendees expressed interested in making sure Borough-wide participation in recycling was high. The point was made that having pickup every other week actually reduces recycling, though others made the point that having large trucks only every other week had benefits to the environment, community noise levels, and the condition of our roads. Some asked about the possibility of Rose Valley residents having the ability to bring their recycling to a centralized drop-off location. The point was also made that relying on residents to haul their own materials to a drop off point would almost certainly reduce recycling rates.
While many wanted to make sure the borough was not wasting money, most in attendance did not express great concern about the costs and would like the program to continue, preferably back to weekly.
In the lead-up to the waste management event, the Next 100 committee received a number of emails asking about community composting as a way to reduce organics and food in our waste stream. The EAC took this opportunity to educate residents on the role of food waste in our climate crisis.
The climate impact of the food industry is significant. The UN estimates that, of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, 1/3rd is linked to the production, distribution, and disposal of food.
It is further estimated that in the US, 35% of all food available for sale goes unsold or uneaten and must be disposed of. Globally, if food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the US.
In the US, 40% of that wasted food comes from residential households simply throwing it away. When Rose Valley residents throw food away, it goes directly to the Chester incinerator. 30% of Delaware County’s waste is composed of food scraps and yard trimmings.
In this vein, three relatively easy things we can do to reduce both our carbon footprint and the amount of trash that’s being burned in Chester are:
1. Consider leaving your yard trimming on-site instead of bagging them and throwing them away. Leaves and weeds make great mulch, and a stick pile makes a terrific home for wildlife.
2. One of the easiest, most affordable ways we can reduce our impact on climate change is to stop throwing away food. Don’t buy what you aren’t certain you will eat.
3. Food scraps from cooking – apple cores, banana peels, eggshells, etc… - can be composted, along with other surprising things. Composting options include home composting bins, subscription composting services, and Rose Valley’s new composting pilot program at the School in Rose Valley.
Rose Valley Community Compost Pilot Program
Byron Sherwood then described the SRV community composting pilot program:
The School in Rose Valley has opened their composting bin to Rose Valley residents who wish to compost. Important details:
Fruits and vegetable waste only please! No meats, dairy, or oils.
Please only come on weekends to reduce traffic to School Lane during the week.
If you have any questions about the program, please email email@example.com.
Where is the compost bin?
The compost bin is a large wood-pallet container located behind the green dumpsters at the back of the SRV parking lot. When you arrive at the end of School Lane, turn left. The dumpsters will be on your right at the end of the parking lot before you start going up the little hill.
Here are some pictures to help you find the bin (use the arrows at the sides of the photos to navigate the slide show).
In closing, Rose Valley residents in attendance seemed ready for an adjustment to our waste management program. First and foremost, they wanted to make sure we continue recycling and find ways to keep our recycling rate high. Residents we heard from want to explore community composting options, which we will kick-off with the pilot program at the School in Rose Valley. The next step for Rose Valley residents is to look at ways to adjust our consumption so that our total waste production in reduced.
If anyone would like to share thoughts about the waste management program or any of the concepts discussed during the forum, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.