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Sustainable Recycling: Improving the Efficiency of Recycling in Florida

Recycling is a process that depends on three important stages: collecting, re-manufacturing and purchasing new products made with recycled content. Nurcin Celik, associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering, continues to expand her research on single-stream recycling, a method for collecting recyclables that comprises of the first two steps in recycling.

In single stream recycling (SSR) all recyclables are separated from municipal solid waste into a sole compartment in a collection truck, where payloads and costs are significantly reduced when compared to multi- or dual-stream recycling. However, SSR might be responsible for higher contamination due to broken glass and non-recyclables leading to higher costs during processes in material recovery facilities (MRFs) and recycled material discard.

In her ongoing research, supported by the Hinkley Center, Celik is working to assess and evaluate the contamination rates of recovered fiber material in MRFs and paper mills in Florida. “To fully address the contamination of recovered materials in MRFs, a broader study is needed to assess the contamination of all different products of recycling,” explains Celik.

“As a natural continuation of our ongoing work in this important area, the purpose of this new study is to identify to which extent the recovered materials are contaminated, evaluate if the SSR programs have a significant role on the contamination of material from broken glass and other nonrecyclables, explore new and emerging advanced material recovery processes and study their potential to help remedy the problem of recovered materials contamination,” she continues.

To do so, Celik and her team have divided the project into four steps: inquire, sample, assess and advise.

In the first step of the study, reliable data sources – such as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and United States Environmental Protection Agency reports – recycling-related articles, and county websites will be reviewed. MRFs also will be interviewed to obtain existing information on contamination rates. In the second step, data regarding the on-site sampling performed directly at the MRFs to record contamination due to glass and non-recyclables will be collected. Subsequently, Celik will assess the collection methods and sorting technologies to determine their overall efficiency. Finally, recommendations will be given for potential increased efficiencies in the implementation of the collection and processing methods.

“The importance of this project lies in the dynamics between our society and recycling,” says Celik. “Sustainable recycling calls for the best practices in many facets of its subsystems, where an improper implementation in any of these subsystems may compromise the entire system. For instance, the delivery of poorly-sorted materials may discourage manufacturers from investing in the future extension of their recycling capacity and may even cause some to fall back from recycling completely and return to using raw virgin resources. On the other hand, low quality recovered materials may lead to imperfections in some of the finished products, which, in turn, negatively impacts the customers’ satisfaction of these products. This may eventually cause significant losses that will impact the system to its entirety.”

Ultimately, this study will have significant benefits on multiple stakeholders of the solid waste management system, and the Floridian community from economic, technological, and environmental dimensions.

To read more about the College of Engineering’s collaboration with industry to improve recycling and Celik’s ongoing research on paper contamination in single-stream recycling, please click here.