A person who places aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic jugs and other approved materials out for curbside pickup or who takes them to a local dropoff location is recycling.
If that person goes out for a burger and fries and gets a napkin made from recycled paper, they're part of the circular economy.
The Northwest Arkansas Council hopes people will do more of both.
The council worked with the Sustainability Consortium for a year studying recycling in the region to develop recommendations to keep waste out of the landfill. The Walmart Foundation paid for the study, which included Benton, Washington and Madison counties.
The Sustainability Consortium is a global organization. The Northwest Arkansas Council is an economic development organization collaborating with cities, schools and nonprofit groups on a number of issues to benefit the region.
The study was released last fall with recommendations including having a series of stakeholder meetings
to bring the cities, counties, solid waste districts, businesses, community organizations and others interested in recycling on board with the project.
The council hired Dan Holtmeyer, a former journalist, in May to coordinate the effort, another of the study's recommendations. Holtmeyer said newcomers to the area have told the council recycling services are an important, core service of local government and should be simple and easy to use.
Holtmeyer said recycling is an essential part of a circular economy in which materials are recycled and reused, as opposed to a linear economy where materials are used once and discarded. He gave the example of food waste recycling in which the original food products are used and the food waste recycled and used to grow more food.
Building a circular recycling economy could create new jobs and make use of materials generated and then recycled in Northwest Arkansas.
First, Northwest Arkansas leaders need to navigate the varied ways recyclables are gathered, who gathers them and owns the materials and what materials are accepted.
Holtmeyer said the council wants to encourage a voluntary, coordinated, regional approach.
"We're not telling people what to do," he said.
Holtmeyer noted the fluctuations in recent years, including China banning some recyclable material from the U.S., in national and international commodity markets.
The recycling and circular economy effort for Northwest Arkansas will begin with the most established and stable commodities, including paper, plastic, metal and glass, and focus on ensuring the quality of the product, he said.
The study noted the contamination rate -- the amount of nonrecyclable material mixed in with the recyclable material -- is about 28% for the region. Programs like those in Siloam Springs and Fayetteville where the material is hand-sorted are at 5% or lower, it says.
Improving the collection of information on recycling is one goal of the project.
The region now has some recycling services provided by 30 cities, two solid waste districts and hundreds of businesses, each handling recycling in its own way and often dealing with different combinations of acceptable materials.
The study stressed the need to gather and use more data, to provide residents information that is transparent and easily available and to improve recycling education and awareness.
According to the study, a comprehensive overview of what is being recycled and the final disposition of those materials isn't available because of different and sometimes overlapping reporting requirements for cities and solid waste districts, which can lead to double counting.
Private haulers typically don't report to the solid waste districts or the state on their recycling activities, the study said.
The contracts signed between waste haulers and the cities they serve also present a challenge, the study said. Fifteen contracts were reviewed for the study.
The contracts cover what will be collected when and from where, the rate structures for residential recycling and solid waste collection, performance requirements for contractors and liability. Commercial and industrial collection isn't included in the contracts. Individual businesses are responsible for making their own arrangements for recycling with private haulers or -- in rare cases -- municipal programs.
Overall, the study concluded, the contracts were basic, provided minimal guidance for execution and gave ownership of the materials to the private haulers.
The study suggested some standard language could be developed for municipal contracts that would address some of those issues.
Members of the boards of directors of the Benton County and Boston Mountain solid waste districts met June 1 via teleconference. The Benton County Solid Waste District serves that county, and the Boston Mountain Solid Waste District serves Washington and Madison counties.
The board members heard from the directors of both districts and from Holtmeyer about the services now available and endorsed the idea of area cities and counties and others working together on recycling.
One of the tasks set for the project is to look for areas that have adopted large-scale or regional solutions to recycling and waste reduction and that have built a circular economy. Then, local officials should consider if those systems might work in Northwest Arkansas.
The study detailed two examples of how recycling and a circular economy work. One is a Springdale company, Northwest Rags. The other is Ripple Glass, a company founded in Kansas City, Mo., in 2009 to address local concerns about waste. Ripple Glass has grown into a regional glass recycling and reuse business.
Vance Brock founded Northwest Rags with his parents about 22 years ago, he said. The business initially focused on finding used clothing that was being discarded locally, but which could be used in other parts of the world.
Brock said the initial idea was to find and resell items such as used designer jeans and shoes. The company grew as he realized how much useful clothing was being discarded. Northwest Rags now has eight employees.
Brock recognized another opportunity as the clothing side of the business prospered, he said. Some articles of clothing weren't suitable for resale, but the material might be used for other purposes. He said the company takes T-shirt type material and cuts the useful parts into squares to be sold as cleaning rags.
