1. We renegotiated an extension of our contract with the city by committing to an upgrade of our 15-year-old MRF. What is the next step that we need to take?
Congratulate yourself! Then, you’ll want to nail down your plan for handling your material while your retrofit is installed. Can you erect a temporary system or partial process? Scalp the large old corrugated containers (OCC), remove glass and bale the rest until you are operational. If not, perhaps another processor can handle your volume. Have a clear idea of your full and partial downtime and develop a plan for associated costs as well as the disruption of revenue.
2. How do we ensure the new retrofit meets the processing requirements?
You know your current composition. Or do you? Time for a deep dive audit. Consider any unique characteristics in your area, as well as any changes you have seen in past years (less old newspaper, more OCC, more film, more food trays). Estimate possible future volume from population growth or additional contracts to service nearby cities. If your new contract includes material from commercial businesses, consider how much commercial volume is available and how you intend to process it (blended with residential or kept separate).
3. How much should we invest in automation?
The technology you invest in depends on how much sorting your material needs and what end products you intend to make. Don’t forget end-of-line options such as automated storage bunkers that save the time and labor of manually pushing commodities to the baler feed conveyors. A central conveyance system can collect all trash in one place, eliminating multiple trash points. A “last chance” recovery optical sorter can be more productive than a manual recovery station. Investing in two balers provides security in case of downtime—but your system must be designed to bale every commodity in either baler.
4. How do we prevent problems with sourcing labor for the MRF?
Research labor trends in your area. Know the going wage, the available labor pool and the largest employers. If a company like Amazon is a popular employer in your area, know that you likely won’t attract quality workers to do a much dirtier job for a lower wage. Also, see the previous question. How many mechanics, operators and manual sorters you need will depend on the level of automation you build into your retrofit.
5. What tips would you offer for securing end markets for commodities?
Markets change, as do end customers. Flexibility is key. Build your retrofit with flexibility and you’ll be able to make separate or blended grades as needed to fit trends. Know what end markets are available to you, have backups for each commodity and know the quality that each requires for fetching top dollar. Some even offer a premium for exceeding those specs. If you are able to load railroad cars or to load shipping containers on a nearby rail service, you can expand your possibilities.