Recycling in New Jersey: A Conversation with Bayshore President and CEO…Valerie Montecalvo

Recycling in New Jersey: A Conversation with Bayshore President and CEO…Valerie Montecalvo

By Martin C. Daks, Contributing Editor

Bayshore Family of Companies has long been a leader in recycling and sustainability. COMMERCE spoke with President and CEO Valerie Montecalvo about the recycling industry, from present-day challenges to future opportunities. Technology will be key, and education about what to recycle will truly matter, she explains.

COMMERCE: The Coronavirus epidemic has sparked a stock market panic and fears of a broad economic slowdown. Are you worried that could eventually mean fewer products used and recycled?

VALERIE MONTECALVO: Like everyone, we hope this most serious global health crisis will be relatively short so that it does not affect the volume of material being recycled. We have established contingency plans for the continuity of operations through remote access for jobs that can be performed from home, and have provided our staff with all available guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Solid Waste Association of North America and the National Waste & Recycling Association.

Q. In 2017, China announced it would impose a ban on imports of certain kinds of solid waste. Has that affected your business?

A. Like nearly all recycling processors, Bayshore did historically send the recovered product to international markets, including China. With the collapse of international markets, recyclers have had to expand the use of domestic and Canadian markets, which we have done. We have been most successful in identifying the markets needed to continue recycling the curbside materials we receive.

However, the economics of recycling have dramatically changed as the fewer remaining markets can, and have, demanded higher prices due to the general lack of sufficient competition in the industry. A few short years ago, recyclers would “pay” towns $5.00 or $10.00 per ton for the benefit of getting curbside material that could then be processed and sold profitably. Now, single stream recycling “costs” towns anywhere from $75.00 to $95.00 and higher. This economic dislocation is expected to improve, but not before new domestic markets, like paper mills and glass plants, are opened and sufficient competition is restored.

Q. What are some other significant recycling issues today?

A. The single biggest issue affecting recycling today is the near-total collapse of international markets to ship commodities. In 2011, China passed “Article 12” to crack down on the receipt of “garbage” being delivered to them and marketed as recyclables. Initially, the crackdown was not actively enforced. However, in March 2013, China started Operation Green Fence, and as many as 70 percent of all incoming containers of recycled material were rigorously inspected.

As a result, entire ships loaded with containers began being rejected at Chinese ports after inspection. Operation Green Sword came after that in 2017 and included a combined prohibitive outthrow rate of .5 percent for contamination, compared to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries index of 5 percent. The .5 percent rate is unprecedented in industry history and essentially impossible to achieve. The net result is that we have an oversupply of material and too little demand for recycled commodities. Other Asian markets in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam are following the same path as China, restricting or eliminating imports of recycled material.

Q. What are some of your biggest opportunities and challenges?

A. While markets are clearly depressed, recycling remains a critical component of a sustainable society, and the market will bounce back in time. Our most significant opportunities to expand the field of recycling are with two primary materials: food waste and scrap tires. Roughly 25 percent of what is left in the residential garbage can, after 34 years of mandatory recycling, is food waste. Our State Legislature has passed legislation on two fronts to deal with this issue. First and foremost, was the Food Waste Reduction Act back in 2017. It required the NJDEP to develop an implementation plan to achieve our legislative goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030. This laudable goal can be translated to feeding hungry people.

Q. What is the status of this effort?

A. NJDEP did come out with its draft plan last August, held public hearings and is nearing the finalization of this plan. Beyond food waste reduction, the Legislature also recently passed a food waste disposal ban bill that is awaiting action by Governor Murphy. If enacted, large generators of food waste will need to bring the material to compost facilities, provided one exists within 25 road miles and the cost of composting does not exceed the current cost of disposal. Similar legislation exists in several New England States, and, if signed by the governor, our New Jersey law will kick in during 2021.

Q. How about scrap tire disposal? Any movement on this issue?

A. Technologies exist to process tires into useful products, but as yet they have not been shown to be economically feasible on a large scale. Most tires are still burned in cement kilns in the manufacturing of cement. Our biggest challenges remain market development and finding ways to make cutting-edge recycling technology economically competitive.

Q. Why is New Jersey a good fit for your company?

A. New Jersey is arguably the birthplace of large-scale recycling as the first state to adopt a mandatory program back in 1987. This commitment by the state to recycling, and our density of population, make New Jersey and our location in Middlesex County a perfect fit for Bayshore.

