Trash can be treasure: don't throw away valuable recyclables

You might be paying too much for dumpster hauling if some fraction of what you throw into them has value to somebody elsewhere on the economic food chain. In the ideal world, you’ll be able to find someone willing to pay you for your trash.

By Russ Kratowicz, CMRP, Executive Editor

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The idea of recycling and refurbishing has been around for some time now. Every backyard auto mechanic is familiar with the idea of paying a core charge that motivates one to return the replaced hardware instead of dumping it into a landfill. Many states require you to pay a deposit on each bottle of liquid refreshment you purchase. You can, of course, toss your bottles along the side of the road, but you’ll be paying for the privilege of littering. Other examples of forced recycling include beer kegs and computers, air conditioners, tires, car batteries, lubricants and Freon.

In general, a higher standard of living exhibits a positive correlation with greater per-capita trash generation. At the business level, bigger tends to be better, which helps us capture any economies of scale that might exist. The resulting growth generates a commensurate quantity of industrial detritus, some of which is out-and-out useless trash. But, you might be paying too much for dumpster hauling if some fraction of what you throw into them has value to somebody elsewhere on the economic food chain. In the ideal world, you’ll be able to find someone willing to pay you for your trash. To that end, I invite you to join me for a romp through that digital morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that could turn into a new cash flow for your plant. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

Not a new concept

I wonder why the idea of recycling industrial waste streams isn’t a major topic at conventions and trade shows aimed at American manufacturing. The industrial recycling concept has been around for at least 20 years. Consider an article by Steffen W. Plehn and Donald Huisingh that appeared in the July/August 1985 edition of the EPA Journal. Reading “Strong Incentives for Industrial Recycling” will show you how four industrial plants made the system work. One plant reacted two streams of chemical waste to produce a salable product; another segregated its dust collection systems to produce cleaner, more marketable waste; another recovered its oil waste and the last, a power plant, segregated radioactive and ordinary waste. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” played a role in prompting the plants to make changes in their normal mode of operation. Don’t take my word for it — read it yourself. The good folks at the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance make the article available for you at Then, when you’re done with the read, go back to check out the other offerings found on the organization’s home page.

Lining up your ducks

Your recycling initiative will become a reality only when you have certain prerequisites in place. Most important is having somewhere to store all this recyclable scrap. When a container is full, what will you do with it? What can you do to ensure the project is economical? Before anyone starts asking these sorts of questions, you might consider learning what the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality has to say about the subject. Send your scrap mouse to and enter the phrase “Industrial Facility Recycling Program” in the search function at top right corner of the page. This will access two documents. The first, “Industrial Facility Recycling Program,” is the relevant one. It tells you what industrial materials you should consider for a recycling program. It offers a list of vendors that make a variety of containers you’ll need to hold the scrap as it accumulates in your staging area, and has a link to a list of equipment you’ll need for processing the materials to make them suitable for transport. Another link accesses a list of facilities that will accept your scrap materials.

Minimize paper

We wouldn’t need to do so much logging if everyone made a reasonable attempt to reduce the per-capita consumption of paper, another product that’s quite amenable to recycling. Waste in this area is endemic. For example, fast-food sandwiches usually are wrapped in paper and dropped into a clamshell paperboard box, which is then dropped into a paper sack for the convenience of carryout customers. And business isn’t blameless. People still print e-mail missives, even though a digital version resides on a server’s hard drive. Industry could annually save a few dollars by adopting some of the paper reduction and recycling measures cited at by the government of Harford County, Md. If you go to this site, select “Public Works” from the drop-down menu. When the page loads, select “Business & Institutional Recycling” from the new drop-down menu and click “Go.” Scroll down past the questionnaire section to learn about setting up a paper recycling program.

Fish and lamps

If completely and uniformly dispersed, the mercury content in a single fluorescent lamp is capable of contaminating nearly 5,300 gallons of water to levels beyond Canadian drinking water standards. With fluorescent lamps so ubiquitous in manufacturing plants, you can understand why it might be a good idea to recycle used lamps to prevent mercury from escaping back to the bosom of Mother Nature. That’s why Canada’s Ministry of the Environment established an initiative called Environment Canada. It uses a Web site called Green Lane to serve as the country’s resource for weather and environmental information. Part of the site, “Mercury and the Environment,” is devoted to recycling the shiny, liquid metal. I direct your attention to for a comprehensive, link-rich environment in which to learn about the bioaccumulative dangers that mercury presents. If nothing else, if you’re one of the many fishermen out there in readerland, you should examine this Canadian offering to be forewarned about your favorite protein source.

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