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Land, Waste and Emergency Management Innovations

Year 2007 Innovations Pilots

OSWER Innovation Projects
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Project Highlights
  • Approximately 20 percent of the City of McAllen’s municipal solid waste is now being diverted from landfills or incinerators through the recovery of yardwaste and green food waste.
  • From 2007 to 2010, the city collected 5,166 tons of organic waste for composting; sold 52,660 cubic yards of compost; used 5,481 cubic yards of compost for various city development projects; and saved $89,114 by diverting 5,166 tons of food waste from landfills.
  • The city leveraged $50,000 in seed money to set up and implement this composting pilot project, including $9,000 from Walmart and $40,000 from the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council for collection bins, signs, dumpsters, biodegradable bags, training and community outreach.
  • This "Save the Greens" pilot project won both the 2008 Texas Environmental Excellence Award and the 2008 Environmental Leadership Award for Outstanding Composting Program from the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling.

City of McAllen Public Works Department - Recycling Division Full Circle "Save the Greens" Resource Recycling, Recovery, and Composting Project

Sponsor: EPA Region 6 - Fiscal Year: 2007

Partners: Globe Supermarket (McAllen, Texas), Ruben’s Grocery (McAllen, Texas), Sustainable Agronomics Association (Edinburg, Texas), Texas Cooperative Extension (Edinburg, Texas), Texas Vegetable Association (Mission, Texas)

Challenge: The population of the City of McAllen, Texas doubled between 1980 and 2005. This resulted in a significant increase in the amount of waste generated and landfilled with costs to the city reaching over $2.3 million per year. To divert recyclable material from the landfill, McAllen implemented a curbside recycling and yardwaste collection program. More than 85 percent of the yard trimmings collected was turned into compost, but the compost lacked vital nutrients resulting in a low quality end product with little market demand. In turn, McAllen had a difficult time recuperating program costs due to the low quality of the compost.

Opportunity: Adding green food waste (e.g., vegetable and fruit scraps) to compost is a proven method of improving its quality. While successful on a small scale (e.g., residential), large or commercial scale composting operations would require a large and continuous supply of green food waste to produce high quality compost. Championing a commercial scale model allows municipalities to sell their compost and increase revenue or offset program costs, as well as divert an additional portion of the waste stream from landfills.

Approach: The city set up a partnership with a local Walmart to collect its unsold produce, designed and implemented a training program for Walmart employees on best practices for managing food waste, and developed a community outreach education packet on composting in both English and Spanish. The collected green food waste was then processed into nutrient-rich compost and sold to residents and local food producers, who used it to grow produce for sale locally.

Project Update: The "Save the Greens" pilot project is now an established city program that new businesses continue to join. The city currently collects green food waste from 25 local businesses. In addition, every Walmart in Texas now has a composting program modeled after the "Save the Greens" project.

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Project Highlights
  • Published the Closing the Loop: Electronics Design to Enhance Reuse/Recycling Value report that providesover 60 product design element change recommendations that could be incorporated in EPEAT in two ways – either developed into new criteria or used to improve existing criteria.
  • Developed a recycling Web application prototype, the “CTL Registry,” to house key information on product attributes and provide an open channel for communication.

Closing the Loop: Electronic Design to Enhance Reuse/Recycling Value

Sponsor: EPA Region 10 - Fiscal Year: 2007

Partners: National Center for Electronics Recycling; Resource Recycling, Inc.

Challenge: Historically, the end-of-life management of electronic products (i.e., what is done with products after their useful life is over) had been an afterthought for manufacturers and sellers. Although the Green Electronics Council had a ratings system in place to evaluate electronic product designs for refurbishment and/or recycling (the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT), there had not been an established method of communicating EPEAT-related product design features to end-of-life managers. Conversely, there had not been an efficient way for end-of-life managers to suggest how electronics manufacturers can streamline recycling and refurbishment. The electronics industry needed a comprehensive survey among end-of-life managers (e.g., recyclers, reuse operations, asset recovery businesses, electronics resellers, shredding recyclers, and plastics reclaimers) to identify design changes for improving recycling and reuse opportunities. Two-way communication also needed to be established between end-of-life managers and electronics manufacturers to ensure continued feedback and collaboration.

Opportunity: Input from electronics refurbishers and recyclers on computer and monitor design features (the electronics at the focus of this project) would allow for updated EPEAT standards to enhance the end-of-life value of these products. Equally important is communication between electronics designers/manufacturers and end-of-life managers. Ideally, a new type of communications tool was needed to open up communications channels and obtain feedback on design improvements from end-of-life managers.

Approach: The Green Electronics Council, in collaboration with the National Center for Electronics Recycling and Resource Recycling, Inc. interviewed electronics refurbishers and recyclers from across the industry. The Council sought to determine design elements that would enable computers and monitors to be disassembled for the most value. Participants provided feedback on manufacturer information that would enhance end-of-life process efficiency and/or material values and how it should be communicated. Project partners defined product information categories such as descriptions to allow inventory and sorting; location and removal instructions for components containing hazardous substances; and identification of plastic resins to be separated for processing. This input was used to develop the “Close-the Loop (CTL) Registry,” a searchable, Web-based resource for end-of-life managers to access information related to product disassembly and recycling. Eventually, the CTL Registry will be expanded into a two-way information exchange system that will store feedback and suggestions from end-of-life managers in addition to the product information provided by manufacturers.