Q. Where are your clients located? Are most of them in New Jersey?

A. The vast majority of our clients are in New Jersey, but we do accept material from the greater New York City metropolitan area and beyond. For the most sustainable operations and lowest transportation carbon footprint, we prefer taking material from as close to our operations in Woodbridge Township as possible. 

Q. How is technology changing the practice of recycling?

A. Many advanced recycling separation technologies have historically relied on a combination of automation or machines; and human labor to separate material along with conveyor belt picking stations. This division of labor and use of machines has been effective in separating both construction and demolition debris, and curbside materials such as bottles, cans, paper and plastic.

We are rapidly approaching a day where more-advanced technology employing robots will become standard in our industry, and we already have advanced robotics facilities opening up in Florida and Texas. Technology is also critical toward making the best use of recovered materials for recycling and reuse and energy production. For example, technology will eventually allow us to make better use of non-traditional plastics, such as #3 to #7 plastic, and to convert such plastics to fuel and energy.

Q. What changes are you planning for Bayshore Family of Companies? How will your company continue to evolve?

A. The Bayshore Family of Companies has long operated with a strategic plan that calls for operating 100 percent green businesses powered 100 percent by renewable energy, while building out a state-of-the-art Eco-Complex and Energy Campus. We are investigating biomass gasification technologies to eventually be able to process residue after recycling, which would otherwise go to landfills, into clean transportation fuels and/or energy. Such technology would allow us to move significantly closer to the achievement of our overarching corporate goal for sustainable operations. This technology is not, to the best of our knowledge, in operation anywhere in New Jersey. We are also evaluating potential tenants and/or partners who have a proven track record in the United States in operating gasification systems at a commercial scale.

Q. Can you briefly describe Bayshore’s nine separate and distinct recycling operations within its 58-acre eco-complex and energy campus in the Keasbey section of Woodbridge Township?

A. Bayshore Recycling Corp. primarily recycles concrete, asphalt, brick and block from construction and demolition projects—bridges, highways, roads, driveways, parking lots and other objects—and manufactures specific-grade aggregate products for new roads and other construction projects.

Bayshore Soil Management, LLC accepts non-hazardous petroleum impacted soils, and operates a low-temperature thermal desorption unit. BSM also uses rotary kiln technology to treat and essentially sterilize petroleum-contaminated soils, and then reuses this material in brownfield redevelopment and other beneficial use projects.

Montecalvo Material Recovery Facility accepts mixed construction and demolition debris and bulky waste that is processed using mechanized material recovery, with meticulous upfront separation. Paper, mixed plastic corrugated cardboard, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, aggregate materials and different grades of wood are recovered, recycled or otherwise repurposed. Clean dimensional lumber is sized and marketed for landscape mulch. The adulterated wood is mixed with a small fraction of paper, corrugated and plastics, and blended to manufacture an engineered biofuel that is used at industrial facilities as a fuel source.

Coastal Metal Recycling Corp. accepts and recycles traditional scrap metal, copper, brass, pipe, aluminum, stainless, wire and steel.

Montecalvo Marine Services was established to process dredged material through the use of existing spudded work barges [a specialized type of barge, commonly used for marine construction operations, which is moored by steel shafts or through-deck piling] on the Raritan River. Our NJDEP approvals allow both in-barge and pug mill [mixer] stabilization of dredge material on our spudded work barges with the marketing of stabilized material for beneficial use projects such as brownfield redevelopment.

Bayshore Single Stream Solutions, or BS3, operates a Class A recycling facility for the acceptance and processing of curbside commodities, including aluminum cans; glass bottles and jars; steel and tin cans; #1 and #2 plastic water, milk, soda, and laundry bottles; newspaper; corrugated cardboard; and mixed paper like magazines, office paper and junk mail; as well as #3 through #7 plastics. BS3 is also explicitly approved to accept single-stream materials, as well as co-mingled, and dual stream curbside material.

Bayshore Resource Recovery is a sister company to BS3, and exclusively processes paper products for fiber to extract the highest-grade materials for recovery and marketing. These materials include double sorted cardboard, corrugated cardboard, shredded or sorted office paper, old newspaper and new, over-issue newspaper. Lower-grade paper is also recovered, such as mixed paper and boxboard, then baled and sent to market.

