Wastecon/ISWA World Congress 2017: Tinkering with mixed waste processing

Canada Fibers/Urban Resource Group is testing the recovery of organics and recyclables on municipal solid waste.

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October 5, 2017
Kristin Smith-Ely
Municipal / IC&I Organics

Jake Westerhof, vice president, corporate strategy, for Toronto-based Canada Fibers/Urban Resource Group calls himself “a MRF (material recovery facility) guy.” That is because, as he told attendees at Wastecon/International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) World Congress 2017, he has been involved in six design/build MRF projects. “That is my background,” he said.

But because of a new initiative in Ontario and a recently acquired property, he and the company are “tinkering with mixed waste processing.”

Westerhof shared the results thus far of a mixed waste processing pilot plant the company is involved in during a session titled High Diversion Mixed Waste Processing.

The company was founded in 1990 as a paper broker and marketer and then entered the vertically integrated plastics reprocessing space. Canada Fibers got involved in collections and now, he said, “represents the entire supply chain.”

The company employs about 900 workers and operates 18 conventional MRFs and one mixed waste processing facility (MWPF). Canada Fibers handles approximately 500,0000 metric tons of curbside recyclables generated in Ontario annually. In 2013, the company built the largest residential MRF in Canada, taking all of Toronto’s single-stream recyclables, which is also where it has a plastics recycling facility. Westerhof said bales of plastics recovered at the MRF are shipped across the parking lot to the plastics processing facility.

Meanwhile, Westerhof explained how Ontario is progressive with its management of waste. For example, in 1981, Ontario was the first place to start a curbside recycling program. Toronto accepts 17 different material types and has a source-separated organics program (SSO). The province plans to organics by 2023. The province has a 48 percent diversion rate across all municipalities, according to Westerhof.

Ontario also is transitioning to a 100 percent individual producer responsibility (IPR) model. It is currently shared model that will go to 100 percent funded by producers, where the producers will be responsible for end-of-life management of products. Westerhof says he is “very excited” and that this shift will “lead to further synergy and opportunities for pulling materials through the supply chain and creating some of these circular solutions. Talk is great, but action is better,” he said.

Municipalities in Ontario have very effective programs for recovery in printed paper and packaging, according to Westerhof. He said they have strong promotions and education campaigns, which has resulted in high diversion rates.

“How do you do more?” he asked. “Start thinking about materials missing in source-separated programs,” he said. “To be clear, for us, mixed waste processing is not a replacement for source-separated programs. It is a complement.”

Westerhof said, “The fact is, the black bag still has organics and recyclables in it.” And, he said, depending on the source of the generation, it could have considerable recyclables and organics in it. An example he gave was multiresidential locations.

Of the mixed waste Canada Fibers/Urban Resource Group has processed, Westerhof said almost half was available for recovery that was currently going to landfill. He noted past failures with other companies that have tried mixed waste processing. “The highway is littered with casualties in mixed waste processing. Everyone knows their names, and, for various reasons, they have failed.”

Westerhof said by establishing a customer base and developing the operations team where others had problems, Canada Fibers/Urban Resource Group had successes. “We were able to leverage technology to make us successful,” he added.

According to Westerhof, the facility was not “purpose built” for mixed waste processing. He described it as a former refuse derived fuel (RDF) facility “where we have repurposed the existing equipment to recover organics and recyclables from a mixed waste stream.” The equipment was manufactured by Bollegraaf, Tomra and WalAir, and was all provided by Van Dyk Recycling Solutions, Stamford, Connecticut.

In the pilot tests, the goal was to get the process to scale and understand things like seasonal variation. The company wanted to secure a stable organics and recyclable markets. On the recycling side, Westerhof said, it was “a little easier for us because we are a plastics recycler ourselves.”

The company conducted two six-week pilots, one with the Region of Peel, Ontario, where it processed 25,000 tons of mixed waste. The results were that the material stream was around one-third organics and the rest was recyclable. The company was able to recover “three more valuable types of plastic,” including polypropylene (PP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The paper and paperboard  recyclables were contaminated sufficiently and were not able to be marketed. Westerhof notes, “We were not surprised by that.”

After that test, Westerhof said, “We were quite satisfied with that and onward we went with a much larger pilot test.”

The larger pilot began in late February  2017 and ran through July 2017. It processed 3,000 tons a month at a rate of 22 tons per hour. The idea was to produce digester ready organics and recyclables. He said the company was not looking for fuel or landfill application with the material. The system diverted about 40.7 percent from landfills between the organics and recyclables recovered.

Organics content was in the 85 to 95 percent purity range and contained 5 to 15 percent inerts and 1 to 3 percent metals/plastic. He said the material had good gas content, almost 80 percent that of source-separated organics.

As for what Westerhof called the “lights fraction,” largely consisting of film plastic, he said the company didn’t make as much progress with respect to cement with doing test burns. “It is a work in progress and we are encouraged we will figure out a way to test these materials,” he said.

Wastecon/ISWA World Congress was hosted by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Maryland, and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Wien, Austria, Sept. 25-27, 2017.