Project Updates: The report developed for this project, Closing the Loop: Electronics Design to Enhance Reuse/Recycling Value , has been well received both nationally and internationally and has provided the basis for examining ways to improve electronics recycling design. The report was one of the primary sources that inspired a meeting of invited academic researchers with EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) staff to discuss research opportunities for e-waste with a focus on design for end-of-life. These actions led ORD, in cooperation with the Green Electronics Council, to issue an “InnoCentive Challenge,” which is currently under development. The report was referred to frequently in the development of “Design for End-of-Life” criteria for the new Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 1680 electronic product environmental assessment standards for imaging equipment and televisions. Additionally, the report has been referenced and used for program development by the Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative at the United Nations University.

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Project Highlights
  • Developed the search engine to browse available items from eight Materials Exchanges in the Northeast.
  • Since the website launched, there has been more than 1,840 unique visitors and 63 successful exchanges worth more than $24,000.

Creating a National Reuse Marketplace: A Search Engine Uniting Materials Exchanges

Sponsors: EPA Region 1, EPA Region 2 - Fiscal Year: 2007

Challenge: In 2009, Americans produced about 243 million tons of municipal solid waste. Materials Exchange – websites that connect those with unwanted products with people who are seeking them – help address this problem by facilitating the recycling and reuse of items that would otherwise be disposed of in landfills. There are several active Materials Exchanges; however, each one is unique in its access and offerings, which limits the effective reuse of materials.

Opportunity: A single, national Materials Exchange network would allow users to search for materials across participating networks, thus maximizing their use. The increase in visibility for these networks would increase the probability that materials will be reused and products would be diverted from landfills.

Approach: Project partners identified five Materials Exchange networks in the Northeast willing to participate in the Reuse Marketplace pilot project. The Northeast region provided several well-established individual networks to serve as a geographical pilot for the launch of a national marketplace. Launched in January 2010, the Reuse Marketplace Network is a Web-based network that allows users to search for materials across all five independent networks. The new website was designed to increase reuse of materials by streamlining access and promoting opportunities to locate and purchase materials. Materials Exchanges in the Network included computer/electronics/appliances, construction/salvage materials, office equipment/furniture, and industrial equipment.

Project Updates: Since January 2010, the Reuse Marketplace has created greater exposure and increased participation for the eight Materials Exchanges. The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) is developing a plan for a larger national network based on the pilot project. The program will focus on retaining the current Exchanges and seeking additional Material Exchanges to join as participants. NERC also is focusing on promoting the Reuse Marketplace at events and seeking funding options to support the network.

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Innovative Use of Recycled Materials to Increase Beneficial Use of Construction and Demolition (C&D) Debris Fines

Sponsor: EPA Region 1 - Fiscal Year: 2007

Partners: Waste Management of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

Overview: This project entailed exploring whether coal ash, wood ash, and/or crushed concrete could be utilized economically as an amendment for C&D debris fines to attenuate the production of hydrogen sulfide in a beneficial-use application.

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Project Highlights
  • Identified ways RFID infrastructure could
    • Help reduce materials use, lower inventory, prevent over-production, and over-supply,
    • Identify valuable and potentially dangerous components of an individual item, determine its service history, and automate its tracking and handling.
  • Led to the establishment of a consumer electronics end-of-life global interest group.
  • Created links to other related efforts, including EPEAT, which seeks to identify design changes that would improve the sustainability of electronic products (e.g., using RFID tags to indicate special handling due to hazardous materials content).

Project Pure: Promoting Understanding of RFID and the Environment

Sponsor: EPA Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery - Fiscal Year: 2007

Partners: EPC Global; Hewlett Packard; Wal-Mart; PCRR Rebuilders and Recyclers; WeRecycle; SIMS Recycling; UPM Raflatac; Georgia Tech; GS-1..

Challenge:According to EPA estimates, only 18 percent of consumer electronics are recycled. It is crucial that electronics are appropriately managed throughout their life cycle to minimize their environmental impact (e.g., increased landfill waste, potential release of hazardous materials during disposal). RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags are increasingly being utilized to track consumer products such as computers from production to sale. However, they are not being used to assist with materials management throughout the electronics life cycle, for example by conveying information about the presence of recycled or hazardous materials.

Opportunity: Project partners recognized the need to reduce the negative environmental impacts of electronics products while improving business processes and economic performance. To achieve this goal, stakeholders involved in the consumer electronics life cycle (e.g., manufacturers, packagers, retailers, recyclers, tag manufacturers, and environmental authorities) needed to come together to study and discuss the potential environmental benefits of using RFID tags and their impact on the supply chain.

Approach: Project partners met and interacted with outside experts to better understand the requirements and processes used by various parts of the computer supply chain. This included both post-sale activities involving reuse, recycling, refurbishing, materials aggregation, and disposal, and the identification of the benefits and challenges associated with using RFID to support product end-of-life recovery activities.

Project Updates: Spurred by the efforts of this project, GS1, a global supply chain standards organization and steward of the modern-day global barcode system, established a global interest group in 2008 to examine the potential uses of Electronic Product Code (EPC)/RFID tags at the end of life processes for consumer electronics. Due to competing priorities, the GS1 interest group has since been dissolved. In November 2010, the White House established the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship to prepare a national strategy for electronics stewardship. Led by representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, EPA and the General Services Administration, the task force released the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship in July 2011. The strategy details the Federal Government’s plan to enhance the management of electronics through the product life cycle from the design to the eventual recycling or disposal of a product.

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