Accommodating needs

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E.L. Harvey & Sons gradually expanded its services to provide all things waste and recycling to its New England community.

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July 6, 2021

Photos by Jackie Ricciardi
Pictured from left: Steve, Ben and Doug Harvey

For 110 years, E.L. Harvey & Sons Inc. has been open for business, serving the New England region. Since 1971, the family-owned business has focused on offering waste and recycling services.

“We try to accommodate our customers’ needs on everything coming out the back door as waste and recycling,” says Ben A. Harvey, president of E.L. Harvey & Sons, which is headquartered in Westborough, Massachusetts.

The company was founded by Harvey’s grandfather, E.L. Harvey, in 1911. Harvey says his grandfather; his father, Robert E. Harvey; and his uncle, James A. Harvey, bought and sold livestock to dairy farms around New England.

“When the company was founded, it didn’t have anything to do with waste and recycling at the time,” he says. “We had a foray into recycling and running a dump for a municipality here in the late 1940s. I think the biggest reason we got into [waste and recycling] was just money to supplement what we were doing with the livestock business.”

In the 1940s, the small family business used its trucks to drive around Westborough to collect scrap and recycling, which it sold to scrap dealers in town. E.L. Harvey & Sons also opened a dump in Westborough in the late 1940s. The company still operates a disposal facility.

“It wasn’t a landfill—none of the fancy stuff we have today—it was a dump. People would bring their trash down, and we would segregate out recyclables that we could find in there that we knew we could sell and make a couple of dollars on,” Harvey says. “From then, we’ve just kind of graduated and we got into full-scale recycling and waste hauling in 1971.”

The company specializes in offering hauling services to residential and commercial accounts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and southern New Hampshire. Harvey says E.L. Harvey & Sons has 120 collection vehicles in its fleet, adding that most of the vehicles servicing residential accounts are automated.

“Our main business started as an industrial collection company with roll-off containers, and then we went into small front-load containers,” Harvey says. “And we just recently, like 10 or 12 years ago, got into municipal collection. We handle an area [that’s within] probably about a 50-mile radius from where we’re located in Westborough.”

Harvey says the company’s hauling business focuses on rural and suburban accounts. In the last decade, E.L. Harvey & Sons made the foray into operating a material recovery facility (MRF) in Westborough. The 80,000-square-foot single-stream MRF opened in 2013. Today, the facility processes between 7,000 and 8,000 tons per month.

Harvey told Recycling Today in the summer of 2015 that the company’s MRF “was an extension of many things that we have always done. It also gave us great growth opportunities in an arena we haven’t focused on in the past.”

Photos by Jackie Ricciardi

Entering single stream

Initially in the early 2000s, Harvey says the company intended to build a “dirty MRF,” bringing in mixed loads of commercial and industrial materials to its property in Westborough. Permitting for the facility wrapped up in 2006, which Harvey says cost $2 million, but the company decided to put the project on hold.

“Due to the economy at that time, we didn’t do any building,” he says. “We just mothballed everything and held onto the permits.”

By 2011, E.L. Harvey & Sons decided to move ahead with building a MRF. However, Harvey says the company shifted its focus from a dirty MRF serving commercial clients to a single-stream MRF that processed residential and commercial material.

“We try to accommodate our customers’ needs on everything coming out the back door as waste and recycling.” – Ben A. Harvey, president, E.L. Harvey & Sons

“Single stream, of course, was very popular,” Harvey says. “It was everywhere in the country because it’s easy for people to do. So, we decided to make our foray into single-stream recycling.”

Harvey says the MRF cost about $20 million to build. E.L. Harvey & Sons installed a sorting system from Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), Eugene, Oregon, to handle 25 to 30 tons per hour of single-stream recyclables. The facility’s sorting system features an old corrugated containers (OCC) screen, a glass breaker, a polishing screen, eddy currents to recover aluminum cans and an optical sorter to recover polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Today, the MRF operates three balers—an IPS two-ram baler, a Bollegraaf HBC-140 baler and a Harris 1845 baler.

Upon opening the MRF in 2013, Harvey says the goal was to process 70 to 100 tons of single-stream materials per day. However, after just a few months of operating, the MRF was achieving about 200 tons of materials per day, about double the company’s initial forecast.

In its first few years of operation, Harvey says contamination in incoming loads was high, ranging from 15 to 25 percent. After National Sword went into effect in China, the company focused on decreasing contamination. One way it did so was by partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a standardized list of acceptable materials. Harvey says his company and several other MRF operators in the state worked to develop that list.

“I think in the early years, when a lot of municipalities were switching to single stream, people thought they could put anything in the recycling basket,” he says. “By [working with Massachusetts DEP], we’ve kind of shrunk contamination down. I think we’ve done a good job cleaning it up. Today, I think we’re closer to 10 to 13 percent contamination.”

Managing streams, markets and contracts

In addition to the reduction in contamination, Harvey says he has noticed other changes in the inbound material stream at the MRF in recent years. Two trends he says he has noticed more recently are the lightweighting of several commodities, including PET and aluminum cans, as well as an abundance of OCC.

“Just prior to COVID and predominantly during COVID, we started to see lightweighting happening,” he says. “We also saw the decline in magazines and newspaper as more people read on the computer or tablet or whatever we have. We saw that decrease. Then, with COVID, all of a sudden, there was an abundance of OCC from online shopping—the Amazon phenomenon. Those were shifts in the type of material coming into the MRF,” Harvey says.

E.L. Harvey sells the material it processes at its MRF in the domestic and export markets. Harvey says most of its plastics and metals are sold to domestic buyers, while most recovered paper is sold to export markets through brokers.

He says prices and demand for most commodities were depressed at the onset of the pandemic last spring; but, since last summer, markets have started to improve. Harvey says markets have been strong for most commodities the MRF sells as of the first half of 2021.

“We saw the steady increase in prices paid for recyclable commodities last year,” he says. “That has slowly gone up, and up and up through to where we are today. We’ve seen markets a little more robust as we got into mid-January 2021 up to where we are today.”

The company’s contracts also have evolved, particularly after National Sword went into effect. Before National Sword, E.L. Harvey would pay municipalities for materials brought to the MRF. Harvey says all newer contracts have been renegotiated to have municipalities pay to use the MRF.

“Recycling is a service, and there’s a cost to provide a service,” he says. “For somebody operating a single-stream MRF, they need to know they’re going to have a revenue stream coming in. If that revenue stream isn’t on the sale of the product, it needs to be on the processing line. By renegotiating these contracts, it provides the sustainability of the recycling system.”

Although E.L. Harvey & Sons has changed in 110 years, Harvey says the company’s philosophy of integrity has remained the same.

“Backing up what we say we’re going to do is a very simple philosophy,” he says. “We actually live in the towns that we have our facilities in. We try to provide money for senior centers or find other ways to give back to the communities because the communities we serve are supporting us. I think we’ve got a very good relationship with all of our communities in our area.”

The author is the managing editor of Recycling Today and can be reached at msmalley@gie.net.