Dynamic Duo

Features - MRF Series

For ReCommunity, technology and education investments achieve the highest returns when it comes to single-stream processing.

October 8, 2012
Sean Duffy

ReCommunity operates some of the most automated and efficient material recovery facilities (MRFs) in the nation, and we’re always welcoming new partners who want to share in our commitment and expertise in designing, building and operating these facilities. Our company history dates back to the early 1980s, when we opened recycling facilities in Connecticut and New York. In the early 1990s, we stood at the vanguard of single-stream processing as a pioneer in the field, helping design and build some of the first single-stream facilities in the country.

A stellar example of single-stream processing is our relationship with Hartford, Conn.-based Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA). ReCommunity receives, processes and markets more than 100,000 tons per year of single-stream recyclables in Connecticut.

In conjunction with our current contract, we funded and managed a dramatic expansion of the processing system and building in 2005 and 2006, which added fiber processing to a bottle and can plant and installed a highly automated commingled processing system. Additionally, we managed a follow-on installation a few years later of more than $3 million of new equipment funded by CRRA to convert the facility to single stream.

This MRF produces some of the finest quality end products in the country. Design features that include sort stations and quality control on the baler infeed and residue conveyer help to enhance outbound material quality. In the last five years, the plant has been transformed from an antiquated commingled processing center, which handled approximately 35,000 tons per year, to a highly automated single-stream MRF.

The facility is a great representation of the power of single-stream conversion. As soon as the MRF was retrofitted to handle single stream, the majority of neighboring municipalities converted in fewer than two months.

It should be mentioned that ReCommunity is equipment and vendor agnostic. We look at all types of equipment from all types of vendors, which allows us the flexibility to embrace new technology quickly. More importantly, it allows us to use the best system for each specific application, which is not necessarily the cheapest equipment. Through this approach, we’ve seen better separation through improving disc technology and air flow. And, we’re seeing better use and recovery with optical scanners.

We bring a host of patented technologies and processes together to evolve the way communities transform their waste into value. We continuously invest in the most advanced processing technologies to maximize the volume and quality of recyclables for our community partners.

We currently process more than 1.3 million tons of single-stream material in 20 of our facilities, with more of our 30 MRFs slated for conversions. This represents 78 percent of our overall inbound material during the last 12 months. All of our recovered materials are marketed to domestic and international buyers, who trust the quality of recovered materials and pay a premium price for the valuable commodities.

Based on data and the results we’ve seen, single stream increases participation and volume of recyclables from residents and businesses. Single stream just makes recycling easy for customers, so they recycle more.

Lee County, our community-partner in Fort Myers, Fla., for example, depended on ReCommunity to oversee extensive renovations to an existing building and the equipment necessary to make the facility function as a ReCommunity operation. In 1995, ReCommunity installed an eddy-current separator to sort aluminum. ReCommunity also has designed a new fiber processing system for the facility and an education area, which became operational in May 1996. In 2001, Lee County constructed a brand new state-of-the-art facility. The county extended its operating contract with ReCommunity and simultaneously contracted with us to lead the design team for conceptual layout and equipment design. In 2010, the county completed a single-stream system retrofit with ReCommunity. The county, along with other municipalities, now collects recyclables using the single-stream method, and the MRF is humming along, having seen a 10 percent increase in incoming material volume with further increases expected.

Contributing to our success is our intimate understanding of developing effective communications and education programs critical to recycling efforts. Residents need to understand why recycling is important, what to recycle, how the system works and the value that all residents gain through participation in the program. Ongoing and long-term effort in community education has a direct impact on driving recycling participation, volume and quality.

In many of our projects, we create an education center at the MRF, incorporating interactive displays and employing video as part of our operating plan. In such cases, we make this video system available to the education center to enhance the plant visitor experience.

Education is a critical component of any successful recycling program—not only to increase recycling rates, but also to engage the community and help create the next generation of recyclers. ReCommunity is passionate about developing leading-edge recycling education efforts in every community through a combination of education materials and interactive education tools.

In addition to educational materials, ReCommunity believes in experiential learning. We arrange for school and organization field trips to the facility and education center. A plant manager or recycling educator guides groups on tours of the facility, shows videos and entertains the group through recycling games at the education center. By physically visiting the plant, students have the ability to see the tangible benefits of recycling at home and to witness firsthand the size and scope the community’s recycling efforts.

In the current educational environment, not every school has the funding to organize a field trip to one of our facilities. Therefore, in addition to facility tours, we are currently creating a virtual tour experience that involves:

  • An interactive MRF, which highlights the separation process and provides video of the equipment;
  • Live video of the MRF from many different angles;
  • Animated recycling education videos; and
  • An educational plan and content to help reinforce the mechanics and benefits of recycling.

Without question, the key to successful single-stream processing is combining state-of-the-art technology with robust education efforts.

Technology and Education in Action
Further illustration of the importance of education and technology investment is readily apparent in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

ReCommunity receives, processes and markets more than 80,000 tons per year of single-stream recyclables for the county. We managed the equipment selection and installation process for the county when it invested more than $7 million to convert its MRF from dual stream to single stream.

ReCommunity has been the sole private provider of residential recycling processing services to the county since 1989. In 1995, a new facility was built by the county with ReCommunity as project manager. The county and ReCommunity made many improvements to the system, including an OCC (old corrugated containers) separator, new balers and an optical sorter for recovering PET (polyethylene terephthalate). In 2010, the county and ReCommunity completed a single-stream retrofit of the facility, allowing the city of Charlotte and other municipalities to automate collection using 95-gallon toters. Volumes of collected recyclables have increase by more than 25 percent. The plant boasts an amphitheater-style education center featuring the “Recycle Guys” and serves 10,000 visitors per year. A full-time education coordinator provides tours, giveaways and take-home educational materials to our visitors to further reinforce the importance and benefits of recycling.

In addition to enabling our community partners to generate additional revenue, recover community-owned resources, create new jobs and fund budget shortfalls, we are particularly proud of the environmental benefits of our work. Our efforts have reduced greenhouse emissions by 5.3 million metric tons, which is the equivalent of:

  • Approximately 1 million fewer cars on the road;
  • Over half a billion fewer gallons of gasoline burned; or
  • 47,633 acres of forested trees.

Our efforts have reduced landfill space by 2.6 million cubic yards, the equivalent of:

  • 520,000 truckloads;
  • The volume of two Empire State Buildings; or
  • Approximately half the size of the Hoover Dam.

Our efforts have reduced wastewater from landfill space by 17.6 million gallons, which is equal to:

  • 25.2 Olympic-sized swimming pools;
  • 220,000 bathtubs;
  • 2.2 million dishwasher cycles; or
  • 11 million flushes of a low-flow toilet.

For more than 30 years, ReCommunity has focused on forming successful public-private partnerships to maximize resource recovery. Now, with 36 facilities in 13 states and more than 1,500 employees, ReCommunity is the largest “pure-play” residential recycling company in the United States.

Pure-play means we do not have any built-in conflicts. We do not own landfills. We do not own trucks for curbside collection. We are able to solely focus on maximizing recovery of community-owned resources and, therefore, we are able to consistently and significantly outperform our competitors. Single-stream technology and education certainly play a significant role in our success.

The author is president and COO of ReCommunity Recycling (www.recommunity.com), headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.