Montgomery County, Maryland, MRF over capacity
Sorting line at Montgomery County's materials recovery facility (MRF).
Montgomery County, Maryland.

Montgomery County, Maryland, MRF over capacity

County seeks to expand, enhance recycling operation with new facility.


As Montgomery County, Maryland, develops its Aiming for Zero Waste plan and evaluates its recycling and waste program, the county is seeking a new site to expand and modernize operations at its materials recovery facility (MRF).

The county’s MRF, which opened in 1991 and was designed to process 80 tons of commingled recyclables per day, is receiving 130 to 170 tons per day, double the capacity of the original design, the county says. Excess materials are being shipped to processing facilities outside of the county and state. In addition, the county’s paper processing facility, which opened two years ago, is also operating over capacity.

While the county boasts a residential and commercial recycling rate of 60 percent, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wants to increase diversion and improve the recycling operation. In order to do so, the DEP recently began a search for a larger site or multiple sites that would allow for expansion and enhancements, including robots and optical sorters. The county is considering partnering with other counties in the region to rebuild the recycling system.

“By utilizing technology and economies of scale, we can create new efficiencies, improve revenues and launch the next generation of recycling for an industry in desperate need of an upgrade,” says DEP Director Adam Ortiz. “The key reason recycling is struggling is that we have 1990s systems, but expect 2050 results. It is our duty to take the leap into the next age of recycling.”  

The county generated more than 1 million tons of waste and recyclable materials in 2017. Of that, 649,437 tons were municipal solid waste (MSW), 369,125 tons were recyclables and 275,345 were mixed C&D material, which were either recycled, sent to landfill or incinerated.

Commingled recyclables, including glass, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and mixed paper from single and multifamily homes are processed at the MRF, which employs 59 sorters in the commingled area of the MRF daily. Materials are then baled and shipped to paper mills or manufacturers to be made into new products, the county says.

The county says it is looking to invest in technology at the new site, including optical sorters and robotic systems. The upgrades would address contamination in the recycling stream as well as result in higher recycling rates and higher commodity prices, the county says.

April 2018, the county initiated its Aiming for Zero Waste plan. Task five of the plan is to consider enhancements and expansions to the current recycling system. With an overall goal to increase diversion and achieve the county’s zero waste vision, the plan is centered around reduction and reuse, recycling and organics collection and diversion.

In its request for recycling facility real estate issued July 15, the county says, “Given the age of the MRF and the operational capacity deficiencies, as well as the capacity deficiencies of the PPF, the county is developing alternatives for improved capacity by expanding or relocating county operations to sites in and around the region.”

The county is also exploring solutions to organics and construction and demolition processing operations. Options for food waste include a “full-scale” residential organics curbside collection program. The county says it would implement a pilot program first before developing a full-scale program and building a new processing facility to manage food scrap.

The county is accepting submissions for a new recycling facility site through Sept. 20.