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Best Practices Report: Compaction vs. Loose Collection

Both compaction and loose collection methods of curbsiderecycling have advantages and disadvantages. While compaction-equippedvehicles will yield greater amounts of material on a collection route,the compaction process greatly increases the possible introduction ofcontaminants to the PET recycling process. NAPCOR reports the following"best practices" to maximize the efficiency of PET curbside collection.These best practices were developed by the Association forPost-Consumer Recyclers, the Clean Washington Center for theEnvironmental Protection Agency, and NAPCOR.

The Benefits of Compaction

Collecting recyclables in compaction vehicles, like the onesused to collect household trash, offers many benefits in the collectionand transportation of recyclables. Longer routes, faster collection,and more efficient loads for transportation are among the clearadvantages of compaction. However, if compaction is used to increasethe efficiency of a curbside program, communities should examine and,if necessary, alter the mix of recyclable materials collected throughthe curbside program to avoid some of the serious contaminationproblems that can be encountered.

Glass Contamination

When commingled containers get compacted, there is a muchgreater tendency for glass breakage than when collection occurs withoutcompaction. When glass breaks, small pieces of glass can get trappedinside PET bottles and containers. This trapped glass can cause seriousdamage to processing equipment throughout the PET recycling process.Therefore, the best practice for curbside collection of PET plastics incompaction vehicles is to collect PET plastic containers commingledwith other recyclable containers except glass.

Curbside collection programs that have utilized compactionvehicles and excluded glass from the mix of recyclables report the bestcollection efficiencies and economics.

Alternatives to Glass Compaction

Glass can be collected efficiently in the same vehicles asPET plastic and other commingled recyclables if collection workers sortthe materials at the curb and place all glass in a separate collectioncompartment. Also, communities may elect to collect recyclable glassthrough a separate companion program if materials are collected in anautomated fashion during which no curbside sorting takes place.

Finally, many programs around the country have establishedconvenient drop-off locations strictly for glass containers whileremoving glass from the list of acceptable curbside collectionmaterials. These alternatives allow communities to maintain efficientcurbside collection systems while still offering recyclingopportunities for a variety of materials.

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