Headquartered in Canada, GFL Environmental Inc. has expanded considerably since its founding in 2007 as it has continued to grow organically and through acquisitions. Today, GFL has operations in all the Canadian provinces and in 27 U.S. states. Its acquisitions have included several material recovery facilities (MRFs), including those previously owned by Canada Fibers and its affiliated companies in 2019.
From greenfield projects to upgrades
More recently, GFL and Machinex collaborated on a greenfield MRF in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that was awarded MRF of the Year by the National Waste & Recycling Association in 2020. The MRF, which has no disc screens, features optical sorters in cascades that allow GFL to produce a very pure grade of recovered paper. Additionally, the MRF had to be designed, constructed, commissioned and in operation only 15 months after GFL received the contract from Winnipeg.
Jonathan Ménard, vice president of sales and strategic positioning at Machinex, says GFL also had projects in the regional municipality of Peel and in Quebec that it was working on at the same time and wanted to collaborate with a single supplier that had the capabilities to develop all the projects in parallel and that could provide new technologies.
Machinex refers to the Peel retrofit as one of its most “ambitious” to date. It incorporated a similar design to that of the GFL Winnipeg project and was completed in 2020. Machinex kept the existing front and back end of the system but replaced three-quarters of the system with all the latest technology offered by the company, Ménard says.
GFL and Machinex have worked on other projects in Canada recently, including an upgrade of the MRF at 122 Arrow Rd. in Toronto that involved adding automation to its system. GFL also was an early adopter of Machinex’s SamurAI robot, having purchased three for its MRF at 124 Arrow Rd. and one for its Winnipeg MRF.
GFL’s Richmond, British Columbia, site, which Machinex upgraded in 2020, is home to two facilities that process dual-stream material. In that retrofit, Machinex used some of the existing equipment for the fiber facility, but the containers facility was a completely new build featuring new equipment from the company. The narrow building posed a challenge in terms of integrating the equipment, but it was one that Machinex, collaborating with GFL, was able to overcome, Ménard says.
GFL’s Matrec St-Hubert MRF in Quebec was 20 years old when the company acquired it in 2020. “There was not a lot of time from when we took over the MRF in January 2020 to when we wanted to get it operational in April 2020,” Miranda says. “Machinex was able to ensure we met our ambitious startup date,” despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility upgrades were designed to increase recovery of high-quality paper, he says. “The market was a little different then, and it was harder to move mixed paper and OCC (old corrugated containers). We had to have top-quality finished products.”
Miranda says GFL continues to invest in the St-Hubert MRF and in all its MRFs to respond to changes in packaging. “We design with flexibility for the future.”
He adds, “GFL has been processing recyclables for decades. We’ve seen the evolution of packaging and the composition of the inbound material stream. We have to make sure we leave space and the ability to upgrade and add on.”
The benefits of collaboration
“What I like about GFL is that they push us to become better,” Ménard says. “It sounds cheesy, but it’s really true. They push us to the limit technologywise and push us to improve our machines.”
Operational data was one such area where GFL pushed Machinex to improve, he says. When it came to all the optical sorters Machinex has installed for GFL in the last three years, the company wanted to better understand how they were performing in real-time, so Machinex developed a software solution, the Hyspec Intell, that highlights all the information an operator would need to efficiently adjust these machines. The same data requirement applied to the four SamurAI robotic sorters that GFL purchased, which led to the development and the release of the SamurAI Intell platform.
“They are driven by info,” Ménard says of GFL, adding that the company wants to understand how its equipment is performing in real-time.
He says the two companies agree on the objectives and the science behind every project before Machinex proposes a layout. The layout then evolves based on further input from GFL. The MRF operator also requires its suppliers to validate their concepts on their demonstration lines.
“What works on paper versus what works in reality are not necessarily the same,” Miranda says of the need for validating design concepts.
The approach leads to creative solutions that are achieved through collaboration.
Miranda says GFL is agnostic when it comes to the vendors it works with on its MRF projects. “We take each contract and examine what we need and hope to achieve and then discuss it with multiple vendors,” he says.
His experience with Machinex, however, has taught him that the company is “knowledgeable and very easy to work with” and that the two companies have an easy collaboration. “We have a feel for how each other works, and that makes projects a little bit easier.”
Miranda says he enjoyed the level of collaboration GFL had with Machinex throughout all these projects, each of which presented unique circumstances. “Every facility we’ve retrofitted or designed was unique. Each of our contracts has different demands as different projects have different requirements.”
He says he appreciates the collaborative approach Machinex took with the greenfield and retrofit projects GFL has done in Canada. Miranda adds that Machinex is thoughtful and collaborative in its approach and responsive to GFL’s input.