One Team, Part Two: The Hauler and the MRF


By Kris Kaar, Resource Recycling Systems, Carton Council Field Team Member

In Part One of my series of posts about recycling teams, we looked at the power and responsibility that the Resident and the Recycling Coordinator have in maintaining a successful recycling program. Now, we explore two more team members who are integral to making a recycling program work, and work well.

The Hauler – This is the workhorse of the team. A lot is riding on how well they play their role (pun intended). They must be out on routes on time, all the time, picking up recyclables and taking them to the MRF. Even one missed (or messy) pick-up could turn a resident off for good. One short load could financially impact the MRF.  

The hauler makes it all possible; they “deliver the goods.” The greatest responsibility a hauler carries is that they are highly visible. Their trucks (and people) are the ones seen out in the community. And when a resident does see them, it affirms that recycling is happening. Haulers can also often be the scapegoat, taken for granted and misunderstood as to their valuable role. They carry with them, not only the recyclables, but a heavy responsibility to pick up materials efficiently and safely. One slip up or one error can have a ripple effect. They must collect quickly and correctly. They also must deal with external factors that are beyond their control but that can greatly impact their service; things like traffic, tricky maneuvering areas like narrow roads, and they have to constantly re-calibrate based on new homes being added, or changes to their routes. Regardless, with a full truck that arrives on schedule at the MRF, maximum value can be recouped.

Our recycling team can succeed or fail based on the hauler, and quite quickly.

The MRF – Most people don’t know what a MRF does. They think that somehow, some way, no matter what they put into a recycling container, the recyclables are being handled. However, we all know, it’s not magic. It’s investment: in people, processes and technology.

The MRF could easily be seen as the most valuable defensive player on our team. Here, how much the hauler has collected and how well informed and motivated a resident is to recycle, all comes to a head. A heavy investment is at stake so the MRF is highly motivated to do what it can to ensure that maximum yield is achieved from every recyclable that comes through its doors. However, sometimes this is somewhat out of their control.

The MRF makes major investments to process and sort recyclables – and often has millions of dollars at stake. They have people whom they need to hire, train and keep safe. They are the source of high value technology needed to ensure recyclables are funneled in the right way, to the right place. Sometimes the MRF even has to take a leap of faith that a new piece of machinery will produce an ROI, even if years down the road. But without this technology, the program could not meet residents’ expectations, creating a barrier that can limit growth, which impacts the hauler and the MRF, and the entire program – a vicious cycle. The MRF also must continually play matchmaker – connecting a commodity with an end market in volatile conditions (without markets there would be no recycling).

Sometimes, the MRF has a say in how a program is implemented (what is accepted, how items are collected, what the contract stipulates they must do with the items) – and sometimes they may not. However, they are a critical member of the team. They may liaise with the community and generally serve as the “engine” behind the items collected at the curb. Without them, recyclables would have no home, they would not be collected and the resident would have no option but to landfill valuable commodities, creating another vicious cycle that would impact us all.

A good team stays dynamic, able to adapt to changing conditions, sharing and interacting with each other.

A lot hinges on how well, and how consistently, each team member fulfills their responsibility: from the recycling coordinator all the way to the MRF. One off day, or one missed opportunity, can impact everyone else. It is for this reason that we all need to understand, appreciate and leverage the contributions each team member makes. Working together, as One Team, we can – and will – be unstoppable.