Perhaps the primary challenges facing the EDCO Disposal Corporation, a family-owned business established in 1967, is staying ahead of new legislative mandates emanating from the California Legislature, while creating new foreign markets for recyclable materials. As the amount of recycling material continues to grow, the world-wide market for selling recycled materials, is shrinking.
During a recent interview with EDCO Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer John Snyder, he provided an updated global overview of recycling. “China is basically closed because their standards for the contamination level of materials is so low, that virtually nothing is going to China from the West Coast of the United States. South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia are looking for recycled materials.”
For China, the acceptable contamination rate is one percent, which Snyder put in perspective. “A bale is about 1,300 pounds of material, so one percent of that is 13 pounds, which is the maximum amount that can be contaminated. When you think about it, a truck is picking up mixed materials, taking it to the plant, and it’s all crushed together in the trucks with everything else. It’s hard to meet that standard. Other Asian countries have higher standards than China used to have, but we absolutely must make that material as clean as possible. China has banned certain types of material, and for the recycled material they will take, the standard is almost impossible to meet.”
If the recycling cleanliness standards aren’t met, China and other countries, simply won’t accept the recycled material and the entire shipload could be returned to the U.S. or a heavy fine can be levied. To provide some level of the quantity of recycling that EDCO deals with, from the Lemon Grove facility alone, 25 truck trips are made daily to the Port of Long Beach with recycling for export. For aluminum and steel there is a U.S. domestic market. Anheuser-Busch is purchasing aluminum and Alcoa is taking aluminum and steel. We’re struggling to find markets and the cost of recycling continues to go up. And when there is a good economy, the quantities of recycling increase. People are buying from Amazon and the boxes go into the recycling stream. And the economy is going well.”
As the recycling marketplace continues to shift and evolve, the regulatory climate in Sacramento becomes stricter. “California Senate Bill 1383 passed in 2017, which is going to reduce the amount of organics in landfills,” Snyder explained. “Organics are green material such as tree limbs and grass and food waste. Organics produce methane gas in a landfill. What we are going to do is have consumers put food waste, mixed with green waste, in the green recycling containers. This is not a new program where we put another container out. We have had green waste containers for 10 years and the program for 20 years. The increase in organics we collect may be as much as 20 percent.”
To process the larger volume of mixed organics, EDCO is constructing a new anerobic digestion facility in Escondido, which they expect to be operating by early 2021. “The material will be delivered there and put into a digester,” Snyder said. “The vessel is huge and holds 500,000 gallons of material. The material is enclosed, with no oxygen and it is 130 degrees inside the vessel. Microorganisms break down the material, which creates methane gas. The methane will then be converted into renewable natural gas to power our fleet of trucks or gas to be used for other power uses. The process takes three weeks to complete. There are a handful of these plants in the United States, but only one other one in Southern California. They are plentiful in Europe and they have used this technology for many years because there aren’t as many landfills there. This was EDCO looking for a solution because the state has mandated the reduction of organics from landfills.”
To meet previous California State standards on vehicle emissions, EDCO began converting their truck fleet from diesel gas to renewable natural gas 10 years ago. When you consider the EDCO truck fleet in San Diego County alone totals 300 trucks, that is a considerable financial commitment to the environment. According to the EDCO website, “Natural gas engines reduce smog-producing pollutants by up to 90 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 50-70 percent compared to gasoline.”
And on a daily basis, what will the consumer’s role be in the mixed organics process? Snyder explained, “You just separate the food scraps as best you can. We’re going to give residents a small container to separate food materials inside the home. The trucks will be the same as those picking up green waste today. In the interim, single family homes and businesses will be able to participate with separate containers for organics. Restaurants are a huge source of organics for us. Residents can help by keeping their recycling materials as clean as possible, to offset the cost of our dealing with soiled recyclables in our plant. Residents rinsing recyclable containers is always helpful. The material has to be very clean to enter the ports in Asia. And it is a very tedious process to check the load of materials at a port before it’s accepted.”
On another recycling point, Snyder addressed a growing problem with the disposal of lithium-ion batteries. “They’re hazardous waste, very dangerous and flammable. They break apart in a trash facility and they can spark a devastating fire. A law that was just passed requires some responsibility on the part of producers to warn consumers.”
As for the best solution for Coronado consumers regarding disposal of batteries, “Don’t dispose of them in the trash,” Snyder said. “Dispose of them at the city’s household hazardous waste drop (held most Saturday mornings at the Public Works Yard located across the street from the Ferry Landing). Not in the recycling bin either. This applies to any size battery, household, laptop, car battery and lithium-ion batteries.”
As for future legislation in the works from the California Legislature, Snyder said, “The biggest thing in Sacramento is plastics and the ocean. There is a lot of pressure about that. There was some legislation in the last term, that didn’t make it through, that expects the producers of plastics to take responsibility that there is a certain amount of recycling content in plastic in the future. The bill failed on the last day of the session, only because they ran out of time. We will see that bill come back, probably in February, and for it to make it through the next session. That impacts us, because products wind up in our bins to be recycled. We’re monitoring that.”
EDCO services 12 cities in San Diego County. The South Bay cities of Imperial Beach, Coronado, National City, La Mesa and Lemon Grove all have their recycling run through the company’s Lemon Grove facility.