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Rebuilt Recycling Facility Helps Lead Way to Less Waste

Fri October 14, 2011 - Southeast Edition
­Peter Hildebrandt


Recovered PET before it is baled. It is culled from the stream using an optical sorter.
Recovered PET before it is baled. It is culled from the stream using an optical sorter.
Recovered PET before it is baled. It is culled from the stream using an optical sorter. A bale of Natural HDPE being ejected from the baler. It is pushing out a bale of recovered tin/steel. This one is a disc screen, which separates the newspaper from containers and other small fiber. A commingle sorting station and commingle bunkers. A John Deere loader dumping single stream recyclables onto the infeed conveyor for processing/separation.

­After working on it for about a year, ReCommunity, which operates 18 recycling and recovery facilities in nine states, has achieved International Standard Organization (ISO) 14001:2004 certification for its Charlotte, N.C., facility, which was recently rebuilt to become a single stream materials recovery facility (MRF). The ISO certification focuses on criteria for environmental excellence, a method by which a company designs and operates an environmental management system.

“We’re the first MRF, as far as we know, to have this registration in the U.S.,” explained Ron Cobb, manager of permits and compliance/environmental manager. Pursuing the ISO registration is one of the biggest things the company could have done environmentally, according to Cobb.

“The items can be as small as what types of pesticides are used in landscaping to what storm water controls are in our parking lot,” said Cobb. “The general manufacturing operations are studied, including what hazardous materials or solvents are used by the maintenance workers.”?

There are 20 to 30 steps in this top-down, environmental review. The entire environmental impact of the facility is studied and various impacts are rated. The MRF in Charlotte gets its electricity from a coal-fired plant and that unfortunately does have a greenhouse gas impact. But it has put programs in place to reduce its fuel and electricity usage, such as installing high efficiency lighting. The amount of money saved from the lighting will pay for it in two years, according to Cobb.

ReCommunity also installed the highest efficiency motors available. Its baler has a power-saving mode on it that shuts down after an allotted number of minutes of active use. When ready for use again, the motors turn back on. ??

Before purchasing any new equipment, the MRF considers the fuel efficiency of the new equipment, such as a loader. They’ve installed a fuel tank with solar panels to power its pump. The system also tells automatically what the fuel inventory levels and automatically schedules refilling of the tanks. Every aspect of the MRF is studied to make sure it meets the company’s efficiency goals and that all actions are being recorded so that they’re the best in the industry.?

Cobb sees recycling as an overall emissions reducer for everybody.

“Recycling old newspapers into new newsprint takes a paper mill a lot less energy than it takes to turn a tree into newspaper,” he said.

“The same is true with plastic, turning old plastic bottles into new ones takes les energy than assembling all the raw ingredients.

“Now that recycled plastic lumber has really taken off, we also can bale and market rigid plastic. Before we were just sending plastic out to the landfill. We see our centers as becoming more and more efficient at what we do as time goes by.”

Rebuilding to

Single Stream??

ReCommunity markets in excess of one million tons per year with its 650 employees in Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, Charlotte, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., Connecticut, Michigan, Wisconsin and a joint venture in Tompkins County, New York.?

The Metroliner Recycling Facility in Charlotte was rebuilt in June, 2010 to handle and process single-stream recycling. The MRF now processes some 65,000 tons per year.

A change from dual stream to single stream recycling involves a significant investment in plant and equipment. Machinery is required to separate the co-mingled recyclables into their constituent parts. Conversion at the Charlotte facility to single-stream was fairly typical of similar conversions that they’ve completed over the past several years at a number of their locations. ??

“This process involves a significant capital investment,” said David Lank, ReCommunity vice president of operations, responsible for all the field operations around the United States.

“Investment can range from a couple million dollars to as much as six or eight million dollars.”

