Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation

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Known quantities

This article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Resource Recycling – by Malak Anshassi and Kenya Cory

The Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation and the University of Florida recently announced the results of a study examining the environmental and business impacts of discontinued municipal recycling systems in Florida.One aim of the study was to quantify the effects of commodity market values and degrees of contamination on the recycling system. Another was to compare the impact on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and costs associated with a typical Florida household’s waste management under different recycling programs.

Modeling costs and emissions

A spreadsheet-based model was developed to estimate three items: costs, mass flows and the potential GHG emissions associated with a single-family residential home in Florida in 2011, 2015 and 2020. The three items were estimated for several components of the waste management system, including single-stream curbside collection of recycling and garbage, single-stream materials recovery facility (MRF) processing, MRF residuals, garbage disposal in a landfill and garbage disposal at a combustion facility.

Most of the data used to estimate the mass flows for each year was retrieved from the Florida Annual Solid Waste Reports published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and from a previous Florida Recycling Partnership Foundation study where outbound MRF composition and contamination rates were estimated. The mass flow dispositions for 20 material categories collected as garbage and recyclables were estimated for a single-family household.

Measuring the costs to collect single-stream recyclables and garbage is complex because there are many interlinked parameters, and they are region-specific. Uncertainty in quantifying collection costs was minimized by compiling robust data (for example, MRF processing fees, disposal tipping fees and monthly historic commodity values) and developing a method that considered multiple parameters.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool that quantifies the environmental benefits or burdens associated with a material throughout its life cycle. For the purposes of applying an LCA for a waste management system, only the end-of-life management stages are included (that is, collection of waste, processing at a facility, landfilling, incineration, etc.).

Typically, these processes will be associated with GHG emissions, but an offset is possible when recycled materials are used in place of virgin resources, or when the electricity generated from combustion or landfill gas reduces the use of fossil fuel energy sources. A GHG emissions factor was created using existing waste management-based LCA models (for example, the U.S. EPA WARM model, the North Carolina State SWOLF model or the RTI International MSW-DST model).

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