Residents of Houston, TX will soon be able to reduce the number of waste bins in their driveways. The city recently won $1 million from the group Bloomberg Philanthropies thanks to its One Bin for All recycling program. The program is designed as a mixed waste recycling operation, where all types of municipal solid waste can be collected at once using the same container. Traditional waste disposal and recycling programs utilize separate containers for solid waste and recyclables, mixing the two together often results in cross contamination, making the recyclables useless for reclamation.
The idea of a mixed waste recycling program is an old one, with many municipalities having experimented with the idea before. However, none of them were able to get past the issue of contamination, leaving many cities to abandon their recycling efforts altogether, or at the very least switching to conventional recycling programs. These mixed recycling facilities are so notorious within the recycling community that they are referred to as “dirty” MRF’s due to their problems with contamination.
But Houston’s waste management department believes it can defy the odds thanks to new and improved screening technologies. The city’s MRF design team has observed mixed recycling facilities in other parts of the U.S., as well as those in Spain and Canada. They believe that by incorporating the latest in contamination screening technology in their MRF that the city could develop a reliable system for sorting Houston’s trash.
The team’s sorting process is currently designed to remove anything that is two inches or smaller. Smaller waste objects are common sources of contamination and removing them during the sorting process eliminates a large portion of potential contaminants. The team has also incorporated various technologies such as ballistic shredders, optical scanners, eddy currents, and magnets to automatically identify and sort approximately 20 different types of waste.
The end goal of the MRF program is boosting the city’s recycling rate, which currently sits at just 14% for residential neighborhoods. Since traditional recycling programs rely on the consumer to separate their recyclables, they believe that moving the sorting process to the disposal facility itself will allow more recyclable materials to be reused.
Recycling is a great way to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. But at the end of the day, Houston’s residents will want to know only one thing: will it save me money?