America recycles day - reducing the volume of recyclables

Reduce, Reuse, Resize, Recycle

Innovative Ways to Decrease the Volume of Waste for Transportation or Disposal

With the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle – we often discuss removing waste from the waste stream by decreasing our production of waste, reusing items, and recycling them. But what about reducing the volume of waste? McGill has contracts with many municipalities each year to analyze the amount of available space in municipal solid waste landfills to ensure the facilities continue to have the capacity to accommodate waste from residents. When landfills are near capacity, municipalities must find a new location to construct a landfill or identify another suitable alternative. What then can we do, as residents or city staff, to extend the life of these landfills? We can reduce the volume of waste to be landfilled or reduce the volume of waste for more cost-effective transport to recycling facilities. Below, we dive into three ways to “resize,” or decrease, the volume of our waste.


Recycle biosolids, city of lenoir lower creek wwtp biosolids facility
Radford Thomas, Public Services Director, at City of Lenoir Lower Creek WWTP Biosolids Facility

Composting is one way we can both reduce the volume of waste and, in many instances, remove waste from the waste stream altogether. For example, waste from wastewater treatment plants (WWTP)s is condensed by extracting water from the final project, resulting in a reduced overall volume of waste; that solid waste or “biological sludge” can then be applied to agricultural fields or disposed of, if the waste contains harmful chemicals and heavy metals or if there is not an adequate-size application area for the waste. Typically, each kilogram of activated sludge solids is accompanied by more than 99 kilograms of water. Sludge is concentrated via processes categorized as “thickening,” “dewatering,” “conditioning,” and “drying” (listed in order of decreasing frequency of application).

What Happens to this Sludge?

In the United States, 42 percent of biosolids (sludge) from publicly owned WWTPs are landfilled, or roughly 2 million dry metric tons each year (EPA Information About Biosolids). Rather than landfilling, sludge can be turned into a compost product. By changing the sludge into a composted product, municipalities and utilities can remove sludge from the waste stream.

McGill assisted the City of Lenoir with the installation of a thermal dryer that not only reduced the volume of biosolids waste but created a Class A compost product that can be used in many applications. At its permitted capacity, the City of Lenoir utilizes a belt filter press and thermal dryer at its new biosolids facility to reduce approximately 98,000 wet tons of sludge to 1,600 dry tons of compost annually. Prior to this project, Lenoir dewatered its sludge via filter press, so it could be hauled, at the City’s expense, to local farms. Through the implementation of this new system, the City of Lenoir did increase annual expenditures for the purchase of natural gas used in the drying process (estimated to be $84,000 per year), but it also reduced expenditures associated with hauling the biosolids (estimated to be $73,000 per year) and operations and maintenance costs (estimated to be $8,000)*.


Foam recyclingMcGill works with Catawba County on multiple landfill-related projects each year, including the landfill capacity analysis. We think it is great that Catawba County holds two household hazardous waste collection events each year to divert hazardous and recyclable waste from the landfill. At this year’s event and the previous two events, Catawba County and Keep Catawba Beautiful have hosted Paul Allen, owner of Feed Me Foam, an Asheville-based business that collects clean expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam – aka Styrofoam – for recycling. Recycling of EPS foam is made economically viable by reducing the size of the foam prior to transport. Feed Me Foam’s box truck houses a generator and a thermal densifier. EPS foam is fed into a hopper, where it is crushed into smaller pieces, fed into a heating unit, melted into a taffy-like state, and extruded into a rope that can be compacted into a brick of plastic fiber.

Courtney hayden, mcgill employee, holding an ingot of densified foam.
Courtney Hayden, McGill employee, holding an ingot of densified foam.

These densifiers compress the foam by a ratio of 90:1. The foam you drop off is then taken to a recycler who finds manufacturers that make picture frames, faux trim boards, or even new packing foam from the material. In addition to Feed Me Foam, another McGill client, Henderson County, has invested in a foam densifier and receives enough revenue from the operation to cover much of the transportation of the densified foam to its recycler. North Carolina Grocer, Publix, also collects foam egg cartons, clean foam takeout trays, cups, and other clean and dry EPS foam at their locations. Find an EPS foam recycler near you.

Compaction at Convenience Centers

Mauney cove convenience center
Mauney Cove Convenience Center, Henderson County

McGill also assists communities with the development of convenience centers. These centers routinely utilize compactors to decrease the number of required roll-off containers and how often roll-off containers must be collected. At Haywood County’s convenience centers, McGill has designed sites with both solid waste compactors and recycling materials compactors. These compactors also allow for more effective traffic patterns throughout the sites by reducing the number of containers.

America Recycles Day

For this America Recycles Day (November 15, 2023), think about the ways that you can decrease the volume of your waste. Can you break down cardboard boxes, place your plastic bags in a compactor outside a grocery store, compost your leaves and vegetable scraps, or save your EPS foam (making sure to keep it clean) for an opportunity to recycle it at a collection event? By reducing the volume of your waste, you can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from unnecessary trips and save space in your local landfills.

*In 2016 dollars, based on data from study completed in 2016.

America recycle day

Learn More

Municipalities interested in working with McGill on a future municipal solid waste (MSW) plan or other MSW project should contact us at or 844.448.4333. McGill’s plans focus on diverting waste from landfills in economically sustainable methods.

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