NYSAR3 Region 4 members (UAlbany is a member) visited the County Waste Single Stream Recycling Facility on October 22, as part of its regional meeting. Mary Ellen and I attended. County Waste collects the University’s commingled recycling. It also services any off campus students in the Albany area. This means the facts about single stream recycling that follow pertain to off campus students rather than on campus. If on campus you still need to separate your recyclables. The owner, Scott Earl, led the tour. At the entrance to the facility is a large live feed video screen that will be used as an educational tool for school groups and other parties that don’t go into the facility. There is a conference room nearby where groups can meet and talk with facility managers. That is where NYSAR3 had its meeting. On the tipping floor, trucks dump the recycling loads where large fans help dry any items that are damp. Large rigid items such as plastics and metals are removed by hand if seen. Plastic bags are also removed by hand. The plastic bags and rigid plastics are placed in separated bays to be sorted and processed Sundays. The rigid plastics are baled while the bags are ripped opened and processed accordingly. The materials are fed onto a conveyor belt and go through an initial picking line where several workers pull the remaining plastic bags and any shredded paper and drop them below into separate bins. The material then proceeds over an initial set of “star screens,” which are a series of parallel rollers with star-shaped knobs every few inches, and holes sized for specific types of materials in between. At this first set of screens, glass bottles are crushed by the knobs and fall through the small holes into a bin, where the glass be shipped out as crushed aggregate. The remaining materials (primarily paper, cardboard, and plastic) are lifted up and passed the screens and progress down the line. The second series of screens sort out the plastic containers which fall through to the plastic sorting stream. Plastic containers are currently being stored until the “green eyes” optical scanner system is on-line in the next couple of weeks; this system will sort the plastics by color and type. The cardboard then comes out at a second picking line. The remaining fiber stream now consists almost entirely of paper, which is sorted through a final time to remove most of the remaining contaminants. Contamination is very low – the residual rate is about 3% (compared to a 9% national average for single stream facilities). Key contaminants are PVC pipe, vinyl blinds, garden hose, and small amounts of crushed glass in the fiber stream (up to 2% glass shards are allowed). Plastic lids and caps are allowed in this system and aren’t considered contaminants. Hardcover books and pizza boxes are accepted as well. For some recycling facilities soiled pizza boxes aren’t allowed because of potential pests, but the fiber is baled so quickly and sent out that it is not a concern (just remove the wax paper and shake out the box). Materials are baled and shipped out to national and international markets.For materials going overseas, they take pictures of the truck when it is one-quarter full, half full and full and send them to the buyer of the bales. The buyer pays half of the cost based on market price and quality of the truckload from the digital pictures. The rest of the payment is made upon receiving the material. The facility currently receives about 500 tons/day of materials, five to six days per week, and is operating at a process rate of 18-20 tons per hour (maximum rate is approximately 35 tons/hour). The facility operates during two, 10-hour shifts (one shift employs 40 workers and the second, 36), and there are four hours of maintenance in every 24 hour period.
All in all it was a very informative interesting tour. Thanks to Scott Earl and County Waste for hosting, and thanks NYSAR3 for organizing.
-Bill Valleau Graduate Assistant