Montecalvo Transportation Services features facility operations and is a NJDEP-licensed hauling company offering full-service transportation to clients using a fleet of dump trucks, tandems and triaxle transfer trailers. We also offer, for rent, 10, 20, 30 and 40 cubic yard dumpsters to residential, commercial and institutional customers.

Port Raritan Marine Terminal is a waterfront facility that operates in all capacities for loading, unloading, and transport of aggregate materials via barge, ship, rail, or truck. The Bayshore property and PRMT are also serviced by Class 1 railroad, with access to both a permanent pier and spudded work barge facilities to accommodate barge-to-rail or rail-to-barge material transport.

Q. In December, a fire impacted your paper recycling business. What are your plans to rebuild it, and how are you handling the activity that used to be done there?

A. We did sustain a devastating six-alarm fire back on December 16, 2019, which destroyed our paper recycling warehouse and our offices. We have relocated office operations to a corporate complex in nearby Hazlet, on Route 36, which will be our home over the next three years.

We are still in the process of evaluating whether we will rebuild offices on the Bayshore site in Woodbridge or not. In terms of the paper operation, paper is what is called a Class A recyclable material. We can continue to accept and process paper in our BS3 operation. While we sustained a significant loss, we have not had to give up any market share in paper recycling. We will eventually replace the specialized paper recycling equipment lost in the fire.

Q. How does being a family business impact Bayshore?

A. The primary benefit of a family business is less red tape in decision making. My husband, COO Frank, and I are incredibly hands-on and available at any time and on any day for all necessary decisions required to move our businesses forward. At the same time, we employ effective delegation to allow our managers to make their own decisions within their sphere of influence. A collateral benefit of a family business is literally functioning as a family. Frank and I have always tried to view and treat our employees as members of our extended family. We believe this leads to a strong sense of place, which has further resulted in relatively limited staff turnover and consistently high productivity.

Q. Are you seeing more of or less of certain materials?

A. For our curbside recycling operation, Bayshore Single Stream Solutions, we have not really seen any dramatic shifts in the types of materials we receive from the approximately 50 New Jersey municipalities we serve. 

Q. What kinds of trends are you seeing?

A. We are beginning to see towns start to shift from single stream recycling back to dual stream. This is just beginning, but it is an extremely important trend. Perhaps as long as a decade ago, towns shifted from having two recycling containers, where beverage bottles and cans went in one bucket and paper, cardboard and other fiber went in another (dual stream), to mixing all recyclables together in one container (single stream).

The logic behind this was that greater convenience for the homeowner would lead to higher levels of participation and more material getting recycled instead of being disposed of. This has been true, but at a significant price.

Mixing improperly cleaned bottles, cans, and plastics in with paper and other fiber has resulted in high levels of contamination. This degrades the quality of the fiber right at the curb and reduces the price recyclers can derive from available markets. A second very positive trend has been public education campaigns by towns and county governments. Most counties at this point have “Recycle Right” campaigns underway to designate what is and isn’t required for recycling. “Wishful Recycling,” where homeowners throw nearly everything in the recycling bucket, dramatically increases contamination of the recycling stream and is counterproductive. Most counties have adopted the slogan “when in doubt, throw it out.”

Q. How difficult is it to find workers for your blue-collar jobs?

A. For many years, we have supplemented our core Bayshore workforce with operations laborers hired through an employment agency. This reduces the demand for our Human Resources Department to constantly find laborers and has proven the most reliable and efficient way to staff field operations. The work atmosphere at Bayshore has resulted in relatively low turnover, and we have not had any difficultly filling our blue-collar jobs. But we do have some concern over the industry direction toward robotics, which may eventually displace blue-collar workers throughout our industry.

Q. What are some odd or unusual items your facility has received for recycling?

A. We routinely get significant volumes of problem materials. One particular problem has been termed “tanglers,” which consists of such things as garden hoses, rope, twine, tape and other waste that can wrap around equipment. Another peculiar material is sports equipment, including bats, balls, hockey sticks, protective equipment, even bowling balls. Most significantly, we quite routinely receive packaged needles and syringes, logically from at-home diabetics, which probably are viewed as being recyclable since one part is metal and one part is plastic. We have even received entire swimming pool liners. Obviously, none of these materials are recyclable and must be disposed of in the trash.

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