"When the clothing market goes down, the wiping rags kept us going," he said.
Brock said he's interested in increasing recycling and finding ways to use the materials locally.
"It would benefit me tremendously if I can get in with other businesses," he said.
MAKING A MARKET
Ripple Glass in Kansas City originated from concerns of the company founder, John McDonald, and some of his employees at Boulevard Brewing, according to Julie Weeks, vice president of communications and culture with Boulevard Brewing.
"He really was appalled with the fact that all of the glass bottles were ending up in the landfill," Weeks said of McDonald. "He wanted to be as sustainable as possible. For us, we don't see it as just a question of saving money or of making a profit. For us, it's doing the right thing."
Kansas City area residents threw away about 150 million pounds of glass, including 10 million empty Boulevard bottles that wound up in local landfills, when the company was founded in 2009, according to information on the Ripple Glass company website.
At the same time, area businesses used nearly 200 million pounds of glass every year. The problem was a lack of a nearby facility to process the glass, according to Sarah Luebe, marketing manager for Ripple Glass. No local processor meant almost no local recycling. Glass is so heavy that transporting it over long distances is not economical, she said.
Boulevard Brewing employees and community organizations worked together to establish Ripple Glass and build a processing plant for the region. A local Owens-Corning plant that uses glass in manufacturing fiberglass insulation was secured as a customer for clear glass product and a company in Tulsa was found that recycles amber glass back into beer bottles with Boulevard Brewing among its customers.
Ripple Glass has grown and expanded into nine states, including Arkansas, Luebe said. The company has kept more than 200,000 tons of glass out of landfills in its first decade in business, she said. The recycling rate for glass in the Kansas City area has risen from around 3% to about 20%, she said.
"The national average is around 30%, so we still have room to grow," Luebe said. "The important thing is making sure people know that the glass they're recycling is truly being recycled."
Peter Nierengarten, environmental director for Fayetteville, said a regional approach to recycling and waste reduction would benefit everyone, including Fayetteville, which has its own municipal services. With the growing population in the area, people frequently live in one place and work in another, he said. Having a common approach to recycling makes it easier to know what can and can't be recycled.
Nierengarten said there are areas where a regional approach can be adopted and avoid duplication among the different local governments and their programs.
He said Fayetteville has a food waste composting facility now, the only one in the area, and that kind of program could be expanded throughout the region. He also said Northwest Arkansas could benefit from having a regional construction waste recycling facility, which would reduce the amount of construction material going to the landfill.
Nierengarten noted the entire region is served by the Eco-Vista Landfill in Tontitown.
Waste Management operates the landfill. George Wheatley, senior manager for market planning for the company, said Waste Management also provides residential solid waste and recycling services for several cities in Northwest Arkansas, including Springdale, Farmington, Tontitown, Decatur and Avoca.
Wheatley said Waste Management has been contacted by the Northwest Arkansas Council about crafting a regional approach. He said the company is willing to offer information and assistance.
Wheatley said a regional approach to recycling and waste reduction will succeed or fail based on the level of cooperation among the cities and counties.
Larger recycling and reuse programs require a larger volume of material to be successful, Wheatley said.
A state-of-the-art materials recovery facility takes millions of dollars worth of capital investment, Wheatley said. That's OK if the volume of material is sufficient. The issue is cooperation across the communities, he said.
"That has not happened in the past."
Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree said his city recently contracted with a single provider with a new recycling program as part of the contract.
"We had trucks from three different haulers going through town," Crabtree said. "We had some recycling bins set up in town, but people were dumping trash in them and making a mess of the area. With the single provider contract, we were able to get curbside recycling services included in the solid waste pickup."
The Bella Vista Recycling Center operates a drop off recycling collection site. The center has been operating as a nonprofit entity with no ties to city or county governments for about 45 years, according to Paul Poulides, president of the board. Poulides said he has met with Holtmeyer and is interested in learning more about the council's initiative.
"It sounds like a good plan," Poulides said. "The more people know about recycling, the better. I haven't heard anything concrete yet, but we're all for getting the word out about recycling."
Holtmeyer said the next stakeholder meeting will probably be in July, and he's working on education and informational outreach programs. He said he is also working on a website he hopes will provide local residents information about what and how they can recycle in their communities.
Tom Sissom can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWATom.
Creating circular economics
The Northwest Arkansas Council released a report in 2020 on creating circular economies in Northwest Arkansas. According to the executive summary, the Council “wants to reduce waste in a cost-effective way and to establish an environment for new economic activity and technology advancements that promote waste reduction and recycling. A more circular economy creates jobs and provides ways for Northwest Arkansas communities to be more sustainable.” The full report can be found on the Council’s website at nwacouncil.org under research and reports.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette