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January 23, 2007 > A cleaner shade of green

A cleaner shade of green

By Steve Warga

Recycling advocates have long lamented the fact that noisy, dirty diesel trucks were the only workable answer to the problem of collecting recyclables from thousands of households and businesses. Various solutions offered over the years have found a nexus in two recent evolutions: alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) and single stream processing.

For some twenty-six years now, Tri CED Community Recycling of Union City has maintained its position on the cutting edge of recycling technology. In the past two years, they've been converting their fleet of aging diesel trucks to new ones engineered to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). In addition, the company has invested millions of dollars into the containers and processing equipment needed to accommodate single stream recycling. By June of this year, these improvements will be fully online for most of Hayward too.

From the outside, the new AFVs appear nearly identical to the old trucks, and even a quick glance under the hood will fool you. Only if you fail to notice the stack of CNG tanks behind the cab, that is. And residents who happen to be outdoors during collection operations will surely notice a big difference, especially those suffering from asthma. These cleaner-burning and quieter engines mean your neighbor won't have any trouble hearing you remark, "Hey, I can actually breathe around these trucks!"

President and CEO, Richard Valle tells of the company's positive experiences with AFVs over the last two years. "The CNG engines cost about the same to operate as the diesels. They get similar mileage and the fuel runs close in cost to diesel. We haven't had any serious maintenance issues so far."

When purchased new, the engines are substantially more expensive, but grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management agency help offset the additional investment. Valle explained the stringent process required in destroying the old vehicles before the company qualifies for the grants. "We have to take each of the old engines to a place in the San Joaquin Valley that crushes the old engines. They provide a certificate of destruction and pictures, before and after, to confirm everything." By June, all 22 collection trucks will be replaced.

subtitle: Single stream recycling

The second big improvement is also one tough to notice from outside appearances, except for the replacement of those green boxes residents have wrestled for years (some more than others, it turns out). Again, Hayward residents will be playing catch-up to Union City which has been single-streaming their recyclables for about two years. Once fully operational, Haywardites will be able to dump all their recyclables, except green-waste, into one, wheeled, covered container; which they will place by the curb with their garbage containers.

After those clean, quiet trucks do their thing, the mixed recyclables are dumped on the concrete floors of Tri-CED's big warehouse. From there, the mess is pushed into a large, tall and elaborate machine that's nearly as long as the building. Cleverly designed to blend human labor and mechanical genius, this sorting machine separates the stream of recyclables into paper, glass, plastics (various sub-groups), aluminum, and steel categories. These groups are then bundled, baled and collected before being shipped to various recycling firms both stateside and abroad.

The entire process is a centralization of what homeowners have been asked to do themselves until now. It's apparent that residents were not strictly diligent with this sorting chore. Valle says the industry reports increases of recyclables on the order of 30 - 35 percent after converting to single stream. Quite a jump!

Scientist and climatologist may still debate whether or not recycling really affects the earth's ecological health. It's all academic discussions though in Union City and Hayward. Thanks to the efforts of Tri-CED staff, in keeping up with the latest innovations, residents do enjoy a cleaner, brighter shade of environmental green.

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