A business’guide to baler use

Features - Baling Equipment Focus

For manufacturers, distributors and retailers, investing in baling equipment for recyclables can lead to significant economic benefits.

February 8, 2017
Emily Wilson

Like Rumpelstiltskin spun straw to gold, balers turn scrap into valued commodities. Balers reduce shipping costs by densifying materials, improving the efficiency of each haul. Because of this, for many businesses (including manufacturers, distributors and retail stores), investing in baling equipment for recyclables can lead to significant economic benefits.

Here are some factors for manufacturers, distributors and retail stores to consider when investing in baling equipment.

Long-term costs and benefits

While balers can range in purchase price from slightly more than $1,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, businesses that produce large amounts of traditional recyclables shouldn’t let the price tag scare them away from investing in this equipment. If the company isn’t ready for a large capital expenditure, many affordable rental options are available.

The main thing to consider is what the business’ return on investment will look like. While it is highly likely that, over time, the money saved in shipping costs and earned in additional recycling rebates will offset the cost of the baler, the question to consider is what this timeline will look like. This will depend on the type and volume of recyclables to be baled, as well as the type and size of baler the company chooses to use.

Space Requirements

Even the smallest balers typically are taller than 4 feet and wider than 3 ½ feet. Before adding one to a facility, it helps to know exactly what real estate is available. Not only will the business need space to accommodate the baler, the following points also should be considered:

  • Where is the scrap? For ultimate ease of use, it can be nice to place balers near where the recyclables are generated (e.g., at the ends of production lines or near back storage areas). However, if this space is not available, other options, such as room in a warehouse or near a loading dock, can be considered.
  • What is the operating area? When placing a baler, think beyond its stationary dimensions and leave room for any moving parts, doors or other factors that require operating space. Note that, depending on the type of baler and the materials being baled, bales can range in size from the low hundreds to 2,000 pounds. This means leaving room for a forklift truck or dolly to remove finished bales.
  • Where will the bales be stored? Businesses often need the ability to store baled recyclables at their facilities. How much room is required largely depends on the type of recycling service provider used and how recyclables are transported from the facility. If a business plans to create more bales than can be stored internally, drop trailers or storage trailers may offer the additional needed room. When possible, storage options that reduce the baled material’s exposure to detrimental elements, such as wind, snow, rain or animals, should be selected. Also, storage methods should meet local zoning regulations and should not negatively affect the aesthetics or health of the business’ outdoor environment.
  • What space will be saved? If a business thinks it would benefit from a baler but fears it lacks the necessary space, it should consider the space saved by using this equipment. Using balers to compress and store material reduces the amount of space recyclables occupy in a facility. Rather than storing multiple Gaylords of loose material, a business could have neat stacks of condensed bales waiting for pickup.

Choosing a baler

Balers are available in a variety of sizes and types, which can be broken down into two main categories: vertical/downstroke balers and horizontal balers.

While we at Northstar Recycling typically find vertical balers to be more effective in manufacturing, distribution and retail spaces, both types offer pros and cons.

Vertical balers typically are smaller than horizontal balers and tend to be less expensive. Vertical balers come in many different sizes and generally are named by how wide their bales will be. For instance, a 73-inch baler will produce a 73-inch wide bale; a 45-inch baler will produce a 45-inch wide bale and so on. It is important for businesses to note that smaller bales may be less cost-effective than larger bales. For instance, many recyclers will offer lower rebates for bales less than 60 inches wide. Some may even grade smaller bales as loose material, or they may be stricter about ensuring clients exceed minimum weights with their bales. However, vertical balers 60 inches and higher can be used to ensure full rebates.

“Balers are powerful pieces of equipment that use tons of pressure behind a powered ram to compress objects. As such, they can be dangerous and even life-threatening when in poor repair or when operated incorrectly.”

Horizontal balers are usually larger, more expensive pieces of equipment. They are typically best for companies that produce more than 100 tons of recyclables per month. However, they also can be useful in instances where the user has plenty of operating space and values time saved from automation. Horizontal balers offer more options for automation and also have larger mouths to accommodate larger materials. These factors may reduce time required for loading and operating these machines.

Ultimately, the best type of baler is the one that fits a company’s needs and space requirements. If a business plans to bale multiple types of recyclables, it may even want to consider getting multiple balers: one for each major recycling stream.

Training and safety

Balers are powerful pieces of equipment that use tons of pressure behind a powered ram to compress objects. As such, they can be dangerous and even life-threatening when in poor repair or when operated incorrectly. Because improper use of a baler can be hazardous to employees’ health as well as inefficient for the recycling program, businesses with balers on-site should overemphasize the importance of training prior to baler operation.

Make sure employees know safety is the No. 1 priority and that extenuating operating and safety requirements are associated with this piece of equipment. An effective way to communicate this to staff is by posting signs and training reminders in visible areas surrounding the baler operation area. This should be done concurrently with other training procedures.

Taining topics pertaining to baler operation should include:

  • materials suitable for baling;
  • loading the baler;
  • ejecting a bale;
  • increasing bale density;
  • clearing baler jams;
  • preoperating instructions and troubleshooting ideas;
  • routine maintenance and safety checks; and
  • examples of common injuries and ways to avoid them.

Quality control

The best way to ensure that a company is properly using its baler(s) is by checking the bale weights. While bale weights will vary depending on the type and size of the baler and the materials being baled, most baler distributors and manufacturers should be able to provide spec sheets that list tables of target bale weights. For instance, a 60-inch vertical baler being used to bale cardboard should produce bales between 800-1,000 pounds (with 800 being the minimum and 1,000 being the ideal weight).

If a business finds it is producing underweight bales, some areas for it to troubleshoot include:

  • Is this an operator error?
  • Have baler operators been properly trained?
  • Is something jamming the ram?
  • Are materials evenly dispersed?

Ideally, a manufacturer, distributor or retailer purchased or rented its baler to improve its recycling program’s efficiency, so it’s important to continually check that this equipment is performing to the company’s expectations.

In many instances, baling can be the difference between waste and recycling. Even low-quality recyclables improve in value from being baled. With these factors in mind, it might be time to re-evaluate a company’s recycling program to look for opportunities for improvement.

The author is senior marketing manager for Northstar Recycling, East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She can be contacted at EWilson@nsrecycle.com.