But several advantages can come from converting from dual stream to single stream, he explained. The first and foremost is convenience; it’s much more convenient for the residents not to have to sort their materials into separate bins, which is a key aspect of ReCommunity’s partnership with Mecklenburg County. In the past, if one bin got full, the resident would sometimes put recyclables in the trash to avoid the hassle of waiting until the bin had room again. Raising the convenience level for residents generally translates into higher recovery rates or the ability the reclaim more recyclables out of the total waste stream.??

Another major advantage of single stream over dual stream is that it improves the collection efficiency, according to Lank.

“The trucks that run the routes can now put their collections all in one container. They don’t have to separate it at the curb, so their trucks can be simpler, and they can carry a heavier payload. In other words, you can pack it all in a packer truck as opposed to having a dual compartment specialized vehicle. This efficiency also allows for automated or semi-automated collection; instead of having the driver toting the bin into the sides of the compartment, you can use the so-called one-armed bandits to increase your collection efficiencies,”??Lank explained.

Machinery that Sorts a

Variety of Recyclables??

This is among the most unique facilities in the country, according to Sean Duffy, ReCommunity president and CEO. The new system is a 35-ton-per-hour single stream with two optical sorters that have high-speed cameras and optical recognition to separate the various grades of plastic from each other. In other words, the optical sorters would be able to know the difference between a soda bottle and a milk bottle, and automatically separate them.

There are various types of rotating disk screens and eddy current separators. Cross belt magnets take steel cans out of the waste stream. Multiple sorting lines lower the burden bed so it’s among the most sophisticated single stream systems in the industry, according to Duffy.

Equipment for the Charlotte plant rebuild was furnished by C. P. Manufacturing. Most of the retooling at this 48,000 sq. ft. facility involved adding screens to separate the materials. ?

Newsprint coming off the end of the line can go onto a conveyor that goes to make cellulose insulation. The newsprint goes off a waste cell, which digitally reads the weight of the material. It then goes directly into the cellulose bagger and they make the cocoon insulation that can be purchased at a building supply store and which can be blown into an attic. It is also sold to the makers of manufactured homes. ??

“A person can literally put their newspaper out in the morning for collection, a truck will pick it up, we can process it so it is part of one of the 30-pound bags of insulation, go on a truck and actually be shipped to a store. That same individual could purchase that bag of insultation on his way home from work,” said Duffy. “You could be picking up your own newspaper from earlier in the day or week and be blowing it into your own attic that night. The efficiency is we don’t have to bale that paper, they don’t have to de-bale it and freight does not have to be paid to take it to a processing center, as it’s all processed onsite.”

Another key aspect of ReCommunity’s partnership with Mecklenburg County is an education center that provides tours and education programs at the MRF for community and school groups. Visitors are able to watch the process from start to finish as the different materials are moved around within the plant using rolling stock, pay loaders, front-end loaders, skid steers and forklifts — all John Deere machinery — and they’re able to watch all of the sorters and machinery at work. ?

“A very important part of any successful recycling program is to offer education and awareness,” said Lank. “Our education center at the facility serves more than 10,000 visitors per year, with a full-time education director. The company also has visitor centers at Sarasota, Ann Arbor, Greensboro, Hartford and Stratford. In addition to its ongoing effort to convert their current municipalities to single stream, ReCommunity also is looking at applying new technology and techniques to improve the efficiency at which it performs the separation.

“There is also an opportunity to take a bigger bite out of the stuff that’s going to landfills,” Lank said. “We’re looking at finding ways, processes and systems to recover those recyclables as well as take advantage of the energy content of the material currently going to landfills. We hope to convert that material to usable types of energy.”??

ReCommunity was formed in March of this year through the re-branding of several other well known companies involved with recycling of plastics, aluminum and glass. Now headquartered in Charlotte, N. C., its office has about 40 professionals who handle permits, compliance, safety, accounts receivables, accounts payables, human resources and accounting functions. ?

“The name ’ReCommunity’ comes from reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, reinvent: all the ’Rs.’ We’re dealing with solid waste in the community in many different ways that add value instead of being a liability,” said Duffy. CEG