HG: SustainAbility Column April 18, 2009
Waste Management has pointers for making recycling simple and efficient.
Metaphysics and trash don’t seem to be related, but I observed a major step in a reincarnation process at Waste Management’s local recycling facility.
Once you put recyclables at the curb or drop them off at a recycling center, you may never think about them again. However, that is just the first phase in a new life for what might have ended up in the landfill.
For those of us who live outside the city limits of Grand Junction, the 15,000 square foot recycling center at 1227 Winters Ave. makes this transformation possible.
Everything we use is made from natural resources, and recycling saves those resources.
Paper and cardboard are made from trees. Cans are made from iron and other alloys or bauxite. Glass is made primarily out of silicates. Plastic products are made from petroleum.
When you recycle, you not only provide raw materials, but also save energy and water associated with extraction, transportation and manufacture. Sixty days after an aluminum can is recycled it will be ready for its next incarnation.
At Waste Management, a steady stream of materials flowing into the facility is sorted, baled and shipped to be reprocessed and begin life anew.
The facility uses a dual stream process, meaning there are two different streams of recyclables traveling through the plant.
Paper products make up one stream, and containers of various materials make up the other.
This set up ensures the cleanliness of materials, which is of paramount importance in a tight market.
A seven-person crew performs the magic under the supervision of Recycling Manager Ken Stevens.
“I have the best job in Mesa County. It is just a blast and I get to play with big boy toys,” Stevens said.
He is pleased the amount of recycling has increased each year with more than 12,000 tons processed in 2008 alone.
The crew works closely with several nifty pieces of equipment, including a sorter for a line of co-mingled containers.
This is a huge conglomeration of machines and conveyor belts with an air classifier, a fancy name for a big blower that separates materials by weight. Heavier metal cans fall through and are collected.
Then the classifier separates No. 1 and No. 2 plastics by weight. By far, No. 1 plastics make up the bulk of plastic processed at the facility. The No. 2 plastics are hand-sorted into piles for milk jug and all other containers.
Glass bottles and jars are also hand-sorted because brown glass pays more.
Waste Management trucks the glass to the Miller-Coors plant in Golden in 100 cubic foot trailers with “walking floors.” This arrangement moves the glass with a minimum of human assistance.
Paper products are dumped in large divided areas on the concrete floor, with corrugated cardboard in one area and other types of paper in another.
All materials, except for glass and e-waste, are compacted in the baler, which extrudes 5-by-4 -by-3 foot blocks of each material bound with steel bands.
A bale of aluminum weighs a little less than 1,000 pounds, while a bale of steel cans weighs about a ton.
The baler reduces volume to make transportation more efficient. I watched two dump trucks full of No. 2 plastic milk jugs get rammed into one bale.
Bales of paper comprised only of newspaper and inserts are classified as News No. 8 and can be recycled into other paper products. When newspaper is baled with a variety of other paper types it is classified as insulation grade News No. 6, which is made into cellulose insulation.
The highest price for paper products Waste Management handles at this facility comes from commercial source office paper. Bales of the various products are stored until there is enough to ship.
Most fiber products are being sent to the Pacific Northwest. Aluminum often goes to Anheuser-Busch.
Cardboard is the most plentiful commodity in the paper stream.
Two or three times a week, 88 bales of cardboard are loaded into a railroad car at the rail dock just outside the facility. Each bale weighs about 1,500 pounds. The other bales of paper also get shipped via rail.
As the largest recycler in North America, Waste Management can leverage the volume of recyclables to find steady markets. A marketing group outside of Grand Junction lines up sales and sends shipping directions to the local facility. Plastics, aluminum, steel and glass leave the plant in trucks.
Low levels of contaminants are required so that recyclable materials garner top dollar.
There are at least three places where nonrecyclable items can be pulled from the stream of waste flowing along conveyor belts. Outside, before items go through a magnetic separator, contaminants can be culled. At this point it is usually large items that are removed, such as 5-gallon buckets, which could get stuck in the machinery.
Items that can’t be recycled also can be sorted on the conveyor belts of the co-mingle sort line, where heavy contaminants such as partially filled water bottles, ceramics or light bulbs are removed. Contaminants can also be pulled off the conveyor belt that moves the materials into the baler.
The end result of this amazing process is a continuous stream of materials ready to be manufactured for a new lease on life.
Remember to buy products made from recycled material to close the loop.