Bottle bills erode MRF revenue but create municipal savings

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Container deposit systems have benefits for municipalities, but MRFs are likely to see their revenues decline as valuable PET and aluminum are removed from their material stream. | Myibean/Shutterstock

While container deposit systems typically help increase recovery rates for covered materials, the programs also typically reduce tonnages of high-grade PET and aluminum destined for sorting facilities. A new study helps quantify these potential impacts.

The National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) released the study assessing the effect of beverage container deposit systems on MRF costs and revenues, as well as the effects on municipalities.

Prepared by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), the research modeled six deposit scenarios with variations based on beverage type and deposit value. Each scenario is based on a medium-sized MRF with a throughput of 93,600 tons per year serving a community of approximately 1.25 million people in 473,000 households.

Overall, the findings were that container depots result in higher costs and lower revenues because high-value materials move into the depot system and out of the MRF. The fixed cost per ton is higher because the cost of running the same equipment is spread over fewer tons, according to the report.

The research estimates that municipalities could see an annual increase in MRF costs of $2.50 to $5 per household.

Resa Dimino, chief executive of RRS, said in an NWRA press release that the study provided useful data and “shows a need for balance between system and policy.”

“We need to ensure that municipalities and MRFs remain intact as higher quality materials are collected and removed from our waste streams and waterways,” Dimino said.

The scenarios included three different drink combinations with a 5 cent deposit and a 10 cent deposit. The combinations were beer and soft drinks; beer, soft drinks and water; and all beverages except milk.

The modeling assumes that aluminum, glass and PET beverage containers are included and that a 5 cent deposit gives a 65% refund rate while a 10 cent deposit gives an 85% refund rate .

Recycling rates increased across all scenarios, with the highest rates for a 10-cent all-beverage deposit (77% for PET, 83% for glass, and 89% for aluminum, versus a baseline 29%, 25% and 50%, respectively).

Overall, more glass and aluminum than PET would leave the MRF system in all scenarios, and the study suggested that between 10,770 and 17,630 tonnes per year would no longer make it to the sorting lines FRM. This would result in a revenue loss for a typical MRF of between $11.90 and $23.50 per ton marketed, depending on the deposit-in-place scenario.

However, communities could see savings in the cost of disposing of bottle bills, according to the study, as well as a reduction in marine litter and debris and related cleanup costs. Higher value materials are also more likely to be circular, he noted.

The report says further study is needed to understand the effect on recycling collection costs and throughput due to changes in the density of the recyclables mix.

To help offset the negative effects of cylinder bills on MRFs, the study suggested policies like California’s, where MRFs are able to buy back containers in bulk and collect deposits.

“The policy can be structured to capture the benefits of beverage container depots – high recycling rates for target materials and materials more suitable for closed-loop applications – while ensuring that municipal recycling programs are not harmed. “, says the report.

Bottle Bill Lawyer Weighs

Susan Collins, president of the non-profit Container Recycling Institute, said in a recent op-ed that the NWRA, by predicting an annual per-household increase in FRM processing costs, gives the impression that bottle bills will rise. overall waste management costs for municipalities.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Collins wrote. She noted that several studies over the past 15 years have shown that municipalities generally see savings in the form of reduced collection costs, lower landfill tipping fees, less waste to dispose of from the environment and more. again.

She added that if the study also found that bottle bills remove high-value materials from MRF streams, “the impact of bottle bills on MRFs will be manageable.”

“The data shows the total value of one MRF ton (as of August 2021) at $156 and the value at $154 in a full deposit system scenario (with all beverage containers on a 10 cent deposit). This $2 per ton decline (a 1.3% decline) pales in comparison to normal cyclical fluctuations in commodity prices, as the study also shows,” Collins wrote.

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