For the past several years, recycling rates at the Lorain County Resource Recovery Complex, now home to a state-of-the-art material recovery facility (MRF) in Oberlin, Ohio, has increased by about 10 percent each year, says Eric VanHouten, general manager of Republic Services in Elyria, Ohio, who oversees the Lorain facility.
Since the reopening of the upgraded and renovated single-stream MRF in April 2013, VanHouten says it now has the capacity to process as much as 150,000 tons of recyclables per year, nearly triple the previous capacity.
“We were over capacity at the facility, and with equipment that was 20-plus years old, we had trouble finding parts for it,” VanHouten says. These factors contributed to the redesign of the MRF.
“We’re now capturing more volume than what we’re used to,” he adds.
VanHouten says the improvements are “light-years” away from the former system, a “hodgepodge” of old and tired equipment.
He continues, “It was difficult to work with the old system. The folks here had to be MacGyvers to keep the system running. They kept it passed its useful life,” VanHouten says.
Of the Lorain County Resource Recovery Complex’s new system, VanHouten says, “It has been night and day. It’s very high-tech compared to what we had.”
Terry Schneider, COO and president of CP Group, San Diego, which replaced all of the technology and machinery at the MRF in March, says the $15.6 million upgrade is in fact high-tech. The Lorain County facility has the company’s first complete CP Group iMRF (intelligent MRF) platform, he says.
The Advanced MRF iMRF has a belt scale that measures real-time processing rates of presorted materials, Wi-Fi touch screens, cameras and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) software with an Office Interface System (OIS) station.
The OIS tracks all event logs with a time stamp as well as production metrics, such as tons per hour, bale weights, residual percentages, system power requirements and power consumption. The system also records uptime and downtime, noting the reason for any downtime. Workers at the Lorain County facility can manage the OIS at a designated station or with a mobile handheld device that “allows us to make adjustments on the fly,” VanHouten says.
The SCADA control package includes multiple screens, optical detection technology, air classification machinery and balers using programmable logic controllers (PLCs). It also features one pan-tilt-zoom camera and three stationary cameras for a 360-degree view of the entire sorting system.
According to Schneider, the Lorain County Resource Recovery Complex’s new CP Group equipment includes a drum feeder, a three-deck OCC (old corrugated containers) screen, a three-deck glass breaker screen, a zig-zag separator, a film vac system, a film screw compactor, an air-knife separator, a four-deck scalping screen, two NEWScreens, a CPScreen, an eddy current, a two-deck sizing screen, a drum magnet, two MSS Aladdin optical sorters, an IPS two-ram baler, automated fiber bunkers and storage silos.
“The existing equipment life was over,” Schneider says of the facility prior to installation of the new equipment.
An advantage of the new system, VanHouten says, is the number of variables workers can control. “There are so many tweaks that we weren’t able to do before that we can do now,” he says.
Among the beneficial improvements, VanHouten explains, is the ability to use different “recipes” for running the equipment based on weather conditions and the type of material that is coming in on a particular day. The machinery runs differently, he says, based on whether the majority of material processed in a day is from some of the facility’s 150,000 residential curbside customers or from its 2,000 commercial customers. The complex serves five northeast Ohio counties.
Other new developments include the ability to change the degree of incline on the screens as well as on the vacuums based on glass contamination going through the line, the ability to set drum speeds and have more control of the system’s conveyors, VanHouten says. For example, operators at the Lorain County Resource Recovery Complex know, thanks to the OIS, that the MRF accrues less than 10 percent residual waste.
Being able to recognize a jam as soon as it happens has been an essential enhancement, he says. With 180 motors powering the Lorain County facility’s system, VanHouten says just one broken motor can slow or stop production. Before the renovations, jams would shut down the entire system until the problem was resolved.
Thanks to the new system’s performance feedback, “We automatically know if we have a jam, and we can go right to the jam and fix it. It’s amazing,” he adds.
Operators also can schedule maintenance to replace motors over a weekend instead of ending production for a period of time during the week, VanHouten says.
One large contributing factor as to how the MRF tripled its tonnage in the first 100 days of production: The facility accepts more mixed materials. The upgraded MRF can run at 35 tons per hour while processing, for the first time, all plastics marked with Nos. 1-7 as well as paper products, cardboard, glass, aluminum, steel, plastic film and aseptic cartons. The facility accepted only plastics Nos. 1 and 2 before and did not process cartons. The ability to process additional plastics and cartons are two developments that VanHouten says he did not expect in his career.
“Twenty-five years ago when I got in the business, I wouldn’t have dreamed to have a recycling facility like this, and I didn’t think we would be doing juice boxes,” he adds. “I see there will be more things we recycle in the distant future.”
VanHouten says it is a growing trend in the industry for MRFs to accept additional types of recyclables. “It’s the name of the game to get as much usable volume as you possibly can,” he says.
At the Lorain facility, 250 tons of material are sorted and baled daily by one of two balers located in the 75,000-square-foot complex. Prior to the MRF’s reopening, workers had to store the bales, which weigh about 1,500 pounds each, in the processing area. But, with the addition of 12,000 square feet of warehouse space to the existing building, he says stacking bales is now more efficient and orderly.
“Before we had to store our bale products in the processing area, and it got very confined, very quickly,” VanHouten says. “Now, we doubled our loading docks, and it allows for a better flow of material.”
VanHouten says the Republic facility exports its recovered recyclables all over the world to more than 100 markets for remanufacturing into new products. Most of the Lorain County MRF’s recovered materials are shipped to China, which “drives the fiber market,” he adds.
He explains that it made the most sense, and saved costs, to upgrade the company’s existing building instead of constructing a new facility. Republic’s Lorain County Landfill Gas-to-Energy facility, a landfill that sees 4,500 tons of trash per day in up to 400 trucks, is located next to the complex. “We have an infrastructure there and it made sense to feed off the synergies of the landfill and recycling center. It’s also a good location right off the highway,” VanHouten says.
The next step is educating the public about what to recycle. The facility hosts about 100 tours per year, he says, but even more should be done to inform communities. “We’re very proud of our MRF, and we like to show it off when we can,” VanHouten says. “[But] we still have a long way to go in educating residents in what they can and can’t recycle.”
The author is associate editor of Recycling Today magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.