Quality vs Quantity

How often is it we hear the phrase “Quality versus Quantity”?  It sometimes elicits a sense of conflict as if to suggest the two are mutually exclusive.  In the current landscape of rules and regulations for C&D recovery, C&D facilities are being pressed to achieve higher quantities of recovered materials while at the same time the markets are demanding higher quality materials.  So yes, in our industry there is an inherent conflict built into that phrase.  But do we forego one in pursuit of the other?  The answer should be “no”.  Both are achievable, but we must look at solutions from a more holistic perspective.

The conflict between the two will always be present if rules and regulations demand higher recovery rates above all else.  A key challenge is that there is only so much a facility can recover from the materials it receives.  As the saying goes, “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”  And the markets are increasingly sensitive to the quality of materials they receive from processors.  Something must give.

Rules and regulations demanding higher recovery rates incentivize facilities participating in a local program to reject low quality loads or code the material as “trash” to maintain a high recovery rate if they want to continue participation in the program.  Another pathway some facilities may take is even less desirable – falsely reporting a higher recovery rate – which comes with a host of negative implications.  And further down the line there are facilities that might accept the loads with low percentages of recoverable materials.  These facilities may do a great job recovering what can be sent to market, but unfortunately their recovery rate may be too low to qualify them for participation in the local program.

The above scenarios may sound hypothetical to some, but they are real.  From a rules and regulations perspective, there is conflict with each of the scenarios.  From a holistic perspective, the system is falling short of the overall potential amount of recovered C&D materials.  Is there a solution that minimizes the conflict and maximizes the recovery of C&D materials?  We think there is, and it comes with numerous benefits beyond reducing the conflict.

Simply put, rules and regulations should focus on performance and not solely on a high recovery rate.  What we mean by a focus on performance is that a facility should recover as much of the recoverable C&D material as possible.  While that may sound simple in concept, we know there are complications and systemic challenges to be overcome.  However, we believe this shift in focus will benefit local programs as well as the C&D industry.

Below is a short list of reasons why a focus on performance has more benefits than a focus on a high recovery rate and can contribute to a higher amount of recovered material overall:

1)    A focus on performance acknowledges market challenges and rewards facilities for doing the best they can with the loads they receive.

2)    Recovering 90% of the 20% that is recoverable is better than landfilling 100% of it.

3)    Facilities are more likely to process all loads they receive.

4)    More facilities can participate in local programs, which contributes to jobs and the economy.

5)    Facilities whose operational models accommodate lower quality loads reduce the pressure on facilities whose equipment is designed to accept higher quality loads.

6)    Effective programs should require third-party certification for facilities to verify performance and compliance, which contributes to a level playing field.

This emerging issue is an area that RCI will be exploring in the coming year and we look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions on the topic.


Stephen M Bantillo is Executive Director of the Recycling Certification Institute, and can be reached at info@recyclingcertification